Time Management Pitfalls
We never have enough of it in business. Not money – time. With all the advice around about managing your time (maintain work/life balance, find time to work on your business instead of just in it), knowing where to start can be an exercise in time management itself.
But before you have a formal plan, you might start with the list below. They’re the most common things people in business let slide in the name of time management and beware – they’re insidious.
- The missing To Do list
You might think your workload is simple (if heavy) and you don’t need to sketch it out so you can prioritise it properly.
But every email, phone call and even filing have to be done at the right time, and without a fleshed out To Do list, you’re going to forget something, or do something in the wrong order, and productivity will suffer. Our To Do should start out as a huge pile of everything you have to do, and end up in an ordered list all prioritised in order.
- No personal goal strategy
Reflecting the To Do list in a macro sense is a fixed point of where you’d like to be in a given time. That’s your personal goal timetable, and don’t be afraid to make it a To Do list of its own, under which all others fall.
With a set of goals and the steps you need to make to achieve then, it will set apart the wheat from the chaff and help you clear a lot of mental clutter of things that just don’t matter.
- Losing your priorities
Things come up that are important. Other things (all of them, it seems) come up that are urgent. The latter frequently drown out the former and you can lose sight of the long game.
Set out and be familiar with the important tasks that can’t be ignored, interrupted or rushed. Allocate time to them that is completely off limits to anything else, and do them properly.
- Looking everywhere at once
Studies have indicated that by the time we add up all the distractions in an average workday, we’ve lost two hours.
Because it’s not just checking a tweet or quickly seeing if there’s an urgent email. Our brain needs time to re-orient itself in the previous flow it needs to solve longer, abstract problems.
Turn off your phone. Close your email program. Feel secure that everything will get done (because it’s on your To Do list), and ignore everything – and everybody – else that encroaches.
- Finding something else to do
When we don’t want to do something, humans are masters at making up convincing reasons not to. If you find yourself in that trap, break the task up. It might be more palatable in a smaller series of actions that can be done over time.
If not, set a time limit. Work on a task for a set period you think you can stomach, stop at the closest appropriate place and move on to something else.
- Being a ‘Yes’ man/woman
We all have a tendency to take on too much – we say ‘yes’ to people because ‘no’ is an inherently negative word that we subtly fear will make people not like us if we use it.
But with your priorities and To Do list in place, you know what you have time for. If anything unexpected comes up, look at it through the prism of your priorities. If you’re going to micromanage every detail or take on something you don’t have time for, everything will suffer.
Learn the art of saying yes to the person and no to the task.
- Thinking ‘busy’ equals ‘results’
To the modern worker, the thrill of meeting a deadline while returning emails and taking phone calls and signing up new work is the equivalent of coordinating and bringing down prey, and it can get addictive.
But you can be met with just as much success by taking your time in doing what you have to do, and we all know downtime is important. Constant busyness will not only burn you out, but you won’t know how much the work you do is sub-par because of your constant state of frazzlement.
- Trying to engage too many brains
You only have one concentration span, and we evolved for it to be directed on one cognitive task at a time.
You simply can’t write an email while you take a phone call and start a document for a client. It might seem so, but you’ve probably not only made several errors because your attention wasn’t directed and it might have taken you too long than if you’d laid out each task and attacked them one at a time in sequence.
- Thinking you’re a machine
It can be tempting to just keep at it until the pile has gone down, but you can be sure it’ll be back at some stage, and soon enough to break your heart at all the effort it took to get rid of it.
Learn the art of switching off regardless of how much there is to do, and schedule breaks like every other task. Just like we’re built to concentrate on one thing at a time, our minds are built to wander in search of new stimulus, and when you return from a break, you’ll perform better.
- Not scheduling for the real you
Biology tells us we work effectively at sunrise and sunset, enjoying an extended rest in the middle of the day. That’s why in modern times we often find ourselves fading around mid-afternoon – we’re simply not made to work for that long.
But get to know your own rhythms. People might tut-tut at you for sleeping in, but you might really charge through it into the small hours and vice versa.
And be mindful of high-concentration versus simpler tasks so you can put them in the right place too.
Here’s a challenge – read the above list again, see which one(s) apply to you, and set yourself a task to work on changing one this week.
Repeat the process next week and watch your bad time management habits fall away.