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7 Common Time Management Mistakes and How to Avoid Them


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Image by gadl (license).

What are some of the most common mistakes that people make when trying to improve their productivity and manage their time better?

Here are some of the crucial mistakes I have made over and over again. I think many of them do not just apply to me. They are challenges I think many of us have faced at one time or other.

1. Taking on too much.

You can increase your capabilities and capacity. But don’t overdo it. At some point you may be taking on too much. This can cause a lot of stress and decrease your effectiveness.

You can at least do tree things to help yourself if you feel you’re taking on too much:

  • Learn to say no. Set boundaries and limits. If you don’t there is also risk that people will keep hoisting more work your way since the they think you have the time and energy to spare.
  • Ask for help. Just as learning to say no, this can be hard. But if you are buried in work it may be necessary.
  • Declutter. Perhaps you don’t have to do all that work you are doing. Use the 80/20-rule and find out what your most important tasks are. Consider spending more time with them. And less or no time at all with some of those tasks that aren’t that important anyway. Just like when decluttering your closet, decluttering your to-do list can reward you with a surprisingly large amount of free space.

2. Not thinking things through and planning before getting started.

This can cost you a lot of time and energy. Take out a piece of paper – or create a fresh and clean document on your computer – and start thinking about how you will go about what you are about to do.

Do some research online or through books to educate yourself. Or ask someone who has been where you want to go.

Try to find out where possible stumbling blocks may lie. Spending an hour planning or some time sending out emails/asking questions on the phone before getting started can save you countless hours and a lot frustration and problems down the road.

Things will probably not turn out exactly as you planned along the way, but some knowledge plus a plan is certainly better than nothing at all.

3. Overcomplicating your time management system.

You may have a complicated time management system. If it works for you, then that’s great. If it doesn’t work, if you spend a lot time to keeping your system in order or slipping while trying to get things done then it might be time for a change.

Try decluttering and simplifying. Take it back to basics so you don’t have to spend half your time managing your system, trying to optimize it with more and more tools and feeling defeated when you can’t keep up. Simplify and you’ll save yourself a whole lot of energy, worries and mindclutter. And you’ll probably get more done in a more enjoyable way.

One simple time management system is Zen to Done by Leo Babauta (also in e-bookform). Another is the one mentioned as Habit 7: Daily Six in this article by Scott H Young. Simple time management tips can also be found in Tim Ferriss excellent The 4-Hour Workweek.

4. Being busy instead of effective.

How you spend a normal day? What you do actually do with your hours? One good way to actually find that out is described in Where Is Your Time Really Going?

Keeping yourself busy with low-priority activities that won’t have much payoff can become a big problem. One way to keep yourself on track and your attention on what’s important is to ask yourself questions a few times a day. I ask myself: Is this useful? If I find that what I’m doing is not useful then I move on to something that is.

But how do you remember to actually ask yourself the question above? Write it down. Use it as a screensaver or write it down on a piece of paper and put it where you can’t avoid seeing it throughout your day.

Sometimes you still need to do boring stuff or low-priority tasks. When you do, try to bunch them. You can also bunch your more important tasks to keep your flow going and get a better performance and more done in less time.

5. Multitasking and getting less done with more stress.

I’m sure that multitasking works great for some people. For me it doesn’t. I just get less done, feel more stressed and I’m more prone to procrastinate.

If you feel the same way give singletasking a try. Just focus on one task at the time. Do it until it’s completed. It will be hard at first. But over time, just like with any other skill, it becomes easier and you can complete tasks quicker.

One thing I’ve found to be quite helpful while singletasking is to work in a cone of silence. What this means is that you create a zone where there are few things to distract you. Or tempt you to veer off course and procrastinate. So I, for instance, clean my workspace and desktop. I shut the door and shut down and unplug what is not needed. That may include various phones and the internet cable.

Then I work in silence and tranquillity.

You may not be able to remove that many possible distractions when and where you work. But try your own variation and see if it improves your focus and clarity of thought. You can read more about the cone of silence in this article.

6. Not writing everything down.

If your memory is anything like mine it’s like a leaking bucket. And there are many great reasons to write everything down.

  • You’ll have your ideas safely saved away instead of having them lost somewhere in the depths of your mind. If you don’t write things down you’ll forget many good and some great ideas.
  • You’ll free up your mind to analyse and create based on your ideas instead of occupying it with trying to remember everything. You’ll feel more relaxed and be able to think about your ideas and what you have to do with more clarity.
  • As described in mistake # 4, you can use paper or a screensaver as an effective reminder to keep yourself on track and away from just being busy.

For more reasons to write things down have a look at Why You Should Write Things Down.

7. Not taking breaks.

You can’t keep working non-stop. Well, you can. But if you do that there’s a good chance your effectiveness will drop. And at the end of the day you will have kept yourself busy for most of the day doing low-priority tasks instead of working on and completing the most important ones.

If you’re tired and feeling down that may just mean that you need to take a break. Taking a few minutes to eat something, to go for a quick walk a get some fresh air or just to relax can make a big difference. Rewarding yourself with an icecream or some funny YouTube clips or doing a bit of meditation – I prefer the guided kind – are also good ways to lift yourself up again.

How and when to take breaks is something everyone have to experiment with for themselves to find a good balance and a feel for when you a breather.

Some factors that play important parts in how much work you can get done and when you need a break are your motivation and your ability to focus. But more basic stuff like how much sleep you are getting, what and how much you’re eating and the shape you’re in can make a dramatic difference.

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  • John November 14, 2007, 10:39 pm

    Thanks for the post!

    I myself have been guilty of all of those in the past. I’ve also been guilty of switching from one time management system to another, looking to find the “magic bullet” to solve the problem. Picking one, and sticking to it, has been of great benefit.

    Thanks again!

  • Henrik Edberg November 14, 2007, 10:52 pm

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing, John. I agree, switching around looking for a magic bullet is tempting but not that useful.

  • Jason November 14, 2007, 11:13 pm

    Right now I feel like I’m making all of those mistakes at the same time… I’m multi-tasking on making time management mistakes.

    I need to find some time to step back and start over.

  • Henrik Edberg November 14, 2007, 11:46 pm

    Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s not always easy to avoid these mistakes. And in my experience it’s not something you fix in a week or two either.

    But taking a step back, getting an overview of the situation and going from there sounds like a good idea.

  • Albert | UrbanMonk.Net November 15, 2007, 1:10 pm

    Thanks for the tips Henrik – useful for a GTD beginner like me. I’m guilty of almost all of them hehe.

    Cheers,
    Albert
    UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  • Henrik Edberg November 15, 2007, 1:48 pm

    Thanks for the comment and I’m glad you found tha article useful, Albert.

  • Neil November 15, 2007, 1:56 pm

    I really enjoy you blog. I have been following it for a while, and it fits in just beatifully with what I am paying more attention to in life – getting more done with the right effort!

    :-)

    Keep it up!
    Neil.

  • Don November 15, 2007, 5:38 pm

    It’s a thoughtful piece. And Henrik, I hope you could take a look at my Time Management tool as well when you have some time.

    Thanks.

  • niranjan December 9, 2007, 4:32 pm

    one can learn how to avoid deleys . your artical includs most of the points that can give me more from my time.
    thanks.

    waiting for your next ………..!!!

    niranjan

  • Marc and Angel Hack Life July 30, 2008, 12:22 am

    These are some wise time management tips. I’ll be linking to this article in the near future. ;-)

  • Trevor December 1, 2009, 6:06 am

    I like the advice on writing your goals down. I started doing this now and it makes a huge difference! Great article, keep it up.