It’s great how most articles providing time management advice tell you how to improve your time management, and what you should be doing, but I think sometimes, they forget to factor in that some people actually don’t know they are making some of the most common time management mistakes. Sometimes your blockages and obstacles are obvious, but some offenders struggle because, as the saying goes, they can’t see the wood for the trees. Recognizing that you’re making some of the most common time management mistakes is the first step in deciding you want to change and improve.
Procrastination is without a doubt one of the most common time management mistakes – something that many people know all too well. Procrastination is when you have tasks to perform but you put them off in favor of other, and usually less important, tasks. Not to say that procrastination is a really bad thing – in fact it can help tell us when we need to take a break or focus on something else for a while – but it does get really bad when you let it make you feel guilty. The best way to avoid procrastinating is to simply stop yourself from indulging in those silly distractions. If you remain disciplined and make good progress with your work, after that it will be much easier to finish the task.
This common time management mistake ties in closely with the tendency for people to procrastinate, though because it is often difficult to notice and control, people often have a much harder time controlling it. From instant messaging to talkative colleagues, distractions come from all sorts of places, and each single distraction prevents you from continued focus and effective engagement with your work. Some people are better at managing distractions than others; if you are one of the unlucky ones, the key to solving this problem is to make changes to your environment and get rid of non-vital items that are distracting.
Are you are a lark or an owl? Do you have more energy to get things done in the morning, or later on in the day? Everyone is different and we each have those “peak” times when our performance is at its best. Make the most of your time by scheduling the most difficult and lengthy tasks at the times of day when you are at your best.
To-do lists might be old hat, but they are still one of the most effective ways to plan. When you forget to take care of important tasks during the day you can end up wasting loads of time, and without a good plan detailing the things that you must take care of, it is very easy to let time slip by without getting anything done. The best to-do lists are accurate, and prioritize different tasks (with the most important tasks to complete higher up on the list). If you have big tasks ahead of you, break them down in your to-do list and manage them one at a time.
It’s a fact that some tasks are more important than others. In the workplace, supervisors and managers will throw you important tasks every once in a while, and in all other areas of life urgencies and matters of importance will present themselves often. The important thing here is not just being able to prioritize and to balance urgency with importance (which is not always an easy thing to do in itself) – you should not be afraid to change your to-do list and switch between different tasks quickly. Some people really hate doing this! If you are having problems juggling loads of different duties, read up on the Urgency/Importance Matrix.
Breaks are your friend, not your enemy! We can only concentrate for so long before our brains need time to recharge, so in the long run, taking breaks will improve your efficiency and allow you to complete tasks better and more quickly. If you work for extended periods of time without taking a break, your mind will slow down and you will eventually be wasting time. The rule of thumb is to take a 5 – 10 minute break every hour or every couple of hours.
If you find it difficult to say “no” to people in the workplace, it won’t be long before you are harried with too many commitments. Too many commitments lead to stress, and often you won’t have enough time to do properly the various aspects of your job role, which you should be focusing on the most. Regardless, it is a waste of your time to have too many commitments, and so you need to learn how to so “no” to people. This is a subtle art – you need to deny the person and assert yourself, while avoiding bad feelings and attitudes. Say “yes” occasionally and when you know you can actually help. When you need to say “no,” do so positively.
You might not think that multitasking is a common time management mistake, or in fact a time management mistake at all, but appearances can be deceptive. It is usually a more efficient use of your time to focus on each task sequentially, rather than trying to complete lots of different tasks in tandem. You also work better and make fewer mistakes when you focus on each task separately.
For some people, business is almost like a drug. They thrive on the rush of having loads of work to do and not enough time to do it in. However, like all drugs, it is easy to become addicted. The problem is that this approach and mindset rarely precludes working at your best, and usually means working inefficiently and wasting time. Instead of working in a rush and working to get a “buzz,” slow down and think about what you are doing. This way you’ll manage your time more effectively.
Do you make any of these common time management mistakes? Are you a serial offender or do you just lapse for a short period and then pull yourself back on track? I’d love to hear if you’ve made resolutions to be a better time manager this year.
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