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Five top time management mistakes

Avoid displacement activities when managing your time

Time's a finite resource. But so many of us make easy mistakes and waste it unnecessarily. Here are our top five time management mistakes...

1. Wasting time on displacement activities

When something difficult needs to be done, it can be easy to busy ourselves doing something else instead.  It's strange how the strongest urge to tidy your inbox always seems to appear when the alternative is starting work on a fifty page report!

These 'displacement activities' might make us feel better, but as Peter Drucker points out, "there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all".

Using a prioritisation technique (we like Steven Covey's matrix) helps identify what's really important. And for big tasks, the most important thing is just getting started and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks.

2. Over-communicating

A classic time management mistake is spending too much time talking about doing things, rather than just doing them. It's essential to communicate what's going on, but too much detail rarely helps. In fact, telling people every little thing that's happening tends to undermine the impact of the really important stuff.

Make sure that every email, phone call and especially meeting you're involved with has a clear purpose and point of action. And think critically about whether or not what you're communicating needs to be shared, and who exactly it needs to be shared with.

3. Falling prey to interruptions

Some work environments are subject to a huge range of interruptions. When you're trying to get something done, ringing phones, questions from colleagues and email popups can all break your flow. Being interrupted is frustrating, and it can drag your focus away from important tasks onto less crucial ones (see mistake 1).

The important thing here is to set clear expectations about your time and responsibilities. If necessary, find a quiet, separate space to work in. This both signals to others that you're not available, and helps you stay focused.

We also like the Pomodoro Technique, which boils down to working in set chunks (usually of 20 minutes or so) with no interruptions or breaks, then taking a short rest before starting again.

4. Not being aware of your time personality

There are lots of different aspects to time management - planning, punctuality, multi-tasking, time awareness, impatience - and some people will be strong in some areas and weak in others. Play to your strengths. If you work best on multiple things at once, switch tasks regularly. If you're not very punctual, allow some cushion time between meetings. If you work best at certain times of day, build your schedule round them.

The key thing is to be aware of your time personality, but not let it become an excuse for inefficient behaviour.

5. Not managing other people

Other people can be the biggest drain on our time. If you're being given too much to do, negotiate. Use ESP to do this constructively - Empathise with their problem, State your reasons and Propose a solution.

Whilst other people can take away our time, they can also give it back. Lots of people take on too much themselves and are afraid to delegate to others. But if someone else can help, trust them to do so. Think about who's most suitable, ask them, then give them a clear briefing and timescale. 

Have we missed any time management mistakes you think are more important? Let us know.

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