What Is Poor Time Management?
Before you can take any steps to correct your bad time-management habits, it’s important to be clear about what we mean by poor time management. In a working setting, it tends to mean spending too long on unproductive or non-urgent tasks as well as insufficient planning. Causes of poor time management range from distractions to being unrealistic about how long it will take you to finish a task. The good news is that whatever is leading to your own time-management problems, there’s a solution.
Consequences of Bad Time Management
If you’re unable to manage your time efficiently, work can start spilling over into your personal life, which can interfere with family relationships, your social life, and your hobbies. In particular, poor time management can have a big impact on your mental health, leading to stress, anxiety, and poor sleep quality.
One of the most serious consequences of poor time management on mental health is burnout. This is characterized by fatigue, detachment from your work, a sense of pessimism, and frequent illness.
Before you become completely burned out, you’re likely to suffer from stress. Some amount of stress is actually good for you — but only if it’s short lived and inspires you to work hard or achieve results. Prolonged stress due to poor time management can lead to a constant sense of fatigue.
Prolonged stress may also cause anxiety. This is especially likely to happen when stress is due to poor time management, as you may be anxious about meeting deadlines, keeping up with your workload, or finding time for all the other things you want to do. If stress leads you to feel dissatisfied with your life, you could also become depressed.
Consequences to Your Professional Life
There are also consequences for your business or career. For instance, if you regularly miss deadlines, you could miss out on opportunities for your company, be passed over for promotion, or even risk losing your job. Furthermore, you’ll be putting an undue burden on other workers, who may be relying on you to complete your share of a project or who may need to pick up the slack. Not only can this lead to demotivation in your organization, it also puts strain on workplace relationships.
Glaring Signs of Poor Time Management and How to Fix Them
How you go about fixing your poor time-management habits will depend on where you’re currently struggling. Let’s look at how to fix poor time management in some of the most common scenarios.
1. Wasting Time
Some activities are obviously time-wasters (such as checking social media when you should be working), whereas others are less blatant. You can kid yourself into believing that you’re being productive when you’re spending time on activities that actually don’t matter, such as reading through everything that made it to your inbox.
You can instantly free up time if you apply the “drop, delegate, redesign” framework to all the activities that are wasting your time. It works like this:
- If it’s unnecessary, drop it.
- If someone else can do it, delegate it.
- If it’s taking up too much of your time, redesign it — for instance, you could use automation.
2. Not Keeping a To-Do List
It’s impossible to stay on track if you only figure out what you need to do when you sit down to work in the morning. To solve this problem, you need a to-do list. You should know what you’ll be doing tomorrow down to the smallest details, the main tasks you’ll complete over the week, and the targets you want to reach over the month. Otherwise, you could find that you lack the time to finish some tasks by the time you come to start them.
Don’t let big projects overwhelm you — simply split them into smaller tasks that are more manageable and add these to your to-do list. This will also help you think about how long the entire project is likely to take.
3. Failing to Prioritize
It’s tempting to work on the tasks that appeal to you most, but this can cause problems later. You should always start with your highest-priority work to ensure you have enough time to complete it, such as in the case you encounter a problem or it takes longer than you expected. Assign a priority to all the items on your to-do list. You’ll find that working through the list in order of importance means you’re less stressed about being unable to complete everything on time because you can rest assured that at least you’ve finished the highest-priority tasks.
Many people think that procrastination means wasting time, but it’s actually quite distinct. Procrastination is about justifying the fact that you’re not working on your highest-priority task because you’re doing something else — but deep down, you know that what you’re doing is less important. Prioritizing appropriately will help you combat procrastination, but you’ll also need to find motivation and work on your self-discipline to ensure you follow through.
5. Difficulty Estimating Time
If you’re struggling to estimate how long individual tasks will take, you could find it difficult to meet deadlines even when you do plan ahead. You may end up working long hours a couple days before a project is due, which is stressful and could impact the quality of the final result. You can solve this problem by recording the amount of time it takes you to complete each of the activities you do on a regular basis. Make a note of these times and refer to your list when you’re creating your schedule for the week.
6. Neglecting to Set Goals
Everything you do should have some kind of meaning to you. Whether you want to advance in your career, grow your business, or find more fulfillment from your work, the tasks on your to-do list should relate to your goals in some way. Create a list of short- and long-term goals for your personal and professional life. Whenever you’re struggling with motivation to do something or you’re tempted to work on an easier task, remind yourself of the relevant goals and think about how the activity you should be working on will help you reach them.
7. Problems with Punctuality
Turning up late for appointments could be because you underestimate how long it will take to complete other activities, but it could also be due to a lack of motivation to ensure that you’re punctual. In the case of the former, as well as improving your estimates for activities, make sure you account for possible delays. This is a relatively easy fix. A lack of motivation, on the other hand, requires a complete attitude change. Think about why you’re not motivated to make sure you arrive on time. Is the appointment unimportant to you? If so, you may need to adjust your goals or start turning down meetings that you see no benefit in having.
8. Poor Organization
Missing deadlines, forgetting about tasks completely, or constantly rushing are signs you need to improve your organizational skills. You may need to give yourself more than the minimum you think you need for tasks, check your to-do list and calendar more regularly, or come up with a better organizational system.
9. Attempting to Multitask
Far too many people think they’re capable of multitasking. In fact, it’s a myth that anyone can multitask. It’s impossible for your brain to focus on more than one thing at once, meaning you’re constantly switching from one thing to another. Since you’ll be giving neither task your full attention, your work will be lower quality and full of errors. If you’re trying to listen or talk to someone, you won’t be able to fully participate in the conversation.
The solution is to stop trying to multitask and just do one thing at a time. If you have many small tasks on your to-do list, batch them: do one after another until you’ve finished, but don’t try to do them simultaneously.
10. Falling Victim to Distractions
No matter if you work from home or in an office with other people, a certain amount of distraction is unavoidable. However, you do have control over how you respond to distractions — and you may even be able to eliminate or reduce some. You just need to figure out what is distracting you and come up with a strategy.
For instance, if your coworkers or family members are interrupting you at particularly inconvenient times, you could create a system to let them know when you need to work undisturbed. If your phone is tempting you, make an agreement with yourself that you won’t look at it during certain hours. It could help to turn off notifications from nonessential apps and to switch the screen from color to grayscale to make it less appealing when you do need to check something.
11. Overrunning Meetings
When you’re not the one in charge of a meeting, there’s not much you can do about a meeting overrunning (although it is important to prepare for this eventuality). Overrunning your own meetings, however, is a sign of poor time management — and something you can overcome.
Before the meeting, create an outline of what you want to cover and how long it should take to talk about each point. Pay attention to the clock throughout the meeting to ensure you don’t exceed this allotted time. You may need to practice speaking more concisely and managing others to prevent them from talking for too long. For instance, you could ask for feedback and questions in an email that you can answer at a later date.
12. Blaming Others
If you find that you’re constantly blaming others (or perhaps tech) for your lateness and missed deadlines, you need to take a look at your own habits. It may be true that a piece of equipment failed at the last minute or you needed to confirm something with another person who responded too late. However, if your own time-management habits were better, you would likely have been able to meet the deadline even with the delay.
Other people will sometimes let you down — that’s unavoidable. However, if you find that you’re constantly struggling, you need to start taking responsibility for your own poor time management. Look out for other signs on this list to identify the root of the problem.
13. Taking on Too Much
Whether you feel guilty turning down requests to take on just one more project or you find it difficult to trust other people on your team and want to control everything, you could easily find that your schedule becomes too full. In either case, you need to become more willing to allow others to handle your work, learn how to delegate, and know your limits.
14. Having No Time for Breaks
Working all the time without taking breaks is a sign that you’re not managing your time adequately. You may feel productive, but the truth is it’s impossible to stay focused for hours at a time, meaning the quality of your work will be suffering. Taking regular breaks allows your mind to recharge and destress. One thing you could do is stop working for a couple of minutes every hour, such as to grab a drink of water, do some stretches, or meditate. You should find this helps you get more done.
You may find it useful to implement some specific time-management techniques to solve your problems. Certain strategies have gained popularity because numerous people in a variety of situations have found them helpful — these are the ones you should try yourself. Experiment with at least a few and adopt those that suit your situation best.
1. Pomodoro Technique
One of the most famous time-management strategies is the Pomodoro Technique. It involves working for 25 minutes at a time with taking five-minute breaks in between. After four intervals, take a longer break of about 20 to 30 minutes. This way of working means you’ll be unlikely to lose your focus. Plus, you can adapt the technique for you. For instance, if you’re able to maintain your concentration for more than 25 minutes, use longer intervals. However, if you find that you struggle with a full 25 minutes at the moment, work up to it.
2. Eisenhower Matrix
When you sit down to make your schedule for the week, it’s worth inputting all your tasks into the Eisenhower Matrix (named for president Dwight D. Eisenhower). The matrix involves categorizing tasks as either:
- Essential — Add these to your schedule for early on in the week.
- Urgent — Do these as soon as possible after you’ve finished your essential tasks.
- Important — Delegate whatever doesn’t require your expertise and do the rest whenever you have time.
- None of the above — Save them for later or remove them from your to-do list entirely.
3. Time Blocking
A popular way to ensure you stay on track all day is to split your time into blocks. You can then assign a specific task to each block. These blocks can be any length you want, and you can chunk several blocks together if you need longer for a particular task.
4. Time Boxing
A variation on time blocking is time boxing. Instead of assigning a task to a block of time, you decide how long you need to spend on a task. This can be effective at pushing you to finish an activity sooner than you otherwise might.
5. Deep Work
This technique comes from the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. It’s all about dividing your time into periods of deep and shallow work.
During deep work, you focus on the task at hand — and nothing else. You don’t allow anything to distract you. If you receive an email, someone calls you, or an idea that’s unrelated to the task you’re doing pops into your head, ignore it. You should schedule deep work when you know you’ll be able to focus and stay energized.
The rest of your time is for shallow work. This is when you work on all the extra items on your to-do list. Any time you’re likely to be interrupted or lose your concentration is suitable for shallow work.
6. Getting Things Done
Another time-management technique taken from a book is from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. The GTD method uses five steps:
- Step 1: Capture — Jot down everything you’re thinking about.
- Step 2: Clarify — Categorize the above into projects, actions, and reference material.
- Step 3: Organize — Decide what to do about all the above. For instance, projects require due dates, some tasks may need prioritizing and others delegating, and you should file away reference material somewhere you’ll be able to find it when you need it.
- Step 4: Review — Return to your lists periodically to check off, refine, and update items.
- Step 5: Engage — Use your findings from the previous steps to figure out what to do next.
The idea of the GTD method is that it reduces the amount of information you’re processing, helps you figure out what you need to do, and gets you stuck in. It’s particularly useful if your time-management problems are due to you feeling overwhelmed due to the sheer number of items on your to-do list or if you’re worried you’ll forget something.
One last method from a book is ABCDE. This comes from Alex Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. It simply involves ordering tasks from A to E:
- A — Most important
- B — Important
- C — Nice to do
- D — Delegate
- E — Eliminate
Use the method for all your current tasks and to categorize any new tasks that arise. You’ll likely need to review your list regularly, as tasks may change priority over time.
8. Day Theming
You may find that you achieve more and maintain better focus if you make each day about a particular type of activity. For instance, Mondays could be for administrative tasks, Tuesdays for deep work, Wednesdays for meetings, Thursdays for creative activities, and Fridays for everything else. This technique can be particularly effective if your work tends to be similar each week.
Whenever you have a large number of small tasks that will only take a few minutes each, batch them together. You’ll find this is less disruptive to your schedule than sending one email or making one quick phone call at a time.
Essential Types of Time-Management Tools
Time-management tools can go a long way toward helping you become more organized, keeping you on track, and making sure you never forget a commitment. There are a few key types of tools you need to have in your repertoire.
Critical to time management is a calendar where you add all your appointments, deadlines, and other commitments. Far too many people neglect their calendars — if they use one at all, they either forget to look at it regularly or they only add certain types of events. To make good use of your calendar, you need to add everything you’ll do over the week. Then, you can decide if you prefer to check what’s coming up next at periodic intervals throughout the day or set reminders to tell you before a change of activity.
A calendar is great for showing you what you should be working on at any given time, but you’ll also need to keep track of your progress on projects. The best solution for this is a project manager. You can make a note of all the tasks you need to do, how they relate to each other, and when you need to complete each. Apps come in the form of a to-do list or Kanban boards — some even let you choose between the two. In either case, it’s easy to reorder tasks, mark them as complete, and change their details, such as priority.
Writing lists and other types of notes can be hugely beneficial for time management. A note-taking tool will provide you with templates for different types of documents, such as goals, minutes from meetings, brainstorming, and checklists. The best apps also enable you to sync data from various sources.
If your problems with time management are mainly because you’re falling victim to distractions, you need an app to block whatever is taking your attention away from work. Some tools allow you to block all the distracting apps on the device you’re using, whereas others block apps on all your devices.
If you want to use the Pomodoro Technique, it will help to have a time tracker. As well as allowing you to time intervals with accuracy, you can use a time tracker to check how you spent your time and whether you stayed productive. Then, you can set new productivity goals and strive to keep improving.
Although automation sounds technical, apps exist that make it quite simple. You can automate all sorts of simple tasks, including backing up data, sharing information between apps, online research, scheduling posts, web analytics, and follow-ups with leads.
To develop better habits, accountability is key. A habit-tracking tool gives you the chance to log activity and check your progress toward making improvements in your life. Some apps allow you to share the progress of others or even join a team where your actions have an impact on everyone’s scores.
Choosing the Right Time Management Tool for Your Needs
You have many options for all the above — how should you choose between them? Downloading a few apps and signing up for free trials (when necessary) can help you test several and figure out what works best for you. However, the last thing you want is to waste time choosing between too many tools. It’s important to think about what you’re looking for in an app before you even start your search.
A time-management tool is no good if it breaks the bank — this will only make you more stressed. Often, a free tool will be sufficient for your needs, but you should consider paying if you think this will bring you significant benefits.
All-in-One vs Single Function
It’s often possible to find time-management apps that offer several functionalities in one. This could make managing your time easier — and it may also save you money. However, combined apps are often more simplistic than specialized apps. You’ll need to decide whether you’d prefer to have advanced features or the convenience of everything being in the same place.
Although the basics tend to be the same across all time management tools of a certain type, there will always be ways in which apps differ. This is often down to the features they offer. Consider what functions you actually need and will use — you may need free trials to figure this out.
Long-Established vs Innovative
Search for any of the above tools and you’ll find a range consisting of well-known names and newcomers to the scene. If you just want to be sure that the tool does everything it claims, long-established tools are ideal. Whereas these apps are not always the best (for instance, they may have bugs that the developers will never bother to fix or be full of features you don’t need), they should at least meet your needs.
If you’re willing to experiment, though, you could find the next big app that will replace the current market leader in a couple years. Customer support is more likely to be personalized and the company may even implement user suggestions for improvements. The risk is that the company could go out of business. In the best case scenario, you’ll need to find a new solution; in the worst of cases, you’ll lose your data. If you want to lower your risk, you can always choose a new and innovative tool that already has numerous reviews.
What Appeals to You
To benefit from time-management tools, you need to be using them every day — and you’ll only open apps if you find them user friendly. Characteristics that may seem superficial (like layout, color palette, and tone of voice) can actually be quite important.
How to Give Feedback on Poor Time Management
If you’re a business owner or manager, it may be one of your employees, rather than you, who is struggling with poor time management. It’s crucial that everyone on your team is effective at managing their time, as just one person falling behind can cause problems for everyone.
The best time to talk about poor time management is in a performance assessment. You should discuss with the employee the specific problems you’ve noticed and ask about why these issues are occurring. You can then work toward a solution together by using the ideas above. For example, the employee may need more guidance about how long to expect tasks to take, support with prioritization, or a lighter workload.
What to Do When Your Workload Is Too Heavy
You may find that, whatever you do, you simply don’t have enough time to complete everything on your schedule. In this case, the best solution is to hand off some tasks to a virtual assistant. With a virtual assistant from MYVA360, you can delegate any work that doesn’t require your expertise — freeing up time for you and your team to work on high-priority projects. Request your free trial to see how having a dedicated virtual assistant would benefit you.