Time Management in National Development

“Money, I can only gain or lose. But time I can only lose. So, I must spend it carefully.”

John Adair, a well-known figure in the management training field maintained that time is a scarce resource, irreplaceable and irreversible. Few things are more important to us than learning how to save time and how to spend it wisely. This is especially true in the world of work and development. However, in the Gambia, one major feature of our attitude is coming to meetings, ceremonies and workplaces late. We call it ‘Gambian Time’. This is a phenomenon that actually goes beyond the borders of the Gambia as it is also prevalent among almost all African communities even in the diaspora. Thus in other parts of Africa, the attitude of coming late or starting events late is attributed to what is called, ‘African Time’ or ‘Blackman Time”. In the diaspora such as the United States, African Americans are equally affected by this phenomenon which they call ‘CPT’ or ‘Colour People’s Time’. It appears therefore that coming late to meetings or starting ceremonies late is peculiar to Africans? Is this true? What is responsible? How did it all begin? How much does it cost us in terms of money, and other resources in our overall national development? What is clear however is that the attitude of coming late or starting late is an expensive culture which everyone seems to dislike, yet almost everyone continues to commit?

A cursory observation of this phenomenon indicates interesting insights. We go to work late, but we close on time at best or leave even before closing time at worst. Because we start our events and ceremonies late, we end up closing late thereby affecting other activities lined up already, and in some cases we rush to conclude hence the quality of the end product and service are compromised. Even when we come to work late, we do not wish to stay on beyond official closing time. Ironically, the worst offenders are often those who seem to be working hardest and longest. They may appear very busy but they are not very effective because they do not manage their time well. Instead of prioritizing work and spending time on those that are important, majority spend time on works that are less important and less urgent or on someone else’s work and become ‘emergency control freaks’ in the end.

It has been argued that time management is worse in the public sector but better in the private sector. How true is this, and what factors are responsible? Given the above, will it be fair to claim that time management is a cultural factor in which some cultures are better at it and others are not? Or rather is it an issue for a particular institutional environment in which one institution ensures time is respected, while another applies limited or no enforcement of rules and regulations? What is clear is that while Gambians who work in public offices such as in the government, NGOs or private sector may go to work late, yet those same Gambians who work in the armed and security services are noted for being sticklers for time. This begs the question therefore, does ‘Gambian Time’ exist, or is it merely a culture of irresponsibility that has holds sway over some, if not most people in one society?

But what is time management. According to the online dictionary, Wikipedia, “Time management is the act or process of exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase efficiency or productivity. Time management may be aided by a range of skills, tools, and techniques used to manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. This set encompasses a wide scope of activities, and these include planning, allocating, setting goals, delegation, analysis of time spent, monitoring, organizing, scheduling, and prioritizing. Initially, time management referred to just business or work activities, but eventually the term broadened to include personal activities as well. A time management system is a designed combination of processes, tools, techniques, and methods. Usually time management is a necessity in any project development as it determines the project completion time and scope.”

From the foregoing could bad time management therefore be a cause or an effect of bad planning and management, hence low development? Management and development experts have concluded that there are only up to six resources that any person can manage. Some may manage all of the six at the same time while others manage less in whatever position they hold in their lives. These six resources are:

  1. Human beings
  2. Financial resources
  3. Time
  4. Information
  5. Equipment (capital assets)
  6. Materials (movable items/consumables)

Among all of the six items above, time has been found to be the most crucial in that one can gain or lose any of the following resources, but time is the only resource one cannot fabricate and once lost, it is gone forever. There are only 60 minutes in one hour, and 24 hours in one day and seven days in one week and 52 weeks in a year, and this is what each and every human being has regardless of status, gender or origin. In order to shed more light on the significance of time, find below some classic quotes about time:

  1. “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
  2. “Time is the best teacher.”
  3.  “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.”
  4. “Time is money”
  5. Your greatest resource is your time.”
  6. “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
  7. “Ordinary people think merely of spending time. Great people think of using it.”
  8.  “Time wasted is existence, used is life.”
  9. “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”
  10. “An inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.”

The celebrated personal development author Steven Covey noted in his ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ that Habit 3, ‘Put first things first’, is the essence of good time management. According to the Pareto Principle, also called the 80:20 Rule, of all the results that we produce in the day, 80 per cent of those results are generated with 20 per cent of our efforts. The remaining 80 per cent of our efforts only generate 20 per cent of our results. Thus when we consider the subject critically, time management therefore could be said to lie at the heart of development for an individual, an institution or organization and a nation based on the way one plans, organizes, leads, controls and coordinates resources and activities. The art of management, planning, implementation and evaluation are time-related activities for which a wrong time does not only translate into waste of resources, but also leads to substandard results and failure. We do not have to only stick to time, but to use time efficiently. In order words, using all the time or being busy is not the same as being effective. The issue is, ‘what are you busy about?’

As a society therefore, has time got to do with our level development, i.e. how we manage and use time? What is the quality of time management, hence efficiency and productivity in the public and private sectors or in the NGOs as well as in the wider civil society? What are the factors responsible for such bad time management culture? How effective and competent are our professionals, leaders, managers and workers in the public and private sectors and the NGO community if we are all prone to bad time management? At 46 years old, the Gambia ranks 151, i.e. low human development in world rankings. Maternal and infant mortality rates are high, while over 50% of our population lives on less than two US dollars per day – have these indicators anything to do with the way and manner we manage time.
In this second edition of the TANGO Policy Dialogues on Wednesday 26 2011, we wish to enquire into the nature of time management in order to understand how it relates to national development. Does better time management or the lack of it serves as a resource or retards development? It has been noticed that even though many institutions do have time register, yet these are not enforced to ensure that individuals report to work on time. At the same time in many organizations, board, general staff and senior management meetings do not start and end on time, some of which can run for a whole day thereby denying managers ‘time’ to go back to their desks to respond to the daily needs of customers and the nation. It is even worse with official ceremonies and workshops in which events do not start and end on the time as stated in the invitation letters. The Policy Dialogues on Time Management in National Development is particularly timely now as the Government of the Gambia has launched an ambitious program of reforming the civil service in order to make it effective and efficient machinery that delivers quality goods and services to the people. How does the Government perceive time management in the civil service vis-à-vis creating an effective, efficient and professional public service? What is the correlation between time management and effective programme and project implementation? How do we concentrate on results, not just being busy? How can managers and heads of institutions effectively delegate so that they can have time for more important tasks? How can we create personal responsibility for the use of time in our workplaces?

In the light of the above, we have invited the following speakers to dwell on the issue of time management in the Gambia, not only in terms of how it has affected us, but also how do we ensure better time management as well as how better time management can benefit a person, an institution and a nation.

  1. Moderator: Ms. Ralph De Almeida, University of the Gambia
  2. Keynote Speaker: Dr. Sasu Ndure, MDI – What is time management? Is time management cultural? Or is it personal and/or a skill and culture to be learnt and nurtured?
  3. Secretary General –What is the significance of time management in the civil service reform and how will better time management be achieved in the civil service?
  4. Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Massanneh Kinteh – What is the significance of time management in ensuring professionalism and high morale in the military? How has the military maintained high time management discipline? What lessons are there for the Civil Service to learn from?
  5. Managing Director Mr Pa Macoumba Trust Bank Gambia Ltd– Time is Money. Is this statement true and if so how? Discuss how time management has been achieved and its impacts on efficiency and competitiveness in the banking industry.