A project lands on an employee’s desk. They start on it immediately, only to be interrupted by their manager stopping by for a quick check in. A few minutes after that, an email about another project comes through their inbox. Lunch comes, followed by a team meeting where new decisions were made about the morning’s project. Now, the employee is back at their desk trying to triage their duties to keep up. By the end of the day, the project has gone nowhere.
Does this sound familiar? This is the domino effect of poor time management.
Importance of Project Time Management Skills
Time management at work is beneficial to employees and the business as a whole. Good time management manifests as work turned in
- on time,
- higher quality work,
- higher quantity of work in the same time period,
- increased efficiency,
- less employee stress,
- career advancement opportunities, and
- an improvement in general quality of life.
But research into time management shows that up to 82% of workers don’t have a proper system in place to manage their time and tasks. Either they lack a technique altogether or they take on the philosophy of “I’ll deal with things as they come up.” There are many causes of poor time management, as we’ll see listed in the common mistakes below.
Nine Common Time Management Mistakes
At times, stepping away from a task can be beneficial for clarity. But procrastination at its core is avoidance, not creation or advancement. Procrastination can happen when we’re unsure of our next steps or when we’re afraid of failing at something new. The can manifest in the form of anxiety, depression, dejection, low self-esteem, and more.
How to Avoid it: Breaking large projects into small, manageable tasks reduces overwhelm. Task management software helps outline project tasks and deadlines to keep the work moving along. Coworking is also a great tool for combating procrastination as you must remain accountable for showing up and doing work at a certain time and place.
2) Failing to Prioritize
Time is a precious resource that must be spent accordingly, and that means prioritizing. Employees may fail to prioritize because of a lack of knowledge on how to assign value to tasks. Or it could be a product of unclear priorities from managers, directors, and senior executives. Learning new time management systems can help employees evaluate tasks and better prioritize.
How to Avoid it: Write down everything that needs to be done for a given time period (that day, that week, etc.). Use a ranking system, such as assigning each task an A, B, or C to designate whether it is high, medium, or low priority. Start with the A (high priority) tasks and then move to your B and C tasks as the day continues.
3) Managing Distractions
Whether it’s a coworker dropping by our desk at the office or into our DMs as we work from home, distractions from others are common. Which means, out of all the time management mistakes, this can be the most difficult to correct. Employees can’t control when notifications pop up on their phones or when others send them emails or messages. What we can learn to control is our behavioral response to each distraction as it pops up.
How to Avoid it: Mute notifications on phones, emails, and messaging systems when you’re doing deep work. Set away status or even block off meeting time with yourself on the official calendar so everyone knows you are busy for that time period. Have a handful of polite responses available to shoo others away who might try to bother you.
4) Improper Planning
Have you ever agreed to a deadline only to find that the project required twice as much work as you anticipated? Improper planning can hit anyone and derail us from better time management. Improper planning is also tied to poor goal setting practices.
How to Avoid it: Be sure you have all the information before agreeing to a project. Be reasonable in estimating your own capacity to finish the work in the time allotted. If you don’t manage to avoid this tricky time management issue, the next best course of action is to admit your mistake quickly and emphatically. Explain the miscalculation and adjust for a new project due date.
There’s a lot to be said for the opportunities we open ourselves to by saying “yes.” There’s also a lot of trouble we can get into when we say yes to too many things and overcommit ourselves. Employees with high intrinsic motivation tend to take on extra work and can become burnt out from it. When we juggle too many balls, we are bound to lose track of some and that could bring the whole act tumbling down.
How to Avoid it: Know your own limitations and realize those limitations may change at any given time based on the other projects you have on your plate or even your personal wellbeing. Managers need to be cognizant of workers who take on too much and step in to support or even take over if that employee is overcommitted.
6) Managing Attitude and Stress
More workers are becoming burnt out than ever before. A sour or defeated attitude in the morning can become progressively worse as the challenges of the day come along. When we’re emotional, our brains are less able to focus on the task at hand. Harvard Business Review confirms with a decade of findings that a bad attitude can directly affect aspects such as financial performance and absenteeism.
How to Avoid it: Take breaks during the day. The more overwhelmed and emotional you become as the day wears on, the less productive and efficient you will be with your work. Use the time to meditate, get some fresh air, snuggle with your pets or kids, or anything that will provide relief from your focused work. Managers can help promote employee wellbeing in many ways from checking in with each employee to promoting company health benefits.
Years of research studies have proven time and again that multitasking is not an efficient use of our time. By separating our attention, tasks take longer, we lose focus, and we make more mistakes than we would if we were concentrating on one thing.
How to Avoid it: Focus on one project at a time and only one step of that project at a time. Combine this with cutting down on distractions and you should be able to avoid multitasking. From an operations perspective, implementing AI solutions may help ease employee workload, thereby reducing the need for multitasking.
8) Uncoordinated Networking
When projects require complicated networks of people each responsible for various interlocking pieces, there can be a breakdown in coordination. Employees will be forced to waste time if the person with the step before them has yet to complete their work. Assembly lines need to work efficiently, and this means having the correct people in each stage of the project.
How to Avoid it: Keep project teams simple and streamlined. Avoid delegating pieces of a whole task to multiple people. This may require the company looking closely at their processes and team management.
9) Lacking Resources
Workers who lack the proper resources to complete the tasks required of them will end up wasting time spinning their wheels. This lack could be in the form of funds, information, or even permission to move forward.
How to Avoid it: Managers must make sure workers are empowered to make decisions and have the resources (funds and information) to move forward with projects. Workers can be vocal about asking for what they need to complete a project.
Time management not only keeps projects moving toward on-time completion, but it can also help employees be more productive, reduce stress, and eliminate work errors. If you want to improve time management for yourself or your organization, participate in a Dale Carnegie Time Management Course today!