#447  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 1          January 2000

Five Time-Management Mistakes
by Donald E. Wetmore, Ph.D.

Dr. Wetmore, from Shelton, CT, is a speaker and consultant on time management.  He can be reached at: phone (800) 969-377; fax (203) 9298151; email ctsem@msn.com; www.balancetime.com

Time management is not necessarily working harder, but rather, smarter.  To accomplish significantly more, we need not necessarily increase our efforts. As an example, in a horse race, the first horse earns a $50,000 purse and the second earns $25,000. The first horse gets twice as much money as the runner-up, not because it ran twice as far or twice as fast. It was only a “nose ahead.”

So it is with our daily results. We need not run twice as fast or put in twice the effort to significantly increase our daily success. We only need to be a "nose ahead" of where we already are. We are already quite productive. The real challenge is: how much more productive can we become?

A lot of our time management has to do with more of what we are not doing, rather than what we are doing. Sometimes our mistakes and omissions keep us from running at full pace.

Here are five time management mistakes we should all avoid to help us increase our successes both on and off the job, in less time, and with less stress.

1. Start your day without a plan of action. You will begin your day by responding to the loudest voice (the squeaky wheel gets the grease) and spend it in a defensive mode, responding to other people's and events' demands. The tail will wag the dog. If there is a void of leadership in your time-management life, someone will fill that void.  Other people will take all of your time if you let them. You will have worked hard but may not have done enough of the right things. Time management is not doing the wrong things quicker. That just gets us nowhere faster. Time management is doing the right things.

2. Get out of balance in your life. Our lives are made up of seven vital areas: health, family, financial, intellectual, social, professional, and spiritual. We will not necessarily spend time every day in each area or equal amounts of time in each area. But if, in the long run, we spend a sufficient quantity and quality of time in each area, our lives will be in balance. If we neglect any one area, never mind two or three, we will eventually sabotage our success. Much like a table, if one leg is longer than the rest, it will make the entire table wobbly. If we don't take time for health, our family life and social life are hurt. If our financial area is out of balance, we won’t be able to focus adequately on our professional goals.

3. Work with a messy desk or work area. The person who works with a messy desk spends, on average, one and a half hours per day looking for things, or being distracted by things. That's seven and a half hours per week. ("Out of sight-out of mind." The reverse is true too, "In sight, in mind.")  It's not a solid block of an hour and a half, but a minute here and a minute there and, like a leaky hot water faucet, drip, drip, drip, it doesn't seem like a major loss, but at the end the day, we're dumping gallons of hot water down the drain. If you have ever visited the office of a top manager, typically, that person is working with a clean desk. Many would attribute this observation to that person's access to other staff members. I’d bet, however, that even in the manager’s early career, he or she likely worked with a clean desk.

4. Don't get enough sleep. Nearly 75% of us complain that we are flat-out tired. Most people get an appropriate quantity of sleep, but they lack quality sleep. Their days are filled with so much stress that sleep becomes fitful.  If you plan your day, and work your plan, you will get more done, feel a higher sense of accomplishment, experience less stress, and enjoy a more restful night's sleep.

5. Don't take a lunch break. Many do not take a lunch break, working through that time period in the hope that it will give them more time to produce results. It may work just the opposite. After doing what we do for several hours, we start to "dull out." Sure, we can work through lunch and be productive, but that’s not the issue. The issue is how much more productive we can be. A lunch break, even a fifteen-minute one, gives us a chance to get our batteries all charged up again to more effectively handle the afternoon's challenges. We are then less likely to procrastinate.  We’ll go head-to-head with those difficult tasks that will make a significant difference in our productivity.

So, be sure not to fall into any of these time-management mistakes.  You’ll likely win by even more than “a nose.”

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