Do you feel disorganized, overwhelmed, and lacking focus? Are you stressed, struggling to get everything done during the day, or burdened with a bottomless “to-do” list? You’re not alone. We all suffer from time management mistakes. In fact, being busy and getting distracted is an epidemic even among people you might think of as very successful. 

If every day you wake up with some sort of mental “to-do” list buzzing through your brain and you feel the stress and the pressure of the crushing deadlines of all the projects and tasks you need to accomplish, there are simple strategies that you can implement to improve your work/life balance and find more time to spend on things that matter to you. 

Many of us struggle with not having enough time to get it all done. But imagine for a moment that you were able to accomplish every task on your to-do list. If you got everything done, would it make your life more meaningful? 


 3 Myths to Beware 

As a Time Management Expert, I have met thousands of people like you (and me) who are looking for ways to improve time management. People tell me things like “If only I had more time”, “If only I could get more done”, or “I will have more time once I…”. 

In the meantime, the hopes and dreams you truly want to spend your time on keep slipping away from you or are put off until another day that never comes. Why? Because the three statements listed above are myths—they are fantasies that trap you. 


“If I only had more tIme” 

The bottom line is that we all get the same 24 hours in a day. You can’t add to or take away from that. Highly productive people don’t think about needing more time, instead they optimize the quantity of time they have. 


“If only I could get more done” 

Frankly, this myth depends on your to-do list. If your list is populated with your highest value activities (the things that matter most to you), then getting more done will actually bring you greater meaning and productivity. However, if you’re feeling stressed, burned out, and longing for a better life, I think we can safely bet that you aren’t filling your list with high value activities. That said, getting more low value activities done will only add to your sense of being overly busy. 


“I wIll have more tIme once I…” 

If you are waiting for your big break to do the things you truly want, you will likely never find it. Again, highly productive people optimize the time they have right now. Now simply push back the low priority activities and make room for the higher value activities. 


The 3 Top Time Management Mistakes I See Repeatedly 

Time Management Mistake #1: Lack of Focus 

Feeling productive and experiencing greater meaning is almost impossible if your life energy is scattered in ten different directions. Much of our sense of meaning and accomplishment comes from completing goals and completing them well. Both of those experiences are compromised when your efforts are scattered. Goals take longer to complete and the quality of your accomplishments are typically inferior to what you could truly achieve if only you had dedicated more focused attention. 

For example, you’ve probably had the experience of completing an important project just in time for a critical deadline, only to feel a certain degree of guilt because you know portions of it could have been much better. Or, entire sections were left out because “there simply wasn’t enough time.” 

Wouldn’t it be great to accomplish projects and have the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t cut any corners—that there weren’t 3 more things you wish you could have done to make it better? Wouldn’t it be great to know that a report was truly your best work and not just finished? 

Lacking focus is often a result of living reactively. For example, you walk through the door of the office and open your email. You think, “I’ll just skim through and delete the junk,” but then a message grabs your attention and you respond. Then another friend’s email sends you an educational YouTube video. It’s not something you need to learn right now, but it’s an interesting video, so you watch it. While you’re watching it, the phone rings. You take the call. The person on the other end has a question, which sends you digging through a stack of papers on your desk, and so on. Before you know it, half the morning is gone and you have yet to touch the project you need to finish by lunch. 

The same thing can happen at home. You walk through the door and want to help your son with homework, but when you go to change into something comfortable you notice your laundry bin is overflowing. So, you decide to throw a load in the wash. Oops! Hang on, you can’t get started with him on homework yet…you have to get dinner ready. Part way through you realize you’re out of butter. Now you make a quick unplanned trip to the store. And so on, and so on. Before you know it, it’s 9:30 pm, you’re whooped and he’s only halfway through his math problems. Looks like it’s going to be a late night and not one you had hoped for. 


Overcoming Lack of Focus 

Want to have more focus? Start prioritizing your tasks every day. If you aren’t clear about what is most important to you, then everything is important. Doing one thing is just as good as the next. You live by everyone else’s needs and agendas. The escape hatch from a reactive life is knowing what’s important and putting those activities first. 

Big warning! Here’s where 90% of people completely fail at prioritizing. Prioritizing starts BEFORE you make a list. You must clearly understand this, or you will fail at prioritizing. When most people hear “you need to prioritize,” they immediately think that means they just need to take their existing list and reorder it. 

No! What you need to do is become absolutely clear on what matters most to you BEFORE you make a list. Don’t look at what you are currently doing and just rearrange it. If what you were currently doing isn’t already making you happy, then changing the order won’t change a thing. You are working from the WRONG list. 

Download the Priorities worksheet to identify your priorities so you can start living your daily life in alignment with what you value. 

Once you have those in place you can set goals that are meaningful. You can create an agenda for your day that matters: one that is fulfilling, brings you great joy, and moves your life forward into a better place. At that point, you will be working from the right list. 


Time Management Mistake #2: Disorganization 

Disorganization rears its ugly head in many guises. It can be as simple as not being able to find that phone number you wrote down yesterday for the repair shop, to have no clue how you are going to get through the day. A lack of order can be physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. 

The amount of lost time, productivity, and stress created by having a life that is in disarray can hardly be calculated. Just consider these startling statistics: 

“Workers’ productivity decreases by 20-40% every time they multi-task or task switch,” according to the University of Michigan. 

“White collar workers waste an average of 40% of their workday. Not because they are not smart, but because they were never taught organizing skills to cope with the increasing workloads and demands”, according to The Wall Street Journal

“About 25% of workers save things in piles rather than files,” says Taylor Nelson Sofres Intersearch.


Overcoming Disorganization 

There are a number of ways in which we can be disorganized, but the first step in getting organized is to have a written Daily Plan of Action to guide your steps. Here are three keys to optimizing your daily plan: 

  1. Actually write it out. Don’t go into the day with a bunch of loose intentions in your head. Inevitably, you will forget some important tasks. Furthermore, the process of writing clarifies your thoughts and produces a record of what you have already completed or have not yet finished. 
  1. Plan for tomorrow TODAY. You want to go to bed knowing what you are doing the next day so that you can start the day with clear focus and intent. It will help you sleep better at night knowing you have a plan and it will help prevent other people’s agendas from rapidly consuming yours. 
  1. Start with action steps from your values, purpose, and goals. Don’t forget those priorities we talked about when writing your action plan. You can’t avoid the fact that there are some chores of life that just have to get done. Bills must be paid, groceries must be bought, laundry must be done, etc. But don’t start your list with these items. 

Want more tips about creating a written Daily Plan of Action? Read the blog post Introduction to Time Management: How to Achieve More in Less Time 


Time Management Mistake #3: Doing Too Much 

Imagine getting to the end of the day and being able to say, “I did everything, I said I would.” That is a great feeling. Do you ever get to do that? If you’re not doing that regularly then you may be unrealistic in your expectations for what you can achieve.  

You are likely over-committed if you find yourself in the following circumstances on a regular basis: 

  • Unable to keep commitments 
  • Constantly renegotiating meeting times due to conflicts 
  • Missing critical deadlines  
  • Not being able to manage basic chores 
  • Saying ‘yes’ to too many engagements, meetings, or projects 
  • Not leaving yourself enough time to take breaks throughout the day 

For every action you take, there is an opportunity cost. In other words, each time you choose to do something, you are ruling out other possibilities. Given the fact that you have a finite number of hours in your day, you must practice a high degree of selectivity in what you do. You truly cannot do it all. Highly productive people are typically highly focused people. 


Overcoming Doing Too Much 

If you want to stop doing too much then you need to be able to simplify your schedule and your life. There are choices you can make to free up more time for high-value tasks.  

Something is going to have to go, to make space for the things you really want. Something is going to have to go to make room for activities that produce the results you want to see. Don’t think of these as losses, rather consider them investments in the best version of yourself. 

What engagements, meetings, projects, or tasks can you pass off? Delegate, outsource, ask a favor, trade with someone else, or do whatever you can to get low-priority tasks out of your hands and into someone else’s. Keep in mind that a task you dread is likely something someone else loves. They might even do it better than you. 

Another way I like to look at it is by putting a dollar amount on time. How much is your time worth? An easy way to do this is to calculate an hour of your salary. Is the time a task will take worth the dollar amount for you to do or would it be better to have someone else do it? Maybe you’ll find that the task isn’t even worth doing and you can let it go. Thinking about time as money allows you to prioritize tasks that are worth your time. 

What other tasks can you prune out? Some activities are just time drains, such as, habitually checking Facebook, or channel surfing on television late at night. Also, some tasks that seem important on your list may not be missed even if they don’t get done. Let’s face it, if a task has been rolling over from one to-do list to the next for weeks how important could it be? Prune it. Cut it off. 

Guard your docket with filter questions: Once you have established your priorities, purpose, and goals before saying yes to anything, ask yourself, “Will this move my goals forward, or is it only going to be a distraction?” That type of question is what’s known as a filter question. 

As you become clearer on what is truly a valuable activity, you will find it easier to say no. 


Now that we’ve addressed the top time management mistakes and ways you can overcome them, you now have a set of tools and strategies that will help you have better focus, get more organized, and stop doing too much. Are you now beginning to see why ‘getting more done’ or ‘finding more time’ isn’t the simple answer to improving time management? If you aren’t doing the right things, getting more done or having more time won’t help your situation. A life of profound joy, meaning, and accomplishment flows from prioritizing, organizing, and simplifying. What will you do today to prioritize, organize, and simplify your day? 

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