Some people get a rush from being busy. The narrowly-met deadlines, the endless emails, the piles of files needing attention on the desk, the frantic race to the meeting — what an adrenaline buzz! The problem is that an “addiction to busyness” rarely means that you’re effective. If you’re always busy it can cause stress. Instead, try to slow down, and learn to manage your time better.
Perhaps you feel overloaded and often must work late to hit your deadlines. Or, maybe your days seem to go from one crisis to another, which is stressful and demoralizing. Many of us know that we could be managing our time more effectively. Though, it can be difficult to identify the areas in which we can improve. When we do manage our time well, however, we’re exceptionally productive at work and our stress levels drop. Effective time management makes it possible for us to devote time to the interesting, high-reward projects that make a real difference to a career. In short, we’re happier when we’re not always busy.
Common Time Management Pitfalls to Avoid Being Busy:
1. Failing to Keep a Proper To-Do List
Do you ever have that nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten something important? If so, you probably aren’t using your to-do list properly, if at all. The trick to effectively using to-do lists lies in prioritizing (described in greater detail later). Many people use an A-F coding system (A for high priority items, F for very low priorities). Alternatively, you can simplify this by using A through D or by using numbers.
Another mistake people often make with to-do lists is creating vague “to-dos”. For example, you may write down “Start on budget proposal”, but what does this entail? The lack of specifics here might cause you to procrastinate or miss key steps. Make sure that you break large tasks or projects down into specific, actionable steps — then you won’t overlook something important.
2. Overlooking Personal Goals
Do you know what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the month? Six months? What about by this time next year, or even three years from now? If not, it’s time to set some goals! Personal goal setting is essential to managing your time well, because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there. Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on and what’s nothing more than a distraction.
3. Not Prioritizing
Your coworker has just walked in with a crisis that she needs you to deal with right now, but you’re in the middle of brainstorming ideas for a new client. You’re sure that you’ve almost come up with a brilliant idea for their marketing campaign, but you now risk losing your train of thought because of this “emergency”. Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to prioritize, especially when you’re facing a flood of seemingly urgent tasks. However, it’s essential to learn how to prioritize tasks effectively if you want to manage your time better.
Given your list of tasks, place each of them in the grid according to urgency and importance.
For example, say your list included the following items:
- Fix furnace
- Telemarketer phone call
- Award applications
- Check social media
- Create brand/logo
- Long-term strategy
- RFP meeting today
- Random interruptions
- Sort junk mail
- Clean office
Separate your list of tasks into the four categories. Once you have done this, plug them into the grid. As shown in the first figure, each square has a corresponding number and this is the order in which you should prioritize your tasks. Obviously, fixing the furnace or attending to a call with your supervisor has a higher urgency and importance than sorting Junk mail or cleaning your office. Focus on the most urgent and important tasks first in Square 1, and then move to Squares II, III, and IV. This does not mean that you should not spend time on non-urgent tasks. However, in a high-stress situation, this method can be important in determining what needs to be completed first.
4. Failing to Manage Distractions
Did you know that some of us can lose as much as two hours a day due to distractions? Imagine how much you could get done if you had that time back! Whether the distractions are emails, voicemails, texts, colleagues in a crisis, or phone calls from clients, distractions prevent us from achieving flow — the satisfying and seemingly effortless work that we complete when we are 100% engaged in a task.
If you want to gain control of your day and put forth your best work, it’s vital to know how to minimize distractions and manage interruptions effectively. For instance, consider a hotel stay. If you are a patron and you are interested in sleeping in, you hang a sign on your door that says “Do Not Disturb”. This can be applied at your desk as well. If you need uninterrupted time to concentrate and complete tasks, come up with a “Do Not Disturb” sign or symbol that coworkers can understand and respect.
Procrastination occurs when you put off tasks that you should be focusing on right now. Often, procrastination stems from a fear of failure and plagues perfectionists. Procrastinators tend to feel that they must complete a task perfectly from start to finish in one go, and this high expectation makes them feel overwhelmed and anxious. Ignoring the task leads to a feeling of guilt and, oftentimes, procrastinators end up dreading the task. Eventually, everything catches up with them when they fail to complete the work on time. A useful strategy is to tell yourself that you’re only going to get started on a project for 15-20 minutes. Devoting a small amount of time to getting started will help eliminate the fear and anxiety.
6. Taking on Too Much
Do you have a hard time saying “no” to others? If so, you probably have far too many projects and commitments on your plate. This can lead to poor performance, stress, and low morale. Alternatively, you might be a micromanager: someone who insists on completing all of the work themselves because they can’t trust anyone else to do it correctly. This can be a problem for everyone — not just managers!
Either way, taking on too much is a poor use of your time and it can earn you a reputation for producing rushed, sloppy work. To put an end to this, learn the subtle art of saying “yes” to the person but “no” to the task. This skill helps you assert yourself, while still maintaining good feelings within the group. If the other person starts counting on you to say “yes” to their request, practice some prepared responses so you don’t have to think on your feet.
To get on top of her workload, Kristin regularly writes emails while she chats on the phone with her clients. You may think that this is a good use of time, but the truth is that it can take 20-40 percent more time to finish a list of jobs when you multitask rather than completing the same list of tasks in sequence. Multitasking results in poor work output for both tasks — Kristin’s emails are full of errors and her clients are frustrated by her lack of concentration. Forget about multitasking and instead focus on one task at a time. You’ll produce higher quality work in a shorter timeframe.
8. Foregoing Breaks
It’s nice to imagine that you can work for 8-10 hours straight, especially when you’re working towards a deadline. But it’s impossible for anyone to focus and produce high-quality work without giving their brains some time to rest and recharge. Don’t dismiss breaks as “wasting time; they provide valuable down-time, which will enable you to clear your mind, think creatively, and work effectively. If it’s hard for you to stop working, then schedule breaks for yourself and set an alarm as a reminder. Go for a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee, or sit and meditate at your desk. There are plenty of apps that provide short, easy-to-follow meditations: SimpleHabit and HeadSpace are quality apps to try out. Shoot for taking a five minute break every two hours, and make sure that you give yourself ample time for lunch — you won’t produce top-quality work if you’re hungry!
9. Ineffectively Scheduling Tasks
Are you a morning person, or do you find your energy picking up once the sun begins to set in the evening? All of us have different rhythms — that is, different times of day when we feel most productive and energetic. You can make the best use of your time by scheduling high-value work during your peak time, and low-energy work (such as returning phone calls and checking email) during your “down” time.
At Goalpost Group, we help our clients break the cycle of bad marketing using strategy, structure, and killer content that drives sales and wins the day. Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more about how we can help transform your marketing.