When I met Dana Brownlee, the founder of corporate training company Professionalism Matters, we got to talking about time wasting habits. It turns out that certain types of people are actually prone to ineffective time management.
Being the productivity nut that I am, I naturally probed a bit deeper on this one and asked Brownlee to describe her four personality types, and how to stop struggling if you have one of them.
This person has no real plan for their career or even the day ahead. All she can do is focus on the latest fire or the most recent request in front of them, with no organized system to manage all of her tasks. Brownlee says this time bomb approach explodes when something really important falls through the cracks.
The Checklist Checker
This personality is more focused on checking off items on his “to do list” than the real accomplishment of important items. Focusing too much on small tasks rather than the critical (and yes, daunting) ones is a dangerous approach because it gives the false illusion of achievement.
The Manic Multi-Tasker
This personality is convinced that one has to do 2-3 things at a time to be efficient. This person often can’t distinguish what can be multitasked versus what can’t. This can set her up for negative consequences (e.g. quality lapses, errors) that result from lack of attention and concentration.
The Plate Spinner
This personality deludes himself into thinking he can schedule an insane number of tasks and appointments each day and accomplish everything. Regularly overscheduling without setting aside extra time for interruptions, unexpected items, down time, or even productive work time can backfire when things don’t work out as planned.
Help Is On The Way
If any of these personalities sound familiar, Brownlee recommends a personal inventory to assess your most significant time traps. First, track your time in 15 minute increments for three typical work days. You might recall that we reviewed the app RescueTime here back in 2014 – that’s one of many terrific tools for this.
After the tracking period, review your time carefully to get a handle on how you’re spending it. In particular, look for problematic or unexpected situations and think about how you might course correct. For instance, did that quick email you wanted to send before starting your business plan take 20 minutes instead of 5? If so, perhaps decide to tackle larger assignments first and then follow with presumably smaller ones.
Did you spend two hours a day responding to last minute requests from your boss? In this case, you might start budgeting time for these extra plates. Did you buy birthday presents for your mom and your cat and send five LinkedIn introductions during a teleconference with another team? If this is you, did you really catch everything important said on that call? Could it be time to cut down on your multi-tasking?
Next, your calendar should become your new best friend. Write down everything, and we mean everything. Include appointments with yourself to accomplish items on your to do list as well as personal errands or tasks. Try to only schedule about 75 percent of your day (like a doctor's office) so that you’ll be able to cope with the unexpected. Also, many tasks will take more time than you anticipate, so the extra 25 percent cushion will help you be more realistic.
Remember too, that every second of every day need not be productive. Going through every day at a frenetic pace and overworking will cause inevitable burnout. Instead, recognize that down time, especially during times when your energy tends to flag, is valuable. So it’s okay to peruse your social networks or text with a colleague. Just set a timer for these guilty pleasures so that you stay on schedule.
Gaining control over your time is just like any other area in which you’re seeking improvement – from weight loss to financial management. Brownlee says that by assessing and understanding your current behavior first, you’ll be able to make effective changes with a long-term impact.