How can I tell if my problem is bad time management?

Most of us end up pulling a late one every now and then, at particularly busy times or ahead of big deadlines, for example. But when excessive unpaid overtime becomes the norm, that’s not healthy. Poor time management is just one among several possible reasons you’re working long hours.

Setting out conscious plans for making the best use of your time doesn’t come naturally to most people, and most of us develop working patterns that involve all kinds of bad habits, muddled priorities and simple time-wasting. Here are some common characteristics of people who struggle to manage their time effectively:

  • You get easily distracted. Most people should enjoy a bit of down-time between periods of concentration and hard work. But are you letting yourself get perpetually side-tracked by email, social media and office chit-chat?
  • You’re always busy… doing things that aren’t important. Failing to identify and do the things that actually matter 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.
  • You procrastinate. The more you put off difficult or uncomfortable tasks, the larger deadlines loom until you find you are under unhealthy pressure to deliver on time. Stressful and completely avoidable.
  • You’re too much of a perfectionist. Are your colleagues sailing through work while you make a meal of it? Pride in your work is good, but some people find it hard to know when to stop. In the real world, most work needs to be 'good enough', not perfect.
  • You say ‘yes’ to everything. It’s good to be helpful, but not when it leaves you spread too thin and struggling to meet your own objectives. You might end up looking incompetent instead.
  • You have to 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.

Don’t panic if any of these ring alarm bells. There are probably things most of us could do to improve our time management and being honest with yourself is the first step to sorting out your bad time management habits.  

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.