There’s a lot of information out there about how to manage your time and your day better. And some of it is easily misunderstood. In my coaching program, I have people make a plan for the day and then reflect on what actually happened. They use this to learn and improve. And through this process, I’ve found some recurring themes in how people approach time management and productivity.
Here are my top 5 myths and mistakes of time management and productivity and how you can conquer them.
It’s tempting to check off a few easy to-dos on your list as a way to clear the decks for your more challenging tasks. But this doesn’t always work out the way you hoped. First, it opens you up to distractions as one to-do leads to something else entirely. This could be a shiny object on the internet, the person who is online right now and starts a real-time email conversation, or that new idea that takes you down a rabbit hole of research. Second, your discipline muscles weaken over the course of the day. Those big tasks that might feel a little intimidating (or just not fun) only become harder to start as the day goes on.
Conquer It: Pick the one essential and challenging task you need to get done each day and do it as early as possible.
Time management and productivity often translate into doing more in the time you have. And we always bite off more than we can chew. When was the last time you created a list of tasks for the day and actually completed it? It’s not that you’re lazy or incapable. It’s because the list was too big and most likely had some things on it that weren’t that important in the first place.
Conquer It: Make sure each day your to-do list includes only the select few essentials that need to get done that day. Keep the list short by using one 3×3 post-it note to capture one day of tasks. If you can’t fit them all on the post-it, your list is too long.
This challenge often comes out of a concept called time blocking. Time blocking is a method of planning where you block time on your calendar for important activities beyond meetings and appointments. It’s a very useful method, and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. This time management mistake also occurs when you have back-to-back meetings on your calendar. The result is that you’re left with no time for the actual work of the day, so you end up working late or taking work home.
Conquer It (part 1): Time block only those essential activities needed each day to ensure it runs smoothly. These might include preparing for a meeting, doing email, creating a project plan, or planning your day. Schedule those into time blocks on your calendar.
Conquer It (part 2): Schedule time for nothing by creating 15 to 30-minute time-buffers on your calendar. How many you need and when you need them is up to you to experiment with. These time-buffers are when you have nothing to do. They will allow for the unexpected to happen (and it will happen!) without completely throwing off your day.
You need time every day to do things that fuel you, improve your mood, and get you in the right state of mind. But all too often this time isn’t scheduled into your day. You might have a plan to go to the gym but what about everything else? Do you have time scheduled for your personal development and well-being? This might include: meditation, planning out your day, exercising, spending time outdoors, receiving mentorship or coaching, or reading. I call this “me time,” and I encourage everyone to schedule some me time first thing in the morning. It is also beneficial to plan some me time throughout your day.
Conquer It: Decide what you want to do during your “me time.” Schedule these into appropriate time blocks on your calendar every day. These don’t have to be big blocks of time. It only takes 10 minutes to meditate or read an article (and less time to read this blog!) Then, protect that time like crazy! Squeezing in one more work meeting isn’t going to change your life (or theirs), but dedicating time to you will.
Time doesn’t speed up or slow down. Time marches along with no regard to what you need or want. And trying to manage your time often leads to just trying to do more in the time you have. And, as we’ve already discovered, this is not a useful way to go through the day.
Conquer It: Instead of trying to manage time, focus instead on these three areas.
– Manage your Choices – Make sure your choices about what to do, and what NOT to do, align with what matters most to you.
– Manage your Mindset – Create the energy and state of mind needed in each moment of your day. Next time you think “I’m not in the mood,” have your next thought be “what’s the state of mind and energy I need to create right now.”
– Manage your Identity – What you believe about yourself turns into actions (or inaction). If you believe you are a procrastinator, you will procrastinate. If you believe you’re too tired to go to the gym, you will be too tired. This idea is closely related to managing your mindset. Create your new “I am…” identity statements that align with the things you want to do. Here are some examples: I am a doer, I am a great speaker, I am a healthy person, I am punctual.
Which myth or mistake has been holding you back?
Do you have other myths and mistakes to add to my top 5?
I’d love to learn from you so share your experiences in the comments below!