I'm often asked about managing time in workshops.  I've found through my experience that, as with many things in life, it's part science, part craft, part black magic! 

Here are some practical tips, and a tool, you can use to help you manage time in your next workshop:

  • To start with - build buffer into your timings for activities. Allow a bit more time for activities than you think you'll need.  It's easy to underestimate the time needed to provide an instruction and for participants to actually get into the work.  Framed as an equation, this would be: Time for activity = instruction time + time for participants settle into work + time needed to do the work.
  • Consistent with this first point, aim to finish earlier.  Don't account for every minute you've been given.  At best you actually finish earlier and give participants the gift of time.  At worst, you've given yourself necessary buffer at the back end of your session where you'll most often feel the pinch of all those other micro delays.  Some other micro-skills around managing finish time include promising a slightly later finish time at the start of your session and ensuring that your client has some basic next steps mapped out which can be shared in less than 5mins.
  • 'Steal time' where you can. 5mins here. 1min there. Be hyper-vigilant for when energy or focus is waning or if participants are getting work done faster and act decisively to finishing an activity sooner or to pause for a break/energiser.  During group discussions in particular, this is about balancing time, energy and contribution.  It takes practice, observation and intuition to know when the three are out of balance.  For example, sometimes there's someone hogging the airspace and going off-track or perhaps the same point has been made several times and we need to move on, or at other times the overall discussion needs an intervention to get back on track.  In all these cases there is a clear relationship between time, energy levels and the value of the contribution being made.

  • With all of this, having a co-facilitator to collaborate and coordinate on time decisions is invaluable.  In every session where I'm co-facilitating I am regularly checking and cross-checking my observations and options about managing time and energy with my co-facilitator, who sometimes has a very different vantage point of where the group is headed.  

  • Where possible, use parallel processing in breakouts to accelerate and multiply the amount of work you can get done.  Group discussions are great for achieving shared understanding and integration with a group but not so great for doing productive design work.   

  • We've created this handy session design spreadsheet which will help you manage and recalibrate time dynamically during your session.  Remember that having clarity over the purpose of the session will help you know how and where to trim.