Are time management challenges keeping you from completing your to-do list?
Do you feel like there is never enough time in a day?
Does it seem like your project team members are sprinting through their to-do list while you struggle to get yours off the ground?
It’s almost like you have less time than everyone else.
However, it’s far more likely you’re a victim of poor time management. Fortunately, it’s a relatively easy problem to solve — all you need is some effective time management techniques!
In this detailed guide, we’ll explain why people struggle with time management, the main issues, and how to solve them.
This article contains:
(Click on a link to jump to the specific section)
- 8 common time management issues (with solutions)
- Why time management can be challenging
Let’s get started.
8 common time management challenges (with solutions)
Whether you’re a business owner or a student, effective time management is integral to productivity.
We’ll look at eight of the most common problems people face when improving their time management skills. We’ll also discuss some potential solutions you can try to minimize the adverse effects.
1. Not utilizing technology
While technology has introduced many new distractions, there are ways you can use technology to help improve your focus.
You can utilize to-do list apps like Todoist or Google Tasks to help keep track of what you need to accomplish. Alternatively, if you want to minimize the temptation of checking your smartphone, most of these apps are also available for desktop platforms.
While creating a to-do list sounds simple enough, if you aren’t using it properly, it won’t be effective.
So, before you start creating your to-do list, keep the following points in mind:
- Don’t put too many items on the list: This tends to have an adverse effect, making you feel like you have too much to do.
- Reward yourself: Apps like Todoist have an achievement system where you earn badges for completing tasks.
- Only include tasks, not goals and objectives: Goals and objectives are larger aspirations that require more than a day’s work to accomplish.
Additionally, you can use productivity tracking tools like Time Doctor to know where your time is spent. By tracking and collecting workday data you are enabling yourself with the information needed to make strategic improvements.
Time Doctor tracks all activities of the workday giving you real time, actionable insights to improve your time management.
Workday Data from Time Doctor:
- Total hours worked per user.
- Productivity breakdowns by day, week, or month.
- Start and end times.
- Most used websites and applications.
- Top projects and tasks by hours worked.
- Daily timeline overview.
2. Being frequently distracted
The Harvard Business Review study revealed that the average person is interrupted 50-60 times a day, with 80% of those interruptions being unimportant.
A positive distraction now and then can help improve your ability to focus.
Psychologists talk about how we can use distractions to break bad habits and minimize stress and anxiety. Some positive distractions include listening to music or reading for a short time.
However, being frequently distracted could be the biggest challenge to your workflow.
Whether the distractions come from emails, social media, text messages, or phone calls from clients, you need an effective method for dealing with unwelcome interruptions.
You could update your Slack status or wear a pair of noise-canceling headphones, so people know not to disturb you.
Additionally, try to set out one hour every day to work on just one project. Once you’ve formed the habit, try increasing the duration or the frequency of the sessions.
While this may sound contradictory, multitasking doesn’t improve your productivity at all.
In fact, it has the opposite effect.
Studies have shown that multitasking can make you 20-40% less productive.
This is because your brain is wired to focus on one thing at a time. By splitting your attention among several tasks, you end up taking longer to create something of lower quality.
Instead, put your effort into completing one task at a time.
If you constantly notice yourself working on more than one thing at a time, try to make a note of everything you do. With time, you’ll start to see patterns that you can be more mindful of in the future.
Additionally, try to be mindful of the task you’re working on.
Even if you aren’t multitasking, you need to make sure that you’re present in the moment. It doesn’t help to work on an assignment if your mind is elsewhere.
Keeping these points in mind should help improve your work quality while promoting a healthier work life balance.
Procrastination is a major reason why we struggle to complete our daily tasks. Research has shown that procrastination is a psychological reaction to challenging emotions.
One major contributing factor to procrastination is feeling like we didn’t choose to do the task.
Another is thinking we’re putting our self-image on the line. If we’re afraid the project’s outcome results in a dramatic change in how we perceive ourselves, we’ll likely avoid doing it.
However, the effects of procrastinating can take a toll on your overall well-being.
One study has shown that high procrastination levels are associated with lower salaries, shorter durations of employment, and a greater chance of being unemployed.
So here are a few techniques you could try to reduce your likelihood to procrastinate:
- Forgive your past procrastination: Acknowledging previous procrastination and forgiving yourself can help you avoid procrastinating in the future.
- Alter your internal dialog: Try and avoid using phrases like “need to” or “have to” that implies you don’t have a choice. Instead, opt for words like “I choose to” to make yourself feel empowered.
- Use the harder-first technique: As the name implies, begin your day by doing the least pleasant jobs. The sooner you get them out of the way, the sooner you can work on the more fun projects.
5. Using your cell phone to respond to communications
It may seem more convenient to have work-related applications on your cell phone.
After all, you can respond to client emails and Slack messages on the go.
However, doing so can be detrimental to your time management and productivity.
There are far too many distractions on your phone. After you’ve responded to that email, you may see an Instagram notification, and the next thing you know, 30 minutes have slipped by.
A quick way to prevent this is to avoid using your mobile phone whenever possible.
Try to get into the habit of having your inbox open on your computer, especially during peak productivity times. This way, you can turn your phone off and put it away.
Unless you’re needed for an important task, it’s unnecessary to respond to every email immediately.
6. Not having enough energy
Whether it’s a result of lack of sleep or a poor diet, you can’t hope to achieve your goals for the day without energy.
If you have a set time you’re supposed to clock in at work, try going to bed a little earlier and start your day with a healthy breakfast.
Have a light lunch midway through the day and take some time for regular exercise. Doing so will improve your health and your productivity.
Alternatively, It’s important to remember that not everybody functions the same — experiment with assigning the more challenging tasks to different times of the day. You might find your productivity spikes later while others prefer to work in the morning.
7. Being busy rather than effective
While being busy is often synonymous with being productive, the opposite tends to be true.
We often find ourselves caught up in a flurry of low-priority tasks that sap our energy and disrupt our work environment. The problem is that this can lead to unnecessary stress.
To avoid spending too much time on unimportant things, ask yourself if the project you’re working on is useful and how it contributes to achieving the ultimate goal.
If you find you have several minor tasks to work on, try grouping them and completing them in the same afternoon rather than spacing them out.
One of the most effective techniques for this is the priority matrix.
The priority matrix is a powerful time and project management tool.
It’s composed of four quadrants that break tasks into two elements: urgency and importance, and impact and effort.
Quadrant 1 – Quick wins: This quadrant is composed of high-value tasks. This quadrant includes both critical and urgent tasks.
Quadrant 2 – Major projects: You should populate this quadrant with tasks lacking clear deadlines. They’re still important but aren’t time-sensitive.
Quadrant 3 – Fill-ins: These are less important tasks with flexible deadlines. Consider delegating these tasks.
Quadrant 4 – Thankless tasks: These tasks tend to take a large amount of time with minimal impact on the ultimate goal. Try and avoid these tasks wherever possible as they distract from the more important projects.
8. Not taking breaks
It may seem like the time you don’t spend working is wasted, but in reality, giving your brain some time to recharge can reduce the effects of poor time management.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re working on a high priority project or doing some minor errands; giving your brain time to relax is one of the most important things you can do.
A study found that our brains aren’t meant for eight hours of uninterrupted focus.
Incorporate regular breaks into your work schedule and use tools like Google Calendar to stay on top of your schedule.
An effective method for ensuring you aren’t working too long is the Pomodoro technique.
In this time management technique, all you need is a timer and a to-do list.
Start by setting your timer for 25 minutes and focusing on one project until the timer ends. Once your 25 minutes are up, record what you completed and take a five-minute break.
Do this four times, then take a longer break of between 15-30 minutes.
There are two key rules you should follow to get the most out of this technique:
- If a project requires more than four pomodoros (i.e., 25-minute sessions), break it down into achievable tasks.
- If a task will take less than one pomodoro, group it with other simple tasks.
Why time management can be challenging
There is plenty of advice on how to improve your time management skills.
However, it’s essential to recognize why you struggle before determining how to manage time better.
Here are four reasons why time management feels challenging to most people:
1. Poor organization
Before you start planning, you need to have an idea of the big picture and how to achieve that with the time available.
Organizational skills are equally essential for higher productivity in your professional and personal life.
Without learning such new skills, your productivity will suffer — which may hinder your professional growth, leading to lower employee satisfaction.
Additionally, there’s a correlation between organizational skills and your mental and physical health.
Being disorganized leads to increased stress and anxiety levels, culminating in physical symptoms like headaches and back pain.
2. Not setting priorities
Prioritizing tasks is vital in effectively managing your time.
You can’t hope to improve your productivity with poor decision-making.
A lack of prioritization is a common challenge people face and is one of the most prevalent causes of wasted time. If you’re unsure of how to start your workday, you won’t be able to allocate sufficient time to its completion.
Moreover, prioritization is crucial for achieving long-term goals.
Without effective goal setting, you may struggle to prove your value to your manager. All these can lead to decreased employee engagement.
3. Being a perfectionist
While striving for excellence is a good idea, don’t let it come at the cost of your productivity.
As an employee, it’s important to remember that every new project you tackle could present a new set of hurdles to overcome. Aim to complete the project to the best of your ability, but keep in mind that you don’t have the time required to complete every task perfectly.
4. Not saying no
Time is the most valuable resource we have, and occasionally we simply don’t have the time to complete a task.
In such situations, it’s okay to let your team know you can’t do it.
If you are used to replying ‘yes’ to most things, this can seem challenging at first.
However, the only way you’ll have time to do tasks you want is if you say no sometimes. Instead of taking on an impossible workload, first focus on completing a few tasks well.
While good time management is a crucial skill, it can be hard to master. With various things competing for your attention, being able to sit down and work consistently can be a challenge.
However, the dangers of time management problems need to be addressed.
Utilize the time management tips we covered here, and you could start to see a boost in your productivity.
Remember to keep to-do lists realistic by prioritizing your tasks. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to complete each daily task and be sure to incorporate regular breaks.
By gaining a deeper understanding of your habits and work processes, you’ll find your time management skills will naturally improve.
Liam Martin is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.