Do you ever feel like you could be more productive, or that you would get more done if only you had more time? Think about it for a second – how much of your average week do you spend just stressing about not having enough time to complete a task?
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or employee, you probably struggle with good time management. However, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, as bad time management habits can be fixed. And although it’s impossible to create more time in a day, you can work on your skills and make sure you get the most out of the time you already have.
The first step in fixing your bad time management habits is to identify exactly where you’re going wrong. You can do this by taking a time management test that will highlight specific areas you need to work on, and give you tips on how to improve.
The following are a few time management habits that will hold you back at work and in your life, and must be eliminated:
1) Being stuck in your inbox
Email is an essential element in today’s business world, and with smartphones, our emails are only a swipe away. But being so accessible also means we constantly feel the need to be available to work.
In the book Overconnected: The Promise and Threat of the Internet, Bill Davidow explains that many of us find it impossible to ignore the ping of an email. The notification causes a spike in the feel-good hormone dopamine. But it also spikes the stress hormone, cortisol.
To avoid this roller-coaster of hormones, turn off all your email notifications so that you don’t get an alert every time a new message comes in. Another great idea is to allocate yourself certain times in the day just for checking and replying to emails, and sticking to them.
Delete? Archive? Immediate reply? What did you with the last email you received?
If you spent time wondering what to do, you will have derailed your work session. This is because indecision consumes a lot of willpower and mental energy, causing any productive work session to come to a screeching halt.
To get around wasting time like this, embrace the 2-minute rule. Take care of any ad-hoc tasks when you are not working, but if they take more than 2 minutes to resolve, file them in the “decision” list. This way, you will give yourself the time to think about it and answer later.
3) Long to-do lists
One of the most popular ways of managing your time is creating a to-do list. But while to-do lists can help you organise your day, they can also do more harm than good if you’re not careful.
After all, it’s easy to fill a list with a dozen or more tasks, but you’ll soon find that you can’t complete them all.
According to one Franklin-Covey video, if you have 2 or 3 priorities, you will complete 2-3 tasks. If you have 4 to 10, you will complete 1 or 2. If you have more than 10, you will complete none. Taking on too many obligations will only lead to poor performance.
You can get around this by keeping your to-do lists short, with 1-5 tasks – knocking these tasks out will ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed and can keep up your momentum.
4) Being busy for the sake of it
In the words of business psychologist and author of Busy, Tony Crabbe, “people are running their lives at breakneck speed and don’t have the energy or perspective to see if there’s a different way of doing things”.
We are so busy being busy that we can’t differentiate between high-impact tasks and being busy for the sake of it, and thus expend effort unnecessarily.
To manage our time better, we must first understand the difference between “efficiency” and “effectiveness.” Efficiency is getting a lot of tasks done, while effectiveness is getting the right tasks done. Which tasks will move the business or your career forward?
Not sure how you spend your efforts? Don’t rely on your memory or judgement. Employ a time tracking solution – whether it’s an app or just a pen and paper, start tracking where your time goes. This information will show you just how much time is slipping away, where you spend it, and will help you spot any troubling patterns. Knowing this makes it easier to better allocate your time.
5) Constant distractions
Did you know it takes an average of 23 minutes for a person to fully regain focus after being distracted? Distractions are stressful, costly and will increase the time needed to complete any task.
The solution you choose will depend on what distracts you. If it’s your social media feed, use site blockers or unplug your router if you don’t have to use the internet for a while. If it’s your friends and family, let them know that you do not want to be disturbed during specified working hours, or go out to work where others can’t bother you, like a coffee shop. If it’s your phone, try turning off all notifications when you need to work.
Do you have unrealistically high work standards? Do you spend so much time trying to make sure that you do your tasks perfectly that you end up spending all your time preparing and not actually doing anything?
Chasing perfectionism ruins productivity levels as you will fall behind schedule and cause a mountain of extra tasks to build up. Try focusing on finishing your tasks instead, and not on being perfect.
Have you ever been halfway through one task and suddenly switched to another? Only to realise, much later, that you didn’t finish either one?
We’ve all been there. Multi-tasking seems like a good idea, but it ultimately means we start many things and finish few. When you multi-task, you’re essentially giving partial focus to a single task – the majority of your focus is on the act of switching tasks. So, you expend energy just switching tasks and not completing them.
Multitasking simply doesn’t work and is a drain on mental resources, so stop doing a number of tasks at the same time and try to practice single-tasking. By focusing on finishing that one task, you can get it done to a much higher standard.
9) Wallowing in clutter
Do you find yourself saving files to your desktop because you fear losing them? Is your desktop packed with icons and folders with no rhyme or reason? Do you keep thousands of files with no labelling system and keep telling yourself (and others) that you know exactly where everything is on your desk?
If your desk mirrors your electronic clutter, it will impede your ability to efficiently do any work. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average worker spends up to 6 weeks looking for documents that they already have!
If you are spending too much time going through folders and files, you should rethink and rearrange your folder system and email management process.
There are many more methods available to help you get the most out of your day, including actually taking breaks, figuring out when you do your best work, and setting up a work routine that incorporates solutions from above. Incorporating these things into your routine will help you enjoy the benefits of better time management including getting more work done, avoiding rework, having more free time, and being less stressed.
While a few bad habits can be the difference between a productive, happy life and a stressful one, acknowledging them and the impact they have on your productivity is the first step to curbing them.
Isn’t it time you replaced those bad time management habits with better ones?