Always the last to leave? Regularly working on weekends? Never have time for lunch? Most of us end up working a few extra hours every now and then, at particularly busy times or ahead of big deadlines, for example. But what if this has become the norm?
Excessive workloads can be of our own making, but they are just as often a result of poor management and organisation. If that’s the case, there are a number of ways to deal with unreasonable demands from your manager or tackle a counter-productive culture at work.
But what if your own time management is the issue? And how can you tell if it’s time to take matters into your own hands before your health and career start to suffer?
If you are having trouble managing your time and want to understand why you’re struggling to cope, the chances are you will answer ‘yes’ to one or more of the following questions. (Don’t panic if you find yourself nodding along in agreement – we look at some ways to tackle these symptoms of poor time management here.)
- Do you get easily distracted?
Most people enjoy an entertaining article or a bit of office gossip in the down-time between periods of concentration and hard work. But modern technology, particularly email and social media, have made it possible to be perpetually side-tracked without even leaving your desk. A 2015 study by O2 found that working Brits spend 288 hours every year – that’s around 38 days – sending and receiving emails. Many of us tend to ‘just check email’ every few minutes instead of concentrating on what we’re supposed to be doing, yet very few messages ever require an instant response.
- Are you always busy… doing things that aren’t important?
A lot of people make themselves very busy doing things that just don’t matter (including answering work-related emails that are not important or urgent – see above). This is often because they haven’t set themselves clear priorities based on their performance objectives.
Failing to prioritise goes hand in hand with all sorts of bad qualities such as being unfocused, disorganised and indecisive, and leaves you constantly behind schedule and having to work extra hard to catch up. This can become very tiring, stressful and demotivating and could ultimately cost you your job.
- Do you procrastinate?
Everyone, at one time or another, has been tempted to put off a difficult or uncomfortable task. The more you do it, the larger the deadline looms until you find you are under unhealthy pressure to deliver on time. Recognising that you are avoiding it is half the battle, but sooner or later (sooner, ideally), you just have to bite the bullet and get on with it.
- Are you too much of a perfectionist?
Some people find it hard to know when to stop, but it’s important to recognise that in the real world, work needs to be 'good enough' – not perfect. Time is also money: beyond a certain point, the work you do is subject to diminishing returns – once you have broken the back of it, each extra hour you put into a project is likely to achieve less than the hour before.
- Do you say ‘yes’ to everything?
Everyone likes a helpful colleague, but beware: if taking on work that you don’t need to do leaves you spread too thin and struggling to meet your own objectives, you might end up looking incompetent instead, or a bit of a pushover.
- Do you want to always do everything yourself?
There are few routine tasks that can’t be delegated to other staff or automated, simplified and streamlined by software and technology. So there is almost always scope to unburden yourself of time-consuming tasks you don’t have time for. The only barrier may be your reluctance to let go.
Half the battle
There are probably things most of us could do to improve our time management, but being honest with yourself about your bad habits is half the battle when it comes to changing the patterns of a working lifetime. If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, click on the following link to get part 2 of this article: