If you struggle with time management (and who among us doesn’t?), you probably fall into one of five common styles. If you can identify your time management “personality,” it will make it easier to figure out what changes might help you make better use of your time.
Take a look at these five types and see if you recognize yourself.
1. Procrastinator. If you often find that you still haven’t started work that you had intended to complete days earlier, or if it’s hard for you to sit down and start a piece of work, or if you often do low-priority work as more important deadlines are looming, you’re probably a procrastinator. Most people procrastinate at least occasionally, but if it’s interfering with your ability to perform at the level you’re capable of and accomplish the things you want to do, it’s time to take action.
What to do: Since the hardest part is often just getting started, try working in small chunks. Tell yourself that you’re going to sit down and work on a project for just a small chunk of time – one hour, say, or even just 15 minutes. You may find that it’s easier to keep going once you start. Also, set yourself interim deadlines. Break projects into pieces, and resolve to get one piece done per day or week.
2. Never Say No. If you can’t think of the last time you said no to a request, no matter how far afield from your own priorities, and end up taking on so many commitments that you can’t possibly get it all done without exhausting yourself, this is you. You might think you’re being helpful or a team player, but in your efforts to do everything, you’ll usually end up letting some things slip because you’re simply too overloaded to remember it all, let alone tackle everything. And of course, you can’t do a good job for anyone if you burn out from exhaustion or if you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t meet your commitments.
What to do: Make a point of getting clear in your own head about what’s truly important for you to achieve, and how much time it will take you to achieve it. When a new request comes your way, ask yourself whether it’s in line with your top priorities. If it’s not, can you realistically accommodate it without displacing any of your other priorities? And remember that if you say yes to something new, you will be spending less time on something else. Is that a trade-off that’s in your best interests?
3. Fire Fighter. If everything feels like a crisis to you and you spend much of your time putting out fires, leaving you without much time for your biggest priorities, you’re probably a Fire Fighter.
What to do: Get very clear on your most important goals. Make a list of what you need to accomplish in order for today to be a success (or this week, or this year). Work on other items only if you finish your must-do’s for today. Also, try setting aside “work blocks” on your calendar to work on your highest priorities, and don’t let yourself schedule over them.
4. Under-estimator. If you usually think you’ve left yourself enough time to complete your to-do list and then are surprised when you end up missing a deadline, this is probably you. We all under-estimate how much time things will take on occasion, but when it has become a pattern in your work, it’s time to revisit your approach.
What do to: Assume as a rule that things will take longer than you think they will. Build in a buffer (one that seems much longer than you’ll need), and start earlier than you think you need to, reminding yourself of what your pattern has been. Also, spend some time reviewing how long past assignments took and why, and see if you can find patterns there that can inform your thinking in the future.
5. Easily Distracted. You sit down at your computer to work on a project that’s due later today, but first you just need to check your email. You see a colleague pass by in the hall and jump up to chat. When you get back to your desk, you have three new emails so you spend some time reading and responding. You’re about to return to the project, but … doughnuts are in the kitchen! If you’re easily distracted, you might enjoy handling a wide variety of things at once, but if it means that you’re never quite able to bring the focus that you need to larger projects, it’s time to think about changing your habits.
What to do: If you know you’re less likely to work straight through a project without interruption, build in extra time when planning out a project. Also, physically block out distractions, like by turning your desk to face the wall rather than the doorway or using noise-canceling headphones to help keep you focused on the task at hand. You might even try working when no one else is around, like by coming in early or blocking out time in the evening to do work that requires the most concentration.