7 time-wasting pitfalls to avoid

To make the most of time, avoid these time management follies and work smarter

Profile of businessman looking at his wristwatch checking time

We have an amazing talent for fooling ourselves. So many times we appear to be very busy. We are involved in doing a particular task and our days are filled completely. Yet, we have not actually done much. In fact, we may have a hidden feeling of dissatisfaction at not having accomplished a lot. It is all too easy to fall unconsciously into certain time management traps.

If you feel you could achieve more with your time, or if you use the popular ‘lack of time’ excuse to explain a lot of undone [but important] tasks in your life, take a look at these traps. Do you have a tendency to fall into them?

Avoid these 7 time-wasting pitfalls

1. Avoiding an important activity

Do you have a tendency to use your time and energy on things that are less productive, just to avoid a more important activity? It is usual to suddenly discover new things to do in order to avoid an important task. You may realise that your desk needs some cleaning on the eve of an important submission. Do the important task first and not waste time on a small or trivial task.

2. Involving too many people

The popular adage ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ certainly holds true. Some tasks are best done alone or by limited people. When a group of individuals get together, there is a huge collection of views and ideas. This is good for a brainstorming session. However, when it comes to planning and executing a task, more people can be a nuisance.

Check to see if you tend to depend too much on others for help, even when it is possible for you to do a task alone. Try going solo and see how much time you save.

3. Being a perfectionist

We are brought up to look up to perfectionists. It is also important to realise that sometimes this habit can reduce our effectiveness. It is indeed important to do a task well. But being picky about every minute detail will distract you from your original goal. It will frustrate you and leave you dissatisfied with the result. You could have spent the time bettering an already good project on newer projects. Many perfectionists are also afraid of mistakes and are wary of delegating work. This leads them to waste more time on a single activity.

Ask yourself if you have unrealistic expectations from your self. If you have done a task reasonably well, let go of it and do something else rather than hover around it in order to make it better. Don’t let perfection hinder efficiency.

4. Not prioritising

There will always be too many things to do in life and little time to do them. The only way out of this situation is to know what is important for us. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey, advices us to ‘keep our mission in mind’. When we are faced with a lot to do, being clear about our priorities makes it easier to choose the more relevant task to perform. Are you clear about what really matters to you? If not, then sit down and set your priorities, pronto.

5. Uninterrupted time

In his book Stress and Time Management, M R Pai explains the importance of having absolutely uninterrupted time for a couple of hours each day. All of us need such time at a stretch to work on certain projects, plan them out and essentially do some thinking. For example, as a writer I need at least two hours of free time to plan an article. After I have done that, I can do the article in bits and pieces as I find time during the day while attending to household chores and other errands.

In a talk on time management, Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University advised his students to find ‘creative thinking time’ and ‘defend it ruthlessly’. Such quiet periods increase productivity.

Observe your schedule and mark out the time when you are least likely to be disturbed and most likely to be productive. Early morning or late nights are ideal. This is your special time. Use it.

6. Stretching tasks

Sometimes, we do not do enough with our time and live under the illusion that we have so much to do. We tend to stretch mundane chores over a span of time just to convince ourselves that we are too busy to do other things. Indeed, the more you have to do, the less time you will take for mundane errands. The Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. Thus, a person who is at leisure can take three hours to buy and send a gift to someone and think that they have really been busy that day. A busy man can do the same thing in a couple of minutes and have time to complete numerous other tasks.

See if you stretch things this way just because you have nothing else to do. Then examine if you really accomplished as much in the day as you led yourself to believe.

7. Failing to plan

It is said ‘plan your work and work your plan’. Not having a plan is the worst position to be in. It makesyou a rudderless boat that moves but without a course. Don’t be swayed by things and events around you. If you have a plan and definite goals to achieve you will know where to go. If required, you can always change it later.

Time is a resource that is equally distributed among all human beings. How we use it goes a long way in determining how successful and happy we become. So, take charge of your life and avoid these pitfalls to make better use of your time.

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Dhanishta Shah
Dhanishta Shah is a Mumbai-based writer with a background in psychology and special education. She writes because she believes it gives 'sense to her experiences'.