Your time management habits may be killing your productivity, and you may not even know it.
Sometimes what seems “natural” is actually ineffective. And sometimes doing what those around you do can make your productivity worse.
In this article, we will discuss 15 time management habits that people frequently have that hurt their productivity.
While this article is geared mostly toward time management at work, many aspects can also apply to home and elsewhere.
Table of Contents
1. You don’t focus your time on what’s most important (because you may not even know!)
Often, one reason we can be so ineffective is that we don’t even know what we were hired to do.
It’s the same as if you are about to go on a trip to meet someone. You don’t know where you are supposed to meet the person, but you jump in your car anyway and drive hoping to make it.
That’s what we often do with our daily tasks. We don’t know what our destination is, but we just do tasks that pop up and are in front of us and hope we are productive.
Knowing the title of your position is not the same as knowing what you were hired to do.
What were you hired to do? What were you hired to accomplish? What are the key result areas that your employer is looking for you to focus on and accomplish?
If you don’t have an answer to that, how are you going to know how to use your time well?
If you don’t know, go ask your boss. Find out and start focusing most of your time on the tasks that relate to that.
This also applies outside of work.
At home, what are your key result areas? What are your goals? What is it that you want to accomplish? What is the most important?
Focus on the tasks that revolve around these first.
2. You choose your next task “on the fly”
If you don’t plan your tasks ahead of time, or at least your general focus, you are hurting yourself.
When you don’t plan ahead, it becomes much easier to focus on the things that pop up and seem “urgent” though they are not important or to focus on easier tasks that aren’t as important.
When you plan beforehand and have a general plan (and know what your most important tasks are), you can then make sure your next task is going to be productive.
This does not exclude spontaneity.
Sometimes things may come up that you need to focus on right then.
But by having a general plan, you can compare its importance to everything else and know if you need to do it right then or if something else is more important that you need to focus on first.
3. You use your task list as a mood enhancer
Crossing a task off your list can make you feel good.
Nothing is wrong with that in itself.
It becomes a problem, however, when you start doing easier tasks or other things that pop up just so you can cross it out.
You end up filling your task list and doing items that are quick and easy, but not necessarily productive.
4. You put too much on your daily list
Now, it is a good idea to put everything you have to do on paper (or an app) and get it out of your head. Some people call it a “master list”.
However, working off a master list can be daunting.
If you get to your desk in the morning, or even after finishing one task, and you look at your list for the next task on a piece of paper that has 100 tasks listed, it can be so easy to get overwhelmed.
What happens then is that instead of working, you are tempted to find something to delay or piddle on to keep from having to deal with the giant list.
Instead, when you plan, choose the tasks that are most important and write them down and keep your daily list short.
There are different ways to do this.
One good idea is to plan your week ahead of time (at least the general focus), and then you can choose tasks based on that focus for each day when you plan that day the day before (ideally).
When it comes to the size of the list, some suggest having 6 main tasks you have to do on your list, the most important.
Or you may want to have a larger list with your more important tasks at the top (or marked) and some of the less important ones that you want to do if you have time.
Or you can do something similar to Ken Courtright: he has an Excel sheet and puts one task on the first column, one on the second column, two on the third, three on the fourth, and so on.
You focus on getting the first column done, then the second, and so on.
You can list a lot of tasks on one page, but it’s not as overwhelming because you focus on one column at a time that doesn’t have any tasks, and it gives you a boost because of crossing off a task on a large list, you completed a whole column.
However you choose to do it, just choose a method that works well for you that keeps you from becoming overwhelmed when you look at your list.
5. You never write anything down
On the flip side, it’s also dangerous not to write any of your to-do’s down.
You may think you will remember everything, but important tasks can slip between the cracks and be forgotten when something “urgent” comes up.
And it also clogs your brain. If you are trying to make sure you are remembering your tasks, you are using some of your brain power for remembering than for focusing on the task at hand, which makes you less productive.
If you write everything out and get it out of your brain, then you can focus your brain completely on the task at hand.
6. You live in the “urgent”
Steven Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People presented this time management matrix.
You want to be in Quadrant II. Sometimes urgent, important tasks will come up that we have to do, but if you focus on Quadrant II, then we will have less Quadrant I tasks.
Unfortunately, many of us live in III. Emails come in, coworkers pop up, and all these urgent “emergencies” happen, and we end up wasting our time on things that seemed important, but only seemed that way because they were urgent.
Stop living in the urgent. Just because it’s urgent doesn’t make it important.
If something comes to you that seems urgent, examine it to see how important it really is before you begin to work on it.
7. You write it out but never look at it
Whether you work off a calendar or a list or a mix, if you never look at it, you are wasting your time.
Now, sometimes something spontaneous may happen and you end up focusing your day on that instead of what you had planned. And that’s okay.
It’s dangerous, though, if you don’t compare it to what you have planned check to see how important it is compared to everything else.
Because it can be too easy to fall into the trap of doing something that seems important because it is urgent, but really isn’t.
Even if you don’t follow your list or calendar exactly, by knowing what is important, you can examine the spontaneity to match it with your priorities and the other tasks you have to see if it’s really something you need to focus on right then.
8. You live with constant distractions
In some cases, we can’t help having distractions.
It may be the nature of your job. Or you have little kids at home.
But often, we bring these distractions upon ourselves.
Though it may be hard to move them along, if you constantly have coworkers coming by your desk to chat, that distracts you from your task and wastes your time.
One Minute Meetings
Or maybe you have people constantly coming to you for a quick “one-minute” meeting.
If you are not careful, you can spend your day dealing with the 30-minute “ one-minute” meetings all day.
Another distraction is notifications from your phone or email.
Every time the window pops up, you click on it to check it out. You may then switch tasks and focus on that, and, if nothing else, it makes us lose focus.
When it comes to coworkers, try to let them know at certain times (or all the time except breaks) you are busy and please do not disturb you. Wear some headphones, even if you don’t have music playing.
Set up a “do not disturb sign”.
For one-minute meetings, you can have set times when people can come by, make sure they have a possible solution for the problem they have before they come, or tell them to put it on the next weekly meeting’s agenda.
With people, if you don’t respect your time as important, others won’t either.
As for notifications, turn them off! Don’t let them distract you. Have set times when you check email or return phone calls.
9. You waste time on useless or easy tasks
Some people waste a good part of their day checking Facebook, searching for something non-related to work on the internet, and so on.
Obviously, that’s a huge waste of time.
Sometimes, though, the task is related to work, but it’s not really important. It’s just easy, so that’s why you are doing it.
If you really want to be productive and move forward in your career, don’t waste your time when you are at work. When it’s time to work, work. When you first get to work, don’t piddle, work.
And make sure you are doing tasks because they are important, not just because they are easy.
10. You say “yes” to everything
A great way to stay overwhelmed and unproductive is to keep telling everyone “yes”.
Learn to say “no”.
If it’s not related to your job and your most important tasks, say no (boss excluded, though if it keeps you from doing something that is more important, letting your boss know that and asking what he or she wants you to cut out is a good option).
It’s not that you can never help a colleague out, but when you say “yes” to something that is unimportant, you are saying “no” to something more important.
General rule: if it’s not in your key result areas, not why you were hired, and not related to your most important tasks, just say “no”.
11. You take on other people’s problems
In a similar vein to the last one, when you constantly take on other people’s problems, you spend your time focusing on their work instead of your work.
Sometimes people need some help, and it’s not bad to point them in a certain direction, but when you are constantly doing it for them, you are hurting your own productivity and making them dependent on you to solve their problems for them.
Instead of solving the problems for them, tell them to have a possible solution before they come to you. Then help show them how to handle the problem if needed and release them to do it, but don’t do it for them.
Let your time be spent on things important to your work, and let them be responsible for their own work.
12. You never delegate
There are some tasks that you need to do. It’s what you were hired to do and it’s what you are good at.
At the same time, there are tasks that aren’t as important to you or that someone could do better or faster.
One reason you may be overwhelmed is that you are trying to do everything. Whether it’s because of a control or trust issue or you just don’t feel like you have time to teach someone else, you try to do it all.
Learn to delegate.
If it’s a task that’s not related to your most important job areas, see if someone else can do it so you can focus on what is really important to you. What may not be part of your job area may be part of someone else’s.
Also, if a coworker can do that task a lot better than you can, maybe you can trade certain tasks where you both can be more efficient.
13. Your work area is unorganized
Granted, some people say they feel more organized when things or spread about.
But if you are having to dig through stuff all the time to find what you are looking for, you are wasting time.
The idea is to have your desk clear of everything except for what you need for the task at hand and to have everything for the task at hand on the desk so you won’t have to waste time looking for items.
When you switch tasks, put that stuff up and get the items you need for the next task. It helps keep you focused and organized and saves you time searching through and for items.
14. You are constantly task-switching (multitasking)
Research has shown over and over that multitasking makes you less productive, not more productive.
Along the same line, switching between different tasks before finishing also can waste time and focus. It takes time to go from one task to the next, and when you come back to a task that was partially finished, then you have to remember where you were and get back into the flow.
As much as possible, when you start a task, try to finish it before starting something else.
Granted, you can’t always do it. And in some cases, such as writing articles and similar, leaving something “unfinished” can help your brain work on it while not working on it.
But, in most cases, it makes sense, when possible, to plan to finish a task that you start.
15. You copy other people’s methods exactly
One reason I believe time management strategies often fail for people is that they try to copy exactly what other people do or teach them to do.
While it is important to look at other people and try to follow some of their ideas, you have to realize that each person is different, their personalities are different, and their styles are different.
There are some time management principles that are principles – they apply to everyone.
For example, you have to know where you are going and what is important. You need to focus on the most important tasks first (as much as possible).
However, many of the other tips you read, even on this site, are those, tips. It may work for you, it may not. You need to explore and find what works for you and your style.
We have covered 15 time management habits that could be killing your productivity.
If you see yourself doing a lot of these habits, don’t fret. Just start working on them one by one. Over time, you will start seeing a difference in your productivity.
Now to you: Do you have any other habits that you’ve seen that kill productivity?