The dos and don'ts of time management
Here are five of the worst time sucks, and what you can do about them
At a Glance: Identify what habits are currently sucking up your valuable time. Then turn to scheduling, asking other people for help and maintaining your to-do list to improve time management.
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 6 seconds
We all have our own little daily habits or routines that we believe either improve our productivity or provide a needed break from our hectic demands. Interestingly, though, many of these time management tactics we use may actually be creating more busy work. Here are a few of the most notorious time sucks and how to avoid them or break the habit:
Doesn’t work: Breaks for Facebook and social media
Unless it’s a part of your work or studies, checking Facebook, Twitter or Instagram usually drags on longer than we care to admit. It’s like a black hole for time. Pretty soon we’re looking at our second cousin’s kid’s birthday party photos from last year and we’ve completely lost our concentration, along with valuable productivity.
Try this: Schedule a once- or twice-daily social media “meeting” for the amount of time you genuinely feel good about. Legitimizing that time slot will eliminate any wasted guilty energy. Plus, you’ll gain a better understanding of your own social media habits and boundaries.
Doesn’t work: Constantly checking email
Professionals spend a shocking 28 percent of the average workweek reading and answering emails. If your work or research needs a lot of email communication, that’s one thing. But your inbox can quickly become a crippling distraction if you drop what you’re doing to respond to every alert.
Try this: Dedicate specific time on your daily calendar to respond to email. Try 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon. Otherwise, log off completely. You’ll likely get through your inbox more quickly when you do start replying, since you’ll be repeating the same basic kind of task for the whole time.
Doesn’t work: Multitasking
We’re not computers, so our brains can’t really focus on too many things at the same time. At least not like we’d want them to. We just don’t multitask that well, despite what we tell ourselves. Instead, our brains switch between tasks, a process that demands more brainpower than focusing fully on one thing at a time.
Try this: Plan your work or study day in chunks, with a 60- to 90-minute block of focused effort followed by a 10- to 20-minute time out. During your breaks, stand up, stretch, breathe or listen to music. (The only rule: Stay away from your inbox and social media.)
Doesn’t work: Going to unnecessary meetings
Nobody likes pointless meetings. But we often agree to show up or dial in because everyone else is doing the same. Fast-forward to the part where the whole day is gone and we’re no closer to accomplishing the things that actually need doing.
Try this: Protect your time. It’s your most valuable asset. Try maintaining a personal, prioritized task list with times assigned to each item. When invited to a meeting, that level of organization will help you calculate exactly a) how the meeting will or won’t help you meet your day’s goals, and b) the opportunity cost of attending. You’ll know when it’s the right choice to respectfully decline a meeting.
Doesn’t work: Doing everything when you don’t have to
Books have been written on the subject of assigning tasks to others—how hard it is to do, how important it is, how complicated things can get when we don’t. If we never say no, we set ourselves on the fast track to frustration and failure.
Try this: Look at your to-do list for the day, week and month, and quickly write down the names of other people involved in each item. Decide if one or more of these friends, colleagues or family members might be better (or more available) for the job. Then go ahead and ask. The worst that can happen is they say no.