“I want to get better at time management,” you tell yourself with conviction. You then hunt for the best book on productivity and go on a spree of reading time management articles. You even join a couple of Facebook groups to motivate yourself to do better. After filling your brain with tips from different sources, what happens?
You find yourself struggling with your time management problems just like you did before. The techniques you try do not seem to deliver the results you expect. “Why in the world are these methods not working?” you ask yourself.
Were the tips useless? Of course not. Were you not good enough to implement the methods suggested? Not at all.
You failed to notice results because your problems are specific to your situation, personality, and mindset. The person next to you might have completely different time management challenges.
If you try incorporating random tips without understanding the root cause of your problems, you’ll only waste your time.
If I ask you what the reason behind your poor time management skills is, do you have a clear answer? Don’t worry if you don’t. Most people have no idea why they fail to use their time well.
In this article, we will go through the 3 most common types of time management problems, their symptoms and possible remedies. Once you spot where you fit in, you can implement the tips mentioned under that section. By doing so, you’ll have a higher chance of noticing results.
- Three common types of time management problems:
- 1. Have ample time, but no motivation
- 2. Have many things to do, but not enough time
- 3. Too many distractions
Three common types of time management problems:
1. Have ample time, but no motivation
People under this category have enough time to work on their goals. Unfortunately, they lack the motivation to take the first step. Even if they somehow gather the enthusiasm, they lose steam shortly, leaving the goal unaccomplished.
If you fall under this category, you must have procrastinated your goals many times already. Even though you have the urge to achieve your goals, you do not find yourself inclined to make the necessary effort.
What are the symptoms?
Do you find yourself exhibiting behaviors mentioned below?
- Spending a lot of time on social media
- Needing a long time to begin a task(You waste time on the internet and other useless activities as an excuse to start the job)
- Taking a long break after every small task (You consider every little job as an achievement and allow yourself to waste time before taking up the next thing to do)
What are the causes?
If you see such symptoms in yourself, here are the two most likely reasons behind your behavior.
Lack of Goal Clarity:
The primary reason for lack of motivation is being unsure about the goal you’re chasing or not having one at all. If you haven’t identified the right target to aim for, you’re not alone. It can take a long time to identify a goal that you connect with.
That said, you do not have to go after your one true passion like many articles on the internet advise. In his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport explains how effort comes before passion.
If you can find a skill that you do not hate spending time on, you can wait for the passion to develop as and when you increase your expertise in it.
Working for money and societal goals:
A majority of people chase goals defined by society, parents, and other external sources. You can quickly validate if you’re doing the same by answering a simple question.
Recall one goal that you are trying to chase. Next, ask yourself the reason why you want to achieve that goal. If you do not have a clear answer or have a justification that does not include your happiness or dreams, you’re pursuing a target you care little about.
You might be surprised, how often we chase fancy goals by believing that they’re our own. Here is an article that outlines the topic in detail.
How to solve the problem?
Depending on your problem’s cause, decide for yourself which one of the two tips below helps you with your problem.
Clarify your goal:
The primary step to achieve your goal is to make sure you chose the right one. These 3 questions can help you come closer to the right goal to chase. Also, do not hurry with identifying what’s target suit you best. If you sit down for an hour or two, hoping for an answer, you’ll get it wrong.
The process can take weeks, months, or even years. But when you’re working on the right goal, you’ll instinctively know you’re on the right path because you’ll enjoy the journey too. Feel free to experiment with different goals, and you’ll know yourself whether you’re pursuing a goal merely for the outcome.
When you go after a goal only for the result, you’ll face motivation issues and struggle to achieve your target. Do not try to fixate on the outcome and try to find solutions to your lack of enthusiasm. That’s like trying to be an Olympic sprinter for the gold medal when you hate running. You’ll never find the desire to practice.
Instead, pick an area that you have the interest to put in the effort and find the right goal to chase around it.
Make a plan to get to the destination:
Looking at the goal as a whole can appear overwhelming. The massive effort required to pull it off urges you to procrastinate the first step for the future. As a result, you keep telling yourself, “I will start on …”
The best cure to the problem is to pick the smallest task required to accomplish the goal and do it right away. The job can be as simple as picking up the phone to call someone or looking up for more details on the internet. Once you take the first step, you will slowly gather the momentum to keep going.
2. Have many things to do, but not enough time
People under this category have a bazillion things on their plate, but not enough time to finish them. Each day is a never-ending grind from one task to another from early morning until the end of the day.
If you fall under this category, you would have failed to find the time to chase your goals in spite of working hard day in and day out. You find yourself saying, “I am so busy. If only I had more time, I would..”
What are the symptoms?
Do the following statements sound true about you?
- You barely have time to breathe. One meeting is followed by another and each task by a task that needs your attention.
- You have an endless list of tasks to complete. You’ve already realized that you will never finish them all.
- You work long hours every day, and you have accepted that as the norm even though you do not enjoy the experience.
What are the causes?
If you find such symptoms in yourself, here are 3 most likely causes for your problem.
You attempt to work on everything:
A person who is high on motivation wants to see their career grow. If you’re one of them, you feel like grabbing every opportunity you spot.
- If you’re an employee, you pick up every project in an attempt to impress your boss
- If you’re an entrepreneur, you work on different business opportunities hoping one will click
But such an approach leads to poor results because you only have limited hours in a day. If you try to channel your effort in different directions, the progress towards each goal will only be mediocre.
Lack of prioritization:
Do you control your day or let your day control you? If you have back to back meetings and an endless list of tasks to complete, you need to work on your prioritization skills.
In your attempt to get things done, you fail to ask yourself if the task that you’re working on helps you achieve your goal. You simply focus on working without considering the value the task provides in return.
When was the last time you paused to ask yourself, “What’s the use of completing this task? Is it helping me achieve my goal? What can I work on instead?”
Failing to say no:
If you’re a people pleaser who says yes to any task or request thrown at you, you’ll never have the time to accomplish your goals. You’ll find yourself entangled between demands, requests, and favors.
Since you’re working on helping other people get what they want, your genuine goals get sidelined. The more you say yes to needless meetings, casual requests, and pointless projects, the more you push your dreams away.
How to solve the problem?
If you feel any of the above causes match your situation, use these 3 solutions to focus on the right tasks.
1. Align tasks to your real goal
As the first step, you must know the goal that you’re trying to chase. Once you set your eyes on the target, ask yourself if a task or a project that you’re taking up helps you inch closer to your destination.
If you inspect your actions carefully enough, you’ll find yourself wasting time on many tasks that add no value. You perform them because you have been doing them forever.
Be ruthless and cut down the tasks which do not help you achieve your goals. Challenge any activity which adds no value.
Here is an article that outlines how to keep your long term targets and daily tasks hand in hand.
2. Learn to say no
You need to be assertive enough to say no to requests and favors from other people that serve you no good. I am not saying you should never help others. But, you must cultivate a habit of putting yourself first.
If you do not use your time to work on tasks you care about, someone else will make you work on theirs. Whether you allow that to happen or not lies within your control.
That said, if you’re used to nodding your head at every task tossed at you, you won’t find it easy to say no right off the bat. Here is an article that contains detailed tips on how to say no to people politely.
The key takeaway here is, if you prioritize the needs of others over yours, you will never have the time and energy to achieve your goals.
3. Focus on a few things you care about
You might believe that by trying to target more goals you increase your chances of success. You cross your fingers, hoping one of them will click. But that is precisely the reason why you fail. The more you spread your effort, the more diluted your results will be.
You’ll do a lot better if you keep your eyes on only a handful of goals and put all your energy into achieving them. To make that happen, you’ll have to convince yourself to pass on some good opportunities so that your focus remains in the right place.
At times, you might focus on the wrong opportunity and miss out on great rewards. But that’s a risk you have to take.
3. Too many distractions
People under this category have time and the motivation to chase their goals. Unfortunately, different distractions and commitments inhibit them from putting in all their effort.
I am not talking about distractions like the urge to browse through Instagram feed or binge watch Netflix. Those are temptations you choose to indulge in. I am referring to the interruptions outside your control or responsibilities that you have to deliver. For example:
- Getting your children ready for school in the morning
- Living in a house with many family members where constant noise is the norm
- Not having the finances to afford a quiet working environment
What are the symptoms?
Do the following examples seem real about you?
- You have a goal to achieve and the motivation to work, but something important gets in the way
- You spend a good portion on your time on responsibilities or distractions you cannot change
What are the causes?
If you’re in such a situation, it’s quite clear that the causes of your problem lie beyond your control. Whether it is a noisy workplace, a train station next to your house, or personal family responsibilities, you cannot change them. So digging deeper into the cause serves no purpose.
How to solve the problem?
The distractions you face or the responsibilities that need your attention will not consume all your time. So, the best approach is to use the time available most effectively.
To begin, divide your work into two categories. Each one of us has two types of tasks throughout the day.
Deep work: These are tasks that need our complete attention. For example, an author drafting content for a book, a programmer writing code for a software or a musician composing the notes for a new song.
Shallow work: These are the tasks that require your time but not your complete attention. Examples for such tasks are checking emails, preparing breakfast, or making casual phone calls.
If your day looks like the following, schedule your deep and shallow work accordingly.
If you have a distraction-free hour in the morning, use it to complete your deep work like writing content for your new book. During your distracted hours, complete some of your shallow work. You can make those pending phone calls while you prepare breakfast.
Schedule your deep work during your quiet hours instead of complaining about distractions. The mistake most people commit is accepting circumstances as their reality and succumbing to it. Focus on the things you can control and ignore the factors you cannot influence.
Instead of expecting your situation to suit your schedule, change your schedule to suit the situation.
Time management works best when you start at the grassroots level. Do not try to replicate the techniques that the billionaires and the celebrities use. Their situation, mindset, and challenges are way different than yours.
If you implement what Bill Gates or Warren Buffet used to achieve success, you’ll barely see any results. Instead, look deep within yourself and identify the areas that you need to work on.
After all, your time management problems are your own, and only you can solve them.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.