10 Common Time Management Mistakes That Are Slowing You Down
Somehow it’s already 3pm yet you’re still working on the same small task you started first thing this morning. Your to-do list is piling up, you’re way behind schedule, and now it’s time for two hours of back-to-back Zoom calls. Yikes.
Most of us have been in this kind of situation—and many of us find ourselves there just about every day. Despite our best efforts to efficiently organize our time, stay on top of our schedule, and complete all of our tasks, we still find it hard to keep things under control.
Related read: How the Busiest People in SaaS Manage Their Email
So instead of creating endless to-do lists, take some time to identify the root of your time management problem. What are you doing wrong and where is your time slipping away?
To help, let’s take a look at 10 common mistakes that disturb your workflow and prevent you from staying within timelines.
1. Failing to prioritize
Identifying your top priority tasks can be overwhelming if most of your tasks require the same level of dedication. For example, maybe you’ve just started working on a high-priority task and you’re in the middle of brainstorming some brilliant ideas with your team when one of your colleagues suddenly steals your attention by pointing out that you need to refocus on an urgent issue that has just come up.
This kind of situation is unavoidable, but the key is learning how to prioritize—and figuring out how to do that is a process that takes time. Tools like Action Priority Matrix or Google Keep can help you prioritize and maintain a stable productivity level. If you’re into pen and paper, a new favorite is the Full Focus Planner.
2. Starting your day late
Your efforts to complete your daily tasks will fall flat if you don’t start your day early or at least on time. The most influential leaders share one thing in common: They get up early. Starting your day late almost guarantees you’ll feel rushed throughout the day. “Early” is different for everyone, so take a look at your daily schedule and figure out when your day should begin and end.
3. Ineffectively scheduling tasks
Our productivity level not only changes from day to day, but it also varies from person to person. While some people are at the peak of their productivity the moment they wake up, others tend to show their maximum potential once the sun sets. The easiest way to balance your time is to find out what your peak time is and allocate that time for doing top-priority work instead of spreading it on completing some less important, repetitive tasks.
Procrastination is probably your worst enemy. There is nothing more detrimental to your concentration and true potential than going around in circles and making excuses about not getting down to real work. Not only does it create a huge backlog but it also makes you feel guilty about not having started your work, especially if it is urgent.
The best way to avoid this scenario is to devote a specific amount of your time to just starting. This will trigger your imagination, draw your attention, and soon you will be entirely involved in the project. If that doesn’t work, try breaking the task into several manageable pieces.
5. Failing to manage distractions
While a variety of communication channels and social media platforms allow us to communicate more easily, they’re also majorly distracting. Hands up if you’ve ever meant to “quickly” scroll through your Twitter or Instagram feed and actually wound up spending, like, an hour or more.
Whether it’s the phone that keeps ringing or notifications that you keep getting from either chat or social media groups, they interrupt our workflow and break our creative process. Turn off all the notifications and close Slack, schedule time free from interruptions, and minimize the time you spend on things that don’t have much impact on your work.
6. Undervaluing the time something will take to finish
One of the most common pitfalls most ambitious people tend to make is to miscalculate the time and energy they will need to complete a particular task. This behavior is typical of A-type overachievers who think they can keep everything under control and never turn down an opportunity no matter how demanding it is.
If you’re suffering from the same ailment, productivity coach Kimberly Medlock has a solution: Write down the amount of time you’ll need to complete each one of the tasks on your to-do list. She also recommends doubling that time. For example, if one task takes 20 minutes, block off 40 minutes. It’s pretty common for people to underestimate the time it takes to do something.
Striving to become proficient at what we do, we usually fall into the trap of multitasking. Theoretically, multitasking is feasible if you have to get on top of your workload. However, doing many things at the same time prevents you from focusing on all of your tasks equally and takes much more of your time than completing your tasks in a sequence. In other words, if you want to be good at multitasking you need to be super organized and maintain a high level of concentration, creativity, and precision.
In the end, multitasking isn’t for everyone so choose your battles carefully. Whenever the circumstances allow it, forget about multitasking and focus on one task at a time. This will help you produce high-quality work and give you a sense of completion.
8. Being busy vs. being effective
As much as we would like to stay focused on high-value work, we sometimes lose track and find ourselves doing a bundle of low-priority things that not only eat our energy and time but also have little or no impact on the final outcome we’re trying to achieve.
To avoid this scenario, ask yourself:
- Is this useful?
- How does this contribute to the ultimate goal?
- Could it be delegated?
If you have some minor tasks to deal with, try bunching them out. For example, instead of doing one task each day, do the three days of minor tasks in one afternoon.
9. Being a perfectionist
Our entire life is a learning process. Every time we dive into a new project, we face a number of hurdles, but we also learn how to jump over them along the way. While you should strive towards excellence, keep in mind that sometimes done is better than perfect.
This goes back to prioritization. Your time is limited and if you don’t want to stay overtime you have to sometimes be satisfied with good—don’t let perfect be the enemy of good as they say.
10. Skipping breaks
Whether you’re working on an urgent task or a bunch of low-priority ones, set aside time for breaks. According to a study by Draugiem Group, our brains simply weren’t built to focus for eight hours. The only reasonable solution is to step away and do something not related to your job—eat, go for a quick walk, exercise, or simply do nothing and relax. This should help you clear your thoughts and gain more psychological energy for the work to come.
Take time to make time
Really, a lot of productivity comes down to spending time planning. When you’re feeling crushed by a ton of work, spending time writing out a to-do list, blocking off your schedule, or prioritizing tasks can feel like a waste of time—but stopping to plan will wind up saving you time and stress in the end.
Editor’s note: This post was first published in August 2017 and updated in March 2021.
In a perfect world, people make rational decisions and the best idea always wins. But as we all know, things don’t always work out this way.