What Are the Most Common Time Management Problems—and How Do I Avoid Them?

What Are the Most Common Time Management Problems—and How Do I Avoid Them?
Managing time involves meaningfully designing our days so that we are focusing on what is important to us. (BEARINMIND/SHUTTERSTOCK)

We all have a limited amount of hours each day to get our tasks completed. But why does it always feel like there’s so much to do but so little time?

When we think about how to better manage our time, we’re likely reminded of how much we’re wasting. While it’s important to keep a pulse on distractions such as scrolling through social media, ultimately, getting a better handle on time management has to do with focus and motivation.
It may actually be more useful to think of time management as attention management. Then, think about how you can shift your focus and energy to the projects and people that require the highest priority.

What Is the Problem of Poor Time Management?

Never having enough time to complete important tasks means you’re likely missing deadlines and goals. Not only that, no one likes the feeling of barely staying on top of emails, let alone bigger projects.
When you feel like you don’t have control over your days, stress levels increase and you may end up burning out. This can negatively affect your motivation and sense of accomplishment.

What Are the Top 10 Common Mistakes People Make With Time Management?

It all starts with awareness—these are typical time management mistakes to avoid.
  1. Not taking the time to prioritize. Keep a sticky at your desk with the top three things that need to get done. Even if you have other urgent tasks that come up during the day, return to the top three items on your sticky.
  2. Having too much to do. Do your goals constantly feel unattainable? Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge your workload is too heavy. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and politely decline new tasks—people will understand.
  3. Not using your calendar to schedule deep work. Block out chunks of time to get high-priority work done by putting it into your calendar.
  4. Starting your day with low-priority tasks. Begin with the work that needs your undivided attention. These are high-priority tasks that require strategic thinking.
  5. Not knowing the difference between urgent and important. Get to the urgent tasks first, then the important ones.
  6. Thinking you can multitask. This is a myth—our brains aren’t wired to do two things at once. You’re not multitasking, you’re actually doing one thing at a time in rapid succession. When you switch tasks like this, you’re lowering your cognitive ability and IQ. Slow down and give your brain some time to get in the flow for deep work.
  7. Not planning for the next day. As you’re closing out your day, think about the top three things for tomorrow. When you’re better prepared for what’s coming next, it may help you stay motivated.
  8. Not having long- and short-term goals. Knowing what needs to get done in the next few days vs. a few months can help you stay focused on today. It gives you a better mindset to plan ahead and know what to execute first.
  9. Powering through. If you’re sitting at your desk for five hours without a break, you’re hindering your ability to think more creatively. Set an alarm on your phone to take regular breaks.
  10. Allowing distractions to take over. Social media, emails, and text messages can easily be a time suck. Stay on task by turning off notifications and setting a schedule for when to check them.

What Are 3 Top Time Wasters?

There are endless ways to waste time, but in according to a 2022 Wasting Time At Work survey from project management software TeamStage, these are the top offenders.
Checking emails constantly. A separate report showed that 31 percent used their notifications to check emails as soon as they come in. Consider batching your emails, such as once every hour to lessen interruptions.
Unnecessary meetings. We’ve all sat through low-value meetings. The average employee spends 21.5 hours in meetings every week and 62 meetings every month. Having an agenda and goals for every single meeting can help reduce pointless meetings.
Social media. Unless your job requires it, turn off social media alerts and set limits to when you can check.

How Do You Solve Time Management Problems?

There’s no magic solution that will instantly fix your time management problems. It starts with your habits and identifying what needs to be changed. This is why it’s important to understand what the biggest mistakes and time wasters are.

Change doesn’t come easily, but with intention and consistency, it can happen. Start your day with the three things you need to get done and block out time in your calendar to get it done, for example. When you start giving your priorities this kind of attention, you may feel more empowered to get them finished.

You’ll also start to understand how much time you need to get specific tasks and projects completed. Constantly test what works and make adjustments to refine and improve these methods while throwing out what isn’t serving you.

What Are 3 Factors That Affect Time Management Skills?

Prioritizing, attitude, and communication impact your focus and energy.
Prioritizing starts with what you need to get completed from both a micro (daily) and macro (quarterly or yearly) level. Goal setting is also a part of prioritization. Think about where you want to be in the next year or 10 years. Prioritizing helps clarify what is and isn’t worth your time.
Attitude or motivation can make a huge difference in managing your time and focus. One big driver in motivation is autonomy and the ability to work on interesting projects. These are the ones that most likely spark creativity and joy. A great way to stay motivated is to prioritize these engaging projects right after the more boring ones to give you something to look forward to.
Effective communication isn’t just about messages, meetings, and emails. Think of it as engaging with others and ensuring a higher level of understanding and alignment. Never make any assumptions, always ask for clarification, and be concise.
Instead of being satisfied with a “yes” response from a co-worker, go a step further. Ask about what actions need to be taken separately and together as a direct result of the conversation. This helps avoid repeat conversations or your colleagues engaging in the wrong tasks.

Change Takes Time

As you adopt new habits to better manage your focus and attention, be patient because it takes time to develop unfamiliar skills. Through consistency and testing what works and what doesn’t, you may notice you’re not as stressed or feel more in control and confident in your daily life.

Letting go of time wasters and distractions while improving your time and attention management can help you maximize your impact and achieve your goals.

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