Do your tasks keep piling up? Des the day seem to zip by without you getting anything done? If you work hard every day but never quite manage to reach your goals, you’re likely suffering from one of these productivity killers.
Managing your time is key to getting things done. Here’s where you’re going wrong.
Mistake #1: Not setting SMART personal goals
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you get there? Having concrete goals in place is the best way to keep yourself on the straight and narrow.
You’re much more likely to stick to them if your goals are SMART:
Specific: well-defined and clear
Measurable: able to be tracked, monitored, and checked off the list when completed
Achievable: with the resources, time frame and other commitments you have
Relevant: why is the goal important to you, your ambitions and your values?
Time-based: enough time given to achieve the goal, but not so much that you’ll waste time
Define your goals over the short term, medium term and long term, and clearly identify the actions you’ll need to take to get there. These actions can then be transferred to your To Do list. Speaking of which:
Mistake #2: Not having a to do list
When you’ve got a free 10 minutes, do you want to waste it trying to remember all the stuff you need to do? Or do you want to whip out your masterlist, pick off the task that suits your time and priorities best, and make the most of the opportunity? Do we even have to ask?
Keeping a to do list is like tidying up for your mind. It allows you to be less distracted and more relaxed because your brain is free from trying to remember your various tasks, feeling guilty about avoiding those tasks, and suddenly waking up at 3am having just remembered Super Important Task #397.
That brings us neatly to:
Mistake #3: Not deciding on your Super Important Tasks
You should have a list of everything that you need to do, but this should be broken down into priorities so that you don’t waste time on unimportant tasks when there are VIPs on the list. It can be tempting (and satisfying) to knock off a bunch of 5 minute, no-one-really-cares tasks instead of taking a chunk out of the big project that’s due soon, but ask yourself: which one will get you to where you need to be?
Highlight the things that really need to get done, and make yourself work on those first. Your life and your mental health will thank you for it.
Mistake #4: Underestimating how long a task will take
Whether it’s the complexity of the task, having to wait on confirmation or feedback, or simply your computer acting up, those ‘5 minute tasks’ often end up taking much longer. Train yourself to plan better by jotting down how long you think each task on your list will take before you start, then noting down how long it actually took. Do this for a week and you’ll be surprised what you learn.
Mistake #5: Multitasking
Multitasking isn’t really multitasking. You’re really switching between tasks quickly in a way that can seriously damage your focus, motivation, and energy reserves.
The only exception is if one task is simple and common enough that you’re on autopilot, such as loading laundry. If both tasks are even remotely challenging, you’re in for brain drain. Three or more? Say goodbye to your productivity and performance.
Instead, focus on one task for a set amount of time, between 25 minutes and an hour for the best results. Limit checking your email and social media to set times of the day.
In a similar vein:
Mistake #6: Letting little distractions have a big impact
It’s just after lunch, and you grab some coffee before you get back to work. You open up the task you were working on, but a new email pops up, and you answer it right away – Inbox Zero is the holy grail, right? As you’re finishing that, your colleague starts chatting about a new recipe they tried, and then you get another email, and then a text, and then you think you’ll just have one more coffee and before you know it’s 4pm and you’ve done nothing but give yourself the coffee jitters.
Don’t let it happen. Stick to a schedule that has 10 minute breaks built in so you can get it out of your system and get back to work. If you’re struggling, try the Pomodoro Timer to keep you on track.
Mistake #7: Procrastination
Ah, the mother of all time-suckers. Procrastination is the snowball that leads to the avalanche. You start off promising yourself you’ll just spend 10 minutes on Instagram, and end up rushed, under-prepared and feeling horrendously guilty as you snap back to reality three hours later.
How do you defeat the monster? Try breaking big tasks into smaller ones, and promising you’ll tick off just the first one before you continue your Netflix binge. It’s more than likely that you’ll want to keep going once you’ve gotten started, and even if you don’t, you’re still a little closer than you were before, making it easier to pick back up again.
We only have so much time in a day, a week or a year. You can use it to goof off or you can use it to complete your tasks, achieve your goals, and get to where you want to be. The choice is yours.