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Common Time Management Pitfalls Every Manager Should Avoid

Manage multitasking, technology, and meetings to power up your productivity.

Leading a staff of 50 with two direct reports, Louise relied heavily on a to-do list to stay on track. Before leaving work, she would review and update her list, marking most tasks as completed and carrying the stray item over to the next day.

But after a few months on the job, Louise noticed a pattern. Some days, despite her strong leadership skills and work ethic, she had accomplished none of the items on the list. Working in the media industry, she expected each day to have its own rhythm, with fresh challenges and tasks. But what was gobbling up all her time?

Common Time Management Pitfalls Every Manager Should Avoid

She decided to record what she did every day, noting how long she spent on each activity. She quickly discovered she was stumbling into three common time-robbing pitfalls. Do these sound familiar to you, too?

1. Technology Intrusion

When it comes to time management and productivity, technology gives—and it takes. Alerts announcing the arrival of e-mail, social media postings, app notifications, texts, and other forms of e-contact can be distracting and redirect your focus to less critical tasks.

“There's an epidemic and I do mean epidemic in this country of information abuse, an information addiction where people have come to believe that checking e-mail 200 times per day, having a Blackberry to your head, or in your hand while you're at dinner, or on the subway, or in your car, or with your friends, is the path to becoming more productive and more successful,” says Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. “It isn't, because giving everyone around you, every person in the world immediate access to you, is inviting interruption and inviting minutiae to completely invade your life.”1

Remedies: Mute nonessential notifications and schedule times to check necessary communication channels. And turn your e-mail off, the Time Management Training Institute advises on its website. “It may be hard to break away from your constant communication with the world, but if you check e-mail twice per day, you can minimize dramatically your time management wasters. Find specific time frames during the day that you will devote to e-mail and stick to your schedule.”2 Adjust this plan accordingly, of course, as many jobs do not lend themselves to communication limits. A business degree can help provide other perspectives and solutions, too.

2. Multitasking Overload

The first use of the word “multitasking” dates to 1966, when it was used to describe a computer performing many tasks at the same time.3 In the 21st century, businesses seek humans with that same ability, and many of us try to work on multiple items at one time. Experts say this is counterproductive, and something of an illusion.

“Current research shows us that multitasking is a myth,” the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University reports. “In actuality, we are switching back and forth between tasks. With each switch we pay a cognitive cost and a time cost: It takes time to get mentally back into the task, thus making us less efficient. When switching we lose the depth of our engagement, absorption.”4

Remedies: Pare down your to-do list to what realistically can be accomplished in a given day or week. Delegate where you can. Revisit deadlines and meet with key stakeholders to agree on adjustments. Train your brain to focus on one task at a time. Limit distractions.

3. Meeting Creep

Meetings can take a big bite out of your day. Too often, they are longer than necessary and, worst of all, unproductive. Workers responding to an Accountemps survey said that on average, they spend 21% of their time in meetings, 25% of which they feel is wasted.5

Take the first step to meeting management by asking yourself if gathering your team is really necessary. “Sometimes five minutes spent with six people separately is more effective and productive than a half-hour meeting with them all together,” Antony Jay writes in “How to Run a Meeting” in the Harvard Business Review.6

Remedies: Limit meetings to one hour and commit to hitting that mark or, better yet, coming in under it. When a short meeting will absolutely do the job, gather the team for a quick, standing meeting. Model good leadership skills by being firm but respectful in addressing any behaviors that may derail a meeting. If your team gets stuck on an item, set it aside to come back to at another time. Virtual meetings can be a good choice but also can present the same pitfalls as in-person gatherings. And don’t rule out audio conferences, but beware of a productivity drain: Some team members are likely to multitask their way through the meeting.

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