20 Most Common Time Management Problems & Solutions ⚡

20 Most Common Time Management Problems & Solutions ⚡

20 time management mistakes and 72 ideas on how to deal with them

·Apr 15, 2021·

22 min read

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Smart time management enables you to work smarter, not harder so that you get more done in less time. If we could squeeze this concept into a single piece of advice, it’d be the following: think through your day and put the things you want to get done in your calendar. However, most people struggle to live up to this rule, which leads to disappointment and frustration over time.

The hard truth is that time waits for no one. If you want to accomplish more, you should learn to keep up with the time. No amount of time management books and training sessions can make you perform better unless you set your mind to it. It’s not enough to collect the best time management practices and approaches until you recognize your flaws. That is why in this article, we’ve put together 20 time management mistakes and even more pieces of advice on how to deal with them. Save this list and get back to it whenever you will feel the need for more time management ideas.

1. Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, perfectionists strive to produce high-quality work as well as show more conscientiousness, engagement and motivation levels. However, their high and inflexible standards and all-or-nothing mindset often cause stress, burnout and anxiety that impair their performance.

Time management tips:

  • Get comfortable with imperfection. Diligence is a good trait, but sometimes it may take more of your time and effort than required. Attention to detail is also a great one but it can be very time-consuming. Whenever you find yourself putting too much effort into your task, take a break and ask yourself: “Am I using my time wisely? Am I being productive?”. It’s often the case that a handful of imperfect tasks bring more results than one task that meets your high standards.

  • Reflect on your progress regularly. Review your performance on a weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis. Could you be less fussy about some of the tasks with little or no damage to the outcome? Can you think of tasks that you avoided or put too much effort into due to fear of making a mistake?

  • Take some pressure off yourself. If you want to accomplish more in less time, allow yourself to be less perfect and concentrate and what’s important.

  • Ask for perspective and support. Show your work to your manager or supervisor regularly to learn if you are doing good and the current quality of work is sufficient. Be open with your intention to become a more productive employee and be ready to take criticism.

2. Not Being Able to Concentrate & Maintain Focus

Most of us at least once experienced this state when you read a paragraph of text over and over and can’t get a grip on what it says. Or you need to write an article or prepare a report, but your mind is wandering and unable to concentrate. Here are a couple of ideas on how you can get back on track.

Time management tips:

  • Know thy enemy. Identify workplace distractions that interfere with your ability to focus and be productive. Take a short assessment test by Harvard Business Review, learn which distractions damage your concentration most and get some tips on how to eliminate them.
  • Take better care of your health. Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention. Regular physical activity improves concentration and attention and maintains brain health of older adults. Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer multiple benefits, including Improved concentration.
  • Use your peak performance time. Identify the most productive parts of the day and use them to schedule the most demanding tasks. Don’t use peak time to process emails or make phone calls and use it wisely.
  • Take breaks. Breaks are not only fun, but they also refresh your mind, replenish mental resources, restore motivation and reduce decision fatigue. Spending time in nature alleviates fatigue (study), even 10 minutes of exercise improve attention and performance (study).
  • Set daily goals. Our brains like short-term goals due to physiological reasons. When we succeed at something, our brain releases dopamine, making us feel more concentrated and inspired to experience this sense of accomplishment once again.
  • Practice single-tasking. Multitasking has many adverse effects on your concentration and performance: it slows down your progress, makes you prone to making mistakes, stresses you out and more. Instead, focus on one task at a time. For even more concentration and focus, start a timer – it will give you the mental commitment to start working on the task.
  • Speak to your doctor. If you noticed a sudden decline in your ability to concentrate – having a harder time doing your routine tasks, making more errors, making more frequent poor decisions – do not ignore it. These may be symptoms of depression or anxiety, and time management approaches can make your performance even worse due to high pressure that your body can’t tolerate at the moment.
  • Limit your Internet and social media time. In his article, Nicholas Carr highlights a dangerous tendency that most of us probably noticed but didn’t pay much attention to: social media and search engines narrow our attention span and our ability to focus (study).

3. Scheduling Tasks Ineffectively

Effective scheduling makes a great part of an efficient time management strategy. You can’t manage your time and focus if you prioritize the wrong things and invest time into tasks that return little or no goal-related results. Even if you’ve learned how to sort out priorities, it’s still not enough because a never-ending circle of demanding and challenging tasks can cause anxiety, stress, depression and burnout. Let’s see how you can distribute your workload effectively.

Time management tips:

  • Consider the Ivy Lee method. At the end of the day, write down the six most important tasks for tomorrow and prioritize them. The next day, start working on the most important ones.
  • Avoid the mere urgency effect. According to research, we tend to choose urgent tasks with objectively lower payoffs over important tasks with more significant and long-term consequences. Prioritize tasks that are both urgent and important. Next, choose important tasks over the urgent ones, which are ineffective in most cases.
  • Narrow down your list of tasks. Review your to-do list and narrow it down to the most crucial tasks (try the Covey time management grid). Figure out which tasks and activities will deliver the best returns and prioritize them.
  • Eat the frog. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Do the most important or challenging task – the one you are most likely to procrastinate on and probably the one that can have the greatest positive impact on your life or project.

4. Lack of Vision

First of all, there’s no need to master your time management skills if you don’t have a clear vision of where you are heading. If tasks and responsibilities that you want to manage with more skill and grace don’t inspire you, you need to develop more direction and meaning first. Without a vision, you have little chance of creating the results you want and feeling joy and excitement to keep on going.

Time management tips:

  • Get a bird’s eye view. Think of how your tasks at hand contribute to your personal or corporate goals. Maintain your focus on the end result – it will bring you inspiration and energy to keep going. Adjust your vision if necessary but never lose sight of it.
  • Identify time wasters. Most management problems come from spending too much time on things that don’t bring you results and move you forward. Make sure to invest your time into meaningful tasks and projects.
  • Create a contingency plan. There’s always a possibility that things won’t unfold as expected. Think about best-case and worst-case scenarios, prepare the “Plan B” and “Plan C” to manage risks and problems with grace.

5. Never Thinking About Tomorrow

People who create extraordinary results in life are typically visionaries. To make their visions a reality, they have to think strategically and set short-term goals that bring them toward their goals step by step. When you think about tomorrow, you’ll be better prepared with what’s coming next and feel more motivated investing efforts every day to attain the results you envision.

Time management tips:

  • Develop awareness and adaptability skills. Think about how your time and efforts you invested today will contribute to your tomorrow’s reality and bring you closer to your goals (e.g., how will today’s project tasks impact next week’s tasks?). Adapt your plans to changing circumstances.
  • Review your progress regularly. Break your projects into manageable tasks and track their progress. Use charts, reports, progress bars to see how you are doing.
  • Consider the 7-minute rule. Spend 7 minutes in the morning to plan your day and 7 minutes before you go to sleep to review your day and prepare a plan for tomorrow.
  • Learn from your past performance. Estimate your tasks, set deadlines and track time against them. When you finish the task, review your performance, identify trends, and make it a game to reach better results next time if you need a little more competition.

6. Not Tracking Time

You can’t improve your time management tactics and approaches if you don’t keep track of your time. Time tracking sounds like a tedious task, but once you implement it into your routine, it will reveal unexpected trends and insights. When you analyze how many hours phone calls, emails and distractions take, you can develop a more strategic approach to your time.

Time management tips:

  • Pick a time tracking tool that fits you best: timesheet app, desktop time tracker, mobile app, browser extension or even a stopwatch timer.
  • Consider time tracking software. Choose the one that meets your needs and doesn’t overwhelm you with a complicated interface and unnecessary features.
  • Track even the smallest tasks like phone calls, meetings, coffee breaks, distraction time, or consider a desktop monitoring software that automatically records your app, website, and off time.
  • Review your performance regularly. Use Excel sheets, Google Sheets, timesheet apps or time trackers with project management features to record time against the tasks and use your time logs to build reports.

7. Lack of Regular Time Management Review

Whether you work on your personal goals or want to improve your efficiency at work, you should regularly review your performance. If you use time tracking software, you can use your time logs and build reports to identify productivity trends, adjust your approach and use your time even more wisely. Make sure to review not only your daily and weekly performance but look into monthly and half-year reports to get a birds-eye view of your efforts.

Time management tips:

  • Avoid sunk cost fallacy – investing too much time into ineffective and low-priority tasks. When you notice that your current activity takes more time than you can afford, step back and evaluate how valuable is its outcome and how it will affect your progress.
  • Take a future time perspective. Think about how your current activity will help or hurt your next steps, next week’s tasks and your project.
  • Review your schedule regularly. Start your day by spending 5 minutes going over your daily schedule. Take a few minutes in the middle of the day to review your progress and what’s left to be done. End your day with a 5-minute performance review.
  • Build a personal development plan and document your goals, plans, skills to master. Review your progress regularly to make sure you stay on track.

8. Not Being Able to Cope With Stress

Stress management and time management often go hand in hand. If you wait until the last minute to complete your task at hand, fail to plan ahead and prioritize, then you will more likely feel stressed. Not all stress is bad, but persistent exposure to stress can put your health and performance at risk. Let’s see what you can do to manage stress effectively.

Time management tips:

  • Identify your stressors. Practice journaling for a few weeks to record your stressors, thoughts, feelings and reactions. Review your notes to find patterns and look into ways to cope with stress more effectively.
  • Develop healthy responses. Junk food and alcohol may seem like a good way to soothe stress, but instead, try more healthy choices: exercise, yoga, meditations, hobbies, favorite activities, quality sleep.
  • Set boundaries. Whether you work from home or the office, stick to your working hours and leave work at work. Avoid thinking about work and answering emails, mute corporate chats and other work-related notifications on your smartphone at the end of your workday.

9. Not Practicing Attention Management

Let’s face it: we all have 24 hours in a day and there’s no such thing as “managing time.” The good news is that we can manage our attention and focus. Ultimately, attention management is the ability to recognize your brain state and consciously shift yourself into that state that will serve you best at the moment. We won’t delve into details here, but we will give you some ideas on how to tune into work.

Time management tips:

  • Control your environment. Communicate to others that you try to stay focused: change your chat status to “Don’t disturb,” put on headphones, close the door – anything that is appropriate in your situation.
  • Review your attention-stealing habits. Some of us prefer background TV noise when working from home, most of us can’t resist the temptation to check out a notification and answer a message right away. Discover and review your bad habits and develop a more healthy time management approach to regain your attention span and focus.
  • Exercise and meditate. According to a study by Harvard Medical School, regular exercises improve memory, concentration, and mental sharpness. Just a couple of weeks of meditation reduce mind wandering, boost focus and memory (study).

10. Doing Everything On Your Own

It doesn’t matter if you are an employee, a business owner or a self-employed person, you can’t do everything on your own. We all have 24 hours in a day and limited energy capacities as human beings. So if we push ourselves too hard, we are more likely to become stressed, less effective and deliver low-quality results.

Time management tips:

  • Outsource. If you are a business owner or a self-employed person, consider outsourcing a part of your efforts. For example, if the accounting routine takes a lot of your time, consider using accounting agencies’ services. Weigh the opportunity costs and you may find out that your time and energy are more crucial for your success than your money.
  • Automate your routines. Let’s say you are a project manager and you need to keep an eye on your project progress, team performance, billing and accounting matters. There is time tracking software that can do most of this work for you, so, again, consider the opportunity costs, and, most likely, you’ll make a choice towards its purchase. Automated routines will save weeks of your time in the long run.
  • Delegate. Let’s say you are a manager in a marketing team and you’ve got a lot on your plate: meetings, job interviews, reports, management routine tasks. Consider delegating a report building task to one of your most reliable and detail-oriented team member. This way, they’ll learn some new skills and will be able to back you up in the future, while you will have more time on tasks that require your direct involvement.

11. Being Bad at Estimating Time

Most of us tend to underestimate how long projects and tasks will take us to finish. This phenomenon is called planning fallacy and refers to making unrealistic best-case scenario plans and estimations. The main causes of this effect include the following:

  • score creep – underestimating the complexity of a project;
  • planning focalism – not taking into account experience with similar tasks in the past;
  • natural optimism – thinking that tasks will go smoothly, without bottlenecks and changes;
  • motivated reasoning – making optimistic estimates because managers want to see work completed as quickly as possible;
  • lack of accurate self-awareness regarding your competence.

Time management tips:

  • Calculate your fudge ratio. Build a list of tasks, estimate and track time against them. Then add up your total time spent, divide it by the total estimated time and multiply the result by 100% – this is your fudge ratio.
  • Review your previous performance. If you track time in paper timesheets, Excel or Google Spreadsheets, you’ll have a hard time calculating your performance. Consider time tracking software where you can be sure that your data will be safely stored and you’ll be able to build performance reports in a few clicks.
  • Assume the worst-case scenario. Include possible interruptions and roadblocks into your estimates because projects rarely go smoothly.
  • Have someone else estimate for you. Kahneman and Tversky, who first mentioned the concept of planning fallacy, also discovered the following: while we’re bad at estimating our own tasks, we make more accurate estimations for others.
  • Ask for feedback. When planning your next activities, ask a neutral party for feedback on your estimations.

12. Being Busy Instead of Effective

Being busy and being productive is not the same thing. You can be busy clearing your inbox, sorting out tasks in your to-do list all day and still accomplish nothing meaningful. Busy time doesn’t bring you closer to your goals, making you feel anxious and unsettled. In contrast, productive time feels like steady progress towards your goals. The main reasons people get stuck in being busy include bad prioritizing and overthinking instead of getting things done.

Time management tips:

  • Apply the Pareto principle. Focus on 20% tasks of the highest value that give 80% of results. For example, instead of planning and analyzing how to start your new project, take action and do the job 80% of the time and use the rest of your time to plan your next steps.
  • Consider the 4Ds technique. When a new interruption or distraction shows up, choose one of the following: delete, delegate, defer, do now.
  • Or implement the ABCDE approach, where A: most important tasks, B: less important tasks, C: tasks with no consequences, D: delegate, E: eliminate.
  • Set agile results. Focus on three key results you want to achieve over a certain period of time: day, week, month or year.
  • Try the 1-3-5 strategy. Commit to 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks every day.

13. Not Mastering Your Skills & Tools

The success of your time management efforts is closely related to how you apply and whether you develop your hard and soft skills. These are related to your professional tools, communication, problem-solving, creative thinking, self-awareness, decision-making and more. Without mastering other skills, no amount of time management books and advice can make you grow faster and achieve more in life and career.

Time management tips:

  • Hone your professional skills. Review your skills regularly, think of how you could improve them, what additional skills you could benefit from.
  • Know your tools. Most of us use emails, task boards, industry-specific software, time trackers and more. But we often forget that every tool offers shortcuts and tiny features that could significantly improve our routines. For example, if you use Google a lot, Google search tricks can save you hours of your time monthly. Be sure to explore your tools of the trade.
  • Improve your soft skills. Be more conscious about how you deal with feedback, communicate, learn new things, adapt to the changes, work through conflicts and so on. With soft skills, you’ll be able to learn and grow faster, meaning managing your time with more skill and grace.

14. Not Managing Distractions

By distractions, we mean emails, notifications, social media, paper clutter, and there are thousands of articles on the internet on how to manage these. But in reality, on top of this, we are distracted from important work by other lower-priority work. It happened to all of us: urgent calls from clients and colleagues asking for our immediate attention. It doesn’t mean that we have to block these distractions entirely because it will create roadblocks and impact team productivity. Still, we need to learn to manage such things wisely.

Time management tips:

  • Define your boundaries. Make time for phone calls and emails, use chat statuses to communicate when you are available, and, most importantly, schedule time for important tasks that require your deep focus and attention.
  • Hold standup meetings with your team. Hold 10-20 minutes meetings to discuss progress, eliminate roadblocks and brainstorm ideas.
  • Learn to say no. Avoid participating in team chit-chats and gossip and postpone low-priority tasks. When you say no, explain your reasons professionally and provide an alternative.
  • Schedule work time and play time. In your calendar, schedule fixed commitments (e.g., meals, commute, sleep), self-care activities (e.g., exercise, meditation), guilt-free time (e.g., socializing, hobbies), and then schedule work time.

15. Doing Routines Instead of Habits

Actions that we do every day can be either routines or habits. They both mean regular and repeated actions and we often use these words interchangeably, but in terms of personal performance, they mean different things.

Habits are routines that you do with little or no conscious thought, also meaning little energy investments. In contrast, routines are not automated actions that require conscious efforts. When you buy a cup of coffee on your way to work, certain circumstances trigger the action. But when you go to the gym after work, it requires your conscious practice; otherwise, they die out. The good news is that you can intentionally turn routines into habits.

Time management tips:

  • Build the habit loop. You need to choose a trigger, execute the routine and do something enjoyable afterward. Let’s say at 10 a.m. you have a standup meeting (trigger), then you disable notifications, put your headphones on and attack the most demanding task (routine), and after that you go for lunch at around 2 p.m. or whenever you are done. Read more about building habits in Atomic Habits by James Clear.

16. Avoiding Automation

Regardless of our occupations, many aspects of our jobs are repetitive and open to automation. According to WorkMarket’s 2020 In(Sight) Report, 54% of employees believe they could save 240 hours annually through automation, while 78% of business leaders estimated their time losses at 360 hours per year. Now imagine that you could invest your time into career or business development.

Time management tips:

  • Improve routine tasks. Review your routine activities regularly and brainstorm ideas of how you could tackle them even more effectively. Let’s say you spend an hour daily to answer emails, then you may have the following ideas: create email templates, review sorting settings, empty inbox every day, use third-party tools to unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters in bulk and so on.
  • Automate management routines. Modern time and project management tools also provide billing, accounting and even absence management features. It means that you can manage essential business data and processes in a single tool.
  • Use automation tools. Automate routines in your web apps with tools like Zapier and IFTTT.

17. Not Breaking Down Big Projects

Big projects look overwhelming and often lead to stress and procrastination. When you break them down into digestible parts, individual tasks seem more approachable and doable. After you finish a tiny task, you will feel accomplishment and more motivation to keep on going. Your project progress becomes more visible, you’ll feel more productive and efficient.

Time management tips:

  • Break it down. Whenever you start a new task, break it down into steps that you can complete in 20-30 minutes, even if they look trivial. This approach is especially useful for those who prefer working in tiny intervals like Pomodoros.
  • Develop a logical sequence. The easiest tasks may seem more attractive, but you should better complete them in order, one by one, which will bring you closer to your project’s goal.
  • Review your progress regularly. When working on a big assignment, you may not always feel the progress. Try the Checklist Manifesto approach – break your tasks into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step checklist. Or use task boards like Kanban to visualize your progress.

18. Not Conserving Your Brain Power

No offense, but our average working memory capacity is limited to three to five items. Anything that exceeds these limits has a high chance of falling out of our brains. This is why it’s important to keep our brain uncluttered to have more space, energy and focus to accomplish tasks at hand.

Time management tips:

  • Use external storage for anything you aren’t focused on right now. Use organizers, notes, tasks apps and software to unload your mind and come back to these tasks when needed.
  • Use collaboration software. Let’s say you are already aware of your next project but not sure where to start. You have doubts and ideas running through your head that don’t allow you to focus on the ongoing task. Implement a collaboration environment to take off ideas from your mind, ask your team to brainstorm more ideas or provide feedback. This way, you’ll set your future tasks in motion in background mode and will be able to get back to them later.
  • Simplify everyday choices. It is believed that Albert Einstein had seven identical suits for each day of the week not to waste his brainpower on mundane tasks. Most likely, Steve Jobs preferred to wear black turtlenecks for the same reason. Reduce the number of everyday choices not to waste your energy on trivial decisions.

19. Being Unmotivated

According to the Goal-Setting Theory, motivation comes from the intention to work toward a goal. And that intention appears when the goal meets the three following criteria:

  • Specific goals are measurable and unambiguous. They enable us to focus on the relevant activities rather than to meander relatively aimlessly. On the contrary, vague goals allow multiple interpretations of whether the goal is attained (e.g., launch a new project).
  • Difficult and specific goals require effort and persistence – two key components of motivation. High goals lead to higher efforts and performance.
  • Challenging goals must be difficult yet attainable. Challenging tasks require commitment and focus, while easy or tedious tasks are demotivating.

Let’s see what else can fuel you with motivation.

Time management tips:

  • Review future plans. Think about how your current work can help you in the future. Even if you aren’t excited about your current project, a long-term perspective may give you enough motivation to keep on going and manage your time better.
  • Trick your brain. Whenever we accomplish a task, our brains release dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure, learning and motivation. Break your tasks down into small goals to keep yourself motivated during long-term projects.

20. Not Taking Technology Along

Technology and the Internet era create many obstacles and distractions as well as opportunities for better time management and higher quality of life. On the one hand, an increasingly digitalized lifestyle shortens our attention span and concentration abilities that can be compared to those of a goldfish. On the other hand, time trackers and project management tools can save you hours weekly if used wisely.

Time management tips:

  • Use technology to plan your day. Consider online calendars and scheduling apps for personal time management purposes. Break your day into a sequence of activity blocks, allow some time buffers and go through your schedule step by step.
  • Experiment with time trackers. There are thousands of time tracking tools on the market for personal and business purposes. It may take you a while until you find the right one for you. Two things to keep in mind: 1) benefits must exceed cost when using these tools 2) gains should outweigh the time spent using the app.
  • Consider project management tools. As a project manager, you need to keep track of project progress and employee performance, build reports and look for ways to enhance your team performance. Modern project management tools provide time tracking features and automate management routines in a single environment.

Ready to Level Up Your Time Management?

As humans, we can’t be productive 100% of the time. Still, there are always time management mistakes to correct and a dozen productivity approaches to try. The key takeaway of this article goes as follows: you can’t manage what you don’t measure and you can’t improve what you don’t manage. Start with time tracking and try different time management approaches to power up your performance.

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