10 productivity traps to avoid

If you fail to set concrete goals, crystallize key priorities or be more judicious about time spent in meetings, you could be throttling your progress.

Time management mistakes to avoid

Is time management a recurring goal or resolution that you make year after year? Well, you’re not alone. A staggering 82% of people don’t have a time management system.

Thankfully, this is the time of the year to rectify this problem. The key is to eliminate time management errors, such as the following 10 mistakes:

1. Falling into the time management trap.

“Time management promises us that if we become more efficient, we can make space to accommodate all of our to-dos comfortably,” writes Dane Jensen for HBR. “And yet, time management is like digging a hole at the beach: the bigger the hole, the more water that rushes in to fill it.”

After all, with so many demands, blocking out an hour for downtime in your calendar “is akin to setting off a signal flare announcing your capacity.”

As a result, you tackle a new project, assist someone else with their priorities or commit to unnecessary meetings.

“This is not to say that time management has no value,” adds Jensen. “Productivity is important. But in a world where burnout is running rampant, we also need strategies for eliminating volume instead of simply accommodating it.”

So, how can we avoid the time management trap? Give the following three strategies a test drive.

  • Reduce the volume of tasks. Obvious? Sure. But a lot of us struggle with this nonetheless. One tip: if you’re already booked, either decline time requests, delegate or outsource them, or reschedule them when you have availability.
  • Replace decisions with principles. Too many decisions can lead to cognitive overload. As a result, you’ll feel overwhelmed and more likely to make errors. To prevent this, establish principles like “No Meeting Wednesdays” or wearing the same outfit daily, a la Steve Jobs.
  • Use structure, not willpower, to minimize distractions. For example, try blocking certain apps and websites when you need to focus on your most important task. Or, check your inbox and social media accounts at predetermined intervals, such as first thing in the morning, after lunch and before the end of the workday.

2. Not setting personal goals.

“Personal goal setting is essential to managing your time well,” states the Mind Tools Content Team. Why? “Because goals give you a destination and vision to work toward.”

“When you know where you want to go, you can manage your priorities, time, and resources to get there,” they add. “Goals also help you decide what’s worth spending your time on and what’s just a distraction.”

That’s all well and good. But how can you actually achieve your goals? Well, here are six strategies that Angela Ruth recommends:

  • Take action right now.
  • Consider your skills, and adjust your plan accordingly.
  • Delegate tasks.
  • Write down a plan of action.
  • Make sure that everything is measurable.
  • Create accountability, and hold yourself to it.

3. Making everything a top priority.

Not every task is worth your full focus, right this moment.

If you struggle with juggling priorities, try using the popular Eisenhower Matrix by codifying tasks in the following ways.

  • Urgent and important. These should be considered your top priorities and deserve your attention first.
  • Important, but not urgent. Schedule these tasks when you have the time.
  • Urgent, but not important. These tasks should probably be delegated or outsourced to someone else.
  • Neither urgent nor important. Remove these items from both your to-do list and calendar entirely.

4. Fighting against your circadian rhythms.

If you’ve ever searched for time management tips, you’ve probably been told to wake up earlier. After all, the most successful people in the world, from Tim Cook to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, follow this practice. But it’s just not in everyone’s best interest.

If you’re an early bird, waking up early makes sense. However, this may not be effective if you’re a night owl. Why? Because instead of working with your internal clock, or your circadian rhythm, you’re going against the grain.

To put this another way, if you’re at peak productivity in the morning, by all means, wake up earlier. But if the opposite is true, don’t force yourself to wake up at three or four in the morning.

5. Using the wrong equipment and methods.

“Everything from desks to chairs matters when you’re trying to achieve a goal,” note the folks at Autonomous.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: Create A Movement Mindset]

While standing up has been found to increase productivity and combat a sedentary lifestyle, you can take a seat when you need a breather. Just make sure you’re moving around throughout the day.

You may also benefit from trying different time management methods. For example, the Pomodoro Technique is a popular and effective way to manage your time and encourage breaks.

6. Being busy, not present.

When you’re busy, you miss out on new opportunities and aren’t working to your full potential. Additionally, busyness thwarts self-care and prevents healthy boundaries.

To be more present and banish being incessantly busy:

  • Don’t ignore the past or future. Instead, allocate specific periods to plan for the future and learn from the past.
  • Do less. Shed unnecessary meetings, delegate ancillary tasks, and improve your ability to say “no.”
  • Consider the opportunity cost. For example, before accepting a meeting invite, ask yourself if it’s genuinely worth the two hours of your time.
  • Bring more mindfulness into your life. Make this a part of your daily life by visualizing your goals, quieting your mind, practicing gratitude, and going for walks without your phone.
  • Stop overscheduling yourself. “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no,’” recommends Derek Sivers.

7. Undervaluing the time something will take to finish.

“Overachievers are especially guilty of this time-management sin,” writes Lisa Evans in Fast Company. “Thinking something will only take a few minutes, and it ends up eating up a half-hour is a common pitfall of A-type overachievers who never want to turn down an opportunity but don’t calculate how much of their time that opportunity will eat up.”

How can you avoid this? Productivity coach Kimberly Medlock suggests writing down how long each task on your to-do list will take to complete.

“If a task takes 25 or 30 minutes, it should be scheduled on your calendar,” adds Evans. “Another trick is to double the amount of time you think each task will take.” So, if you anticipate a task taking you a half-hour, you should block out an hour to play it safe.

You should also map out your day either the night before or first thing in the morning. “Every 10 minutes you spend on planning saves you an hour in execution,” says Toggl CEO Alari Aho.

8. Skipping breaks.

There’s no shortage of evidence on why breaks are so beneficial. The main consensus is that breaks give you the chance to reset mentally. As a result, you’ll feel less stressed and have the energy to power through the workday.

More specifically, frequent breaks prevent decision fatigue, restore long-term goal-achieving motivation, and tend to spark “Aha” moments. Best of all? You can take “microbreaks,” such as going for a 10-minute walk after completing a to-do list item.

9. Rigid planning.

If your schedule is too rigid, then you don’t have the wiggle room and flexibility to address emergencies or unavoidable interruptions. If you don’t have free blocks of time in your schedule, then you can’t adjust your plans when things go awry (they will).

Give yourself some grace–and some blank space in that calendar.

10. Not relieving stress.

Physician and neuroscientist Paul MacLean developed the famous triune brain theory in the 1960s. While his theory has been revised, it mainly argues that we all have three brains.

“The most ancient structure is the reptilian brain, so named because it is made up of the stem and cerebellum,” explains David Hassell, CEO of 15Five. “These structures also appear in reptiles, animals that lack the more developed brain components.” Its purpose is to keep us protected, as it regulates our heart rate and breathing.

The limbic brain is the next structure. The limbic brain is shared by all mammals and “is where emotions, memories, and aggression live,” adds Hassell. It also “controls much of our behavior.”

“When we worry about our social lives and relationships, we recede into our limbic brains,” he explains.

“Finally, we humans and other primates have a specialized structure called the neo-cortex,” says Hassell. Also known as the frontal lobe, it’s “responsible for language and abstract and creative thinking.”

How does this impact time management? “When people feel unsafe at work, their more primitive brain structures are activated, and they can’t access their frontal lobes to innovate,” clarifies Hassell.

Additionally, fear “will trigger their brains to start producing adrenaline and cortisol, and their creative minds will shut down.” In short, stress management and time management go hand-in-hand.

You can use proven techniques like guided meditation and deep breathing exercises to relieve stress. Other suggestions would be physical activity and productively venting to others. Also, create a stress-free work environment by personalizing your workspace and avoiding toxic co-workers.

That’s easier said than done, but it might be the best use of your time in 2022.

John Rampton is the founder Calendar and Due


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