How to solve the most common problems caused by poor time management

Dunja Jovanovic

Last updated on: December 21, 2021

How good are your time management skills?

No matter where you are on the scale – whether you’re struggling with it or you’re close to mastering it (or you’re anywhere in between) – there’s always room for improvement.

In this article, we’ll go over:

  • The signs of poor time management, so you’ll be able to recognize them in yourself and others;
  • What problems poor time management can cause, so we can recognize the importance of good time management;
  • How do we fail to manage time, so we can get better at it;
  • And finally, common time management mistakes and how to solve them, because we all make them sometimes.
Time management problems - cover

Signs of poor time management

These are the most common signs of poor time management. They cause a series of mistakes that we’ll discuss later in the article (as well as offer solutions, of course).

Easily distracted

It’s hard to find a space that is completely free of distractions, but we can do our best to optimize our working space to be as distraction-free as possible.

The first step is to find out what distracts you the most. Are those notifications on your phone? Talking to your coworkers? Street noises?

After you figure out what it is, it will be easier to manage and avoid it.

Poor punctuality

We’ve all been stuck in the traffic, or our alarm didn’t go off for some reason. We’re human and accidents happen, but being constantly late is something different. It’s disrespectful to others and their time.

As Anna Musson, the etiquette expert, told The Huffington Post Australia, “There are a multitude of reasons as to why [someone is late], but the overriding reason is it suggests deep down you think your time is more valuable than others.”

Few minutes of waiting here and there tends to add up quickly, which results in a lot of wasted time.

Missing deadlines

Just as being late, if it happens rarely and for a good reason, it can be filed under “things happen”. On the other hand, frequently missing deadlines will seriously impair your professional reputation.

It’s important to be able to rely on the people you work with and trust them that they’ll do their part, so you can do yours. If people can’t rely on you, they won’t want to work with you.

If you happen to miss deadlines often, you should try to figure out why – the most common reasons are procrastination, being unable to organize your time effectively, or because you should delegate and outsource more.

Always rushing

Do you feel like you’re constantly in a rush? There never seems to be enough time to do everything you’ve planned?

It could be either because you’re waiting until the last minute or because you have too many things on your plate, so you’re struggling to complete all the tasks.

Whichever one it is, it’s both stressful and negatively affects the quality of your work. Plan out your day in advance to make sure you have enough time and energy for everything.

You can either use a time management app or a good old to-do list for that purpose.

Burnout

Perhaps the worst sign of poor time management is your health being at risk.

Burnout shows itself in a variety of symptoms: from physical (shortness of breath, dizziness, weakened immune system, among others) to emotional and behavioral (mental exhaustion, loss of motivation, feeling helpless and trapped, etc).

The best way to combat it is to give yourself a break. Schedule time to rest and enjoy life outside work.

💡Find out more about burnout and how to cope with it:

What problems can poor time management cause?

  1. Stress. Poor time management causes us to always be in a rush, which results in a lot of additional stress. Whether you know you have to do something but you’re not doing it, deadlines are approaching and you are not even close to being done, or you have to squeeze 2 weeks’ worth of work into a day or two – it can all be avoided by organizing your time better.
  2. Always being late. Poor punctuality is one of the most frequent problems caused by bad time management. Time slips away easily, but being late makes people perceive you as unreliable.
  3. Ruining your professional reputation. No one’s ideal coworker is someone who’s always late and doesn’t respect deadlines. Most people understand if it happens once and you have a good reason, but if you have no concept of punctuality whatsoever, you’ll be labeled as unprofessional.
  4. Low productivity and poor quality of work. When you’re leaving everything for the last minute, it’s not very likely that your work will be of great quality, as you’ll rush to get it done. This negatively affects your performance and your results.
    Start on time and you won’t have to sacrifice quality for speed.
  5. Having too much on your plate. If you don’t have a clear idea of 1) the time you need to complete something and 2) the time you have available, you are in danger to overextend yourself. Only accept projects that you’re completely sure you’ll be able to complete successfully.
  6. Poor work-life balance. If you don’t have a set schedule, you’re probably always working, but rarely engaging in deep work. This results in a poor work-life balance, which can affect your mental health.

How do we fail to manage time?

We usually fail to manage time by not planning ahead, not setting priorities, not having clear goals, and procrastinating.

Poor planning skills

As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

You can’t accomplish much without having a good plan (believe me, I tried).

These are some of the skills that you should work on if you want to be great at planning:

  • Attention to detail,
  • Critical thinking,
  • Project management,
  • Good communication skills,
  • Good organization,
  • Thinking ahead and seeing the bigger picture.

Not setting priorities

All tasks are equal, but some tasks are more equal than others.

Not prioritizing is a sure way to get overwhelmed or waste time doing random tasks at the expense of more important and/or urgent ones.

The Eisenhower matrix is a great tool that will help you divide important from unimportant things. All you need is a piece of paper that you’ll divide into four parts:

1) Important and urgent tasks – should be done first.

2) Important but not urgent – schedule to do them later.

3) Urgent but not important a.k.a. it’s not you who must do them – delegate them.

4) Those that are neither urgent nor important can be deleted from the list.

Not having clear goals

Imagine participating in a race, but not knowing where the finish line is. How will you know where to run? How will you know how close you are to finishing the race?

That’s right, you can’t.

The same goes with setting goals: you can’t expect to achieve them if you don’t know exactly what your goals are. In order to set goals correctly, make sure they are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

For example, “become rich is not a smart goal. Rich means something different to everyone. Trying to achieve the goal of “becoming rich” means running aimlessly with no finishing line in sight.

Try something like this instead: “have X amount of money in my bank account by the end of the year” or “start earning (X amount) monthly by (a certain date)”.

When you have exact numbers in mind, it will be easier to make a plan on how to get there, too.

Procrastination

Procrastination seems to be everyone’s favorite productivity nemesis.

To be fair, some people (including me) need to feel some pressure from approaching deadlines to unleash their productivity and creativity. If you ever came across something funny or witty in my articles, it’s very likely that I wrote that part the day I needed to finish the text. Or maybe the day before.

The trick is to find the right balance between no pressure and the pressure that makes you panic: the sweet spot of motivating pressure, if you will.

Common time management mistakes and how to solve them

No one’s time management is perfect – since it consists of so many different aspects, most of us have difficulties with at least one of them. Here are some of the most common time management mistakes we tend to make and how to solve them:

Not having a plan

Do you want to be productive, but you feel a little lost? Are you unmotivated? Do you often have a feeling that you have forgotten something?

If you answered yes more than once – it usually happens when you don’t have a plan and you are just going with the flow and being reactive.

Solution: Start by being proactive and making long-term and short-term plans. Sit down and think about things you want to get done and goals you want to achieve.
Then write down how to get there, step by step.

Long-term goals will help you determine short-term goals, and short-term goals will help you write good to-do lists.

You should determine both your personal and professional goals so that your schedule can be well-balanced and fit everything you care for.

💡Choosing the right time management technique is a game-changer. To find out which ones are out there, check out Best time management techniques.

Being bad at estimating time

This used to be one of my biggest problems. I had no idea how much time I needed to get ready or how much exactly it would take me to get from point A to point B. My assumptions were often a little off, which sometimes resulted in being late.

Solution: When I realized I have a tendency to underestimate the amount of time I need to get something done, I started to measure it.
You can simply use a stopwatch or, if you want to do it in a more organized way, a time tracking app.

Tracking your time will help you estimate the time much more accurately, as you’ll have a lot of data to rely on and make an educated guess. It will also facilitate planning, as you’ll have a clear overview of what you spend your time on and what you should be doing more or less.

Being overwhelmed

First of all – take a deep breath.

You can’t do everything. It’s completely fine. No one can.

Having a busy schedule can take a toll on you, so you should be gentle with yourself and accept that you’re not superhuman. Also, good news – there’s a solution for this.

Solution: It’s important to learn to prioritize.

Choose up to 3 tasks you absolutely need to get done for the day and focus on them. Try to do them in the first half of the day: the biggest/hardest one first, and then the rest, in order of priority. If you manage to do something outside your top 3 tasks – great, but if not, that’s completely fine.

Also, make sure you leave a buffer between the things you scheduled to make sure you’ll finish a task before the next one starts and your schedule won’t get messed up.

💡Time management doesn’t have to add more stress – it can be fun, too. Check out 40+ Best time management games and activities.

Distractions

Do you know what distracts you the most? If you don’t, take this short assessment published by Harvard Business Review to find out which of the six most common types of distractions interfere with your productivity and ability to focus.

Solution: If you finished the first step of figuring out what your worst distractions are, it’s time to deal with them. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Work in a productive environment. When I was a student, I used to go to the library to study: everyone around me was doing their work so it was only natural for me to do so too. It felt off to be on my phone.
  2. Break tasks into chunks so they seem more doable and less intimidating.
  3. Turn off the notifications or put your phone in do not disturb mode.
  4. Have a set time for checking emails – don’t read and respond to them throughout the whole day, as they break your concentration.
  5. If you work in a noisy environment, invest in good noise-canceling headphones.

Procrastinating

What causes procrastination? It’s not “just being lazy”, often there’s a bigger reason – usually perfectionism and/or being afraid of failure.

Solution: There are several ways to approach procrastination, depending on the cause of it.

  1. The first one would be to accept that done is better than perfect. I know it’s probably easier said than done. However, nothing we ever do will be perfect, so it’s better to accept it sooner rather than later.
    That doesn’t mean we should stop putting effort into our work. It means we should stop endlessly fixing it, stressing over every small detail, or not even beginning because we’re scared it won’t turn out exactly as we imagined.
  2. Sometimes we procrastinate because we’re overwhelmed. We put off starting because it seems like too much work.
    The solution to that would be to break down big projects into small steps. They seem much more doable. Focus just on your very next step and it won’t be nearly as scary.
  3. Do you procrastinate because you’re not sure if you’re able to complete the project successfully or if you’re skilled enough for it?
    Ask your manager or a trusted person from your team for feedback every so often to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Be open to advice and criticism and use them as a learning opportunity.

Thinking busy and productive are the same

Do you equal being busy with being productive? Spending a lot of time working with getting a lot of things done? Working hard with working smart?

Contrary to popular belief, those things are actually not the same. Has it ever happened to you that you worked the whole day, but eventually realized that you haven’t accomplished anything significant?

Solution: Keep your goals in mind. When you’re writing your to-do list, ask yourself: Will this bring me closer to my goals? Is this important to me? Can I delegate this?

If you have some minor tasks to do, 1) do them towards the end of your workday. Don’t waste your brain’s prime time on them – use it wisely, for more important tasks.
2) Group them together, so you don’t lose a lot of focus when you’re switching from task to task.

Not taking breaks and time off work

Working all the time actually won’t make you more productive – it will only lead you to burnout.

Your mind needs to be well-rested and fresh so it can focus and be efficient. You do your job better when you’re not exhausted and sleep-deprived, believe it or not.

Solution: The solution to this one is pretty obvious – take breaks and relax.

Prevent yourself from working outside your working hours and thinking about work when you’re not actually working. There’s more to life than productivity and making money.

Conclusion

Building time management skills takes time and effort. It’s a process, but it’s worth it, as your life will become easier as you learn to manage your time better.

Make sure you’re planning your time, setting clear goals, setting priorities, and minimizing procrastination. You should also do your best to avoid distractions, take time off work, accurately estimate your time, and focus on being efficient instead of being busy.

✉️What do you struggle with the most when it comes to time management? Do you have any tips and tricks to organize your time? Will you try any of our suggestions? Let us know at blogfeedback@clockify.me.

Author: DunjaJovanovic

Dunja Jovanovic is a writer passionate about productivity and self-improvement. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found researching time management techniques and reading about the psychology of productivity.


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