Making and applying an Activity-Time budget

I manage work with a knowledge focus [1].  I manage teams with a knowledge focus because I value the knowledge members create, acquire, share and cultivate.  Therefore I value the activities that are knowledge generating. Here’s a technique I use in management to better support and promote knowledge activity: activity-time budget system.

The concept – overview

Promoting and endorsing particular knowledge cultivation activities, while  quantifying and qualifying the time expended on activities per week. A systematic method to maintain new mindsets and behaviours in professional practice of managing knowledge.

Why the technique came into being

As a Team Leader,  I wanted empowered team members who had effective personal knowledge work practices. Specifically, I wanted:

  • To address work-life balance: Setting realistic expectations and reasonable conditions so knowledge workers could do good work, then truly and deeply rest their knowledge engines switching off from work.
  • To address the tendency to overlook and under-do important but ‘boring’ or ‘passive’ knowledge activities like  record keeping, organising, planning, reporting and reflecting;  to treat these items as necessary, not discretionary work.
  • To reign in the tendency to over-do some work achieving a quality not valued, or to drain resources for little return: To invoke the principle of ‘good enough’ given the available resources and time constraints.
  • Better decision-making about work priorities and energy expenditure with definitive yet flexible guidelines that would continue to be useful in professional practice.
  • A culture of autonomous creative action and approaches that didn’t require my specific input or endorsement; to enable opportunities to make a personal mark on work, or develop lateral professional interests. Staff could do what they believed was vital work without my permission as long as they could justify it against expectations.

So I mused about ways to address the underlying issue of finite resources (time) and expenditure of resources (energy and time). This triggered childhood memories of the personal power and discipline that came from receiving and spending pocket money; from there the concept of activity-time budget system seemed obvious …

How it works

The normal number of employed hours per week is the 100% activity-time allowance.  Percentages for 5-6 categories of activity expenditure  are assigned, with explanation about the kinds of activity each category represents. Individuals then autonomously allocate their activities and time to meet budget.

It is important to monitor expenditure against allowance. If there is significant variance (it’s an accounting thing!)over a 2-4 week period then a closer look is warranted, with adjustments made. Maybe the budget breakdown isn’t right, or the employee has insufficient skill or resources to be effective, or there is simply too great a volume of work expected.  A key reason for setting the allowance and the budget, is to ensure that an activity-time debt doesn’t mount up, for then you risk the quality of the person, and the quality of the work.

Specific steps to get started

1.  Decide how many hours a week you allow for ‘work’.[2] This becomes your 100% of work allowance.
2.  Define a list of activity categories against which work allowance will be assigned.  Define examples. Check that examples don’t overlap into other categories.
3.  Define how much work allowance (%) you want to assign to each activity category.
4.  Schedule time in calendar for each allotment of work activity (either individual or group of activities). Break into multiple allotments as is most useful.
5.  Monitor your expenditure against allowance, and adjust as necessary.[3]

Examples

Below are examples of the categories and assigned percentages for two work-place scenarios where I have applied the method.

Scenario 1: Team of fixed-term employees assigned to internal development project
Budget
10%    Administration
10%    Project planning and reporting
5%      Professional development
10%    Internal/team participation
65%    Project and client work

Administration
Opening and processing correspondence (including email)
Maintaining business records, including filing
Keeping desk and work space in order
Weekly or fortnightly 1-1 meeting with team leader

Project planning and reporting
NB: Not for a Project Manager but for personnel on project team
Reviewing and updating plan of work for coming week and coming 1-2 months
Reviewing progress and composing reporting content (for verbal or written delivery)
Contributing to project documentation, e.g. Risk and Issues log, Project Plan

Professional development
Attending courses and professional association meetings
Reflecting after attending courses, etc (including note taking or journaling)
Reading books, blogs, tweets
Networking with professional contacts outside organisation (including using social media)
Participating in mentoring or coaching activities
Preparing and maintaining personal Performance Management documentation

Internal/team participation
Attending and contributing to team meetings
Organising and leading team meetings when it’s your turn
Contributing to team well being (organising ad hoc social events, checking in with people)
Maintaining relationships with team colleagues
Contributing to team collective knowledge, participating in briefs and debriefs

Project and client work
Stakeholder engagement work (including discretionary coffee meetings)
Designing, organising and executing activities listed in project plan

Scenario 2: Single person self-employed
Budget
10% Admin
10% Professional enrichment
20% Business development
60% Project/Client work

Administration
Doing filing, invoicing, expense claims
Internal business meetings and discussions
Managing computing tools including backups and configurations

Professional enrichment
Activities that replenish my mojo
Reading professional books, blogs
Attending seminars, courses and conferences
Networking with professional contacts

Business Development
Networking with strategic contacts
Developing products and services for business
Developing and managing proposals for work
Developing and maintaining prospective client relationships

Project and client work (typically income generating)
Maintaining customer relationships
Project management for client projects
Providing services to clients

 

[1] I can’t take credit for the brilliant phrase “Management with a  knowledge focus” that goes to www.knoco.com
[2] You could also apply the time budget system to your life, with 100% being the total number of hours in a week (n=168), then allotting how you want to apportion  where you spend your time.
[3] Consider allocating and monitoring your activity-time expenditure using an electronic calendar. For future time, make entries of how you intend to expend the time. Ensure your forecast is within budget constraints. For past time, make entries of how you actually expended the time. Compare the actual time against the budget, to determine the amount of variance.

 

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

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2 thoughts on “Making and applying an Activity-Time budget

    • How exciting that you found the information valuable (music to my ears) and that you discovered my collection of thoughts. Would love to hear how the information is making a difference in your life.

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