Do you feel like you’re working all the time but not producing the results you desire? You’re not alone. It’s a problem that a lot of talented entrepreneurs must overcome. Unfortunately, some people, as a last-ditch effort, embrace time management techniques that only add to the time mismanagement struggle.
Avoid these 11 common time management traps that most entrepreneurs make. Learn ways that you can conquer the mismanagement of time — and you’ll rectify this headache.
1. Denying you have a time management problem.
I’ve occasionally told myself, “If only I had more time I could have gotten to X, Y, and Z.” Of course, we can’t have more than 24 hours in a day, so why waste our mental energy griping about this issue?
“Complaining that there is not enough time will never create more time. It just makes you feel better for a moment,” John Mashni wrote in a Medium article. “But it hurts you tremendously. Complaining about the lack of time prevents you from facing reality: something is broken.”
Stop saying that you don’t have enough time to complete your commitments. Instead, admit that you need to get better at managing your time and start experimenting with techniques that will help you reach your goals.
2. Neglecting to plan out your day.
“It’s important to plan out your day for maximum efficiency. You don’t have to know what you’re doing minute-by-minute, but try to set daily goals including tasks you’d like to complete, then prioritize them in order of importance,” suggests Choncé Maddox of Calendar, who recommends preparation and brainstorming to save time and energy.
Spend a few minutes in the evening laying out your clothes and prepping your meals for tomorrow. Reviewing your calendar will brace you mentally, save time in the morning and reduce decision fatigue. Whether you use a calendar app or jot-down a detailed to-do-list, planning out your day gives you structure so you aren’t scrambling to figure what’s next.
3. Letting the “urgent” overtake the “important.”
Distinguishing “urgent” from “important” is a challenge for most entrepreneurs. How can you put out a fire when you’re on your way to an investor meeting?
I use the Eisenhower Matrix to help me prioritize my tasks so that I don’t let the urgent take control of my schedule. Take all of your tasks and place them into four quadrants:
- To do first. These are the most important responsibilities that need to be done today or tomorrow.
- Schedule. For important tasks that are not urgent, you can schedule them into your calendar.
- Delegate. If there are essential items that are not important, you can hand them off to someone else.
- Don’t do. What tasks aren’t important or urgent? Delete these from your lists or add them to a “would like to do if I ever get a chance.”
4. Improper delegation.
Entrepreneurs pride themselves on being a jack-of-all-trades but you don’t need to be involved with every single part of your business. Be aware of what’s going on but check your ego at the door and delegate the right tasks to the appropriate people.
If you don’t have a staff, outsource specific jobs to freelancers. For instance, you can hire a personal assistant to manage your calendar, email, social accounts or blog. Personal assistants can also take care of personal errands, recruitment and booking your flight and hotel for an upcoming business trip.
5. Having to wake up early.
Take a moment and read other time management articles. You’ll find one of the most common pieces of advice shared is to wake up early. As someone who practices habit — I completely understand the rationale. Let’s say you wake-up an hour earlier. You can use that time to review your calendar, exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, read or clean out your inbox without getting distracted.
Here’s the thing. Setting your alarm to four a.m. isn’t all there is to time management. It’s all about working around your peak productivity and setting aside blocks of time to focus on your priorities. Think about it this way. If you’re a night owl, you’re going to miserable if you start waking up at some unbelievable hour.
Plan out your days to work on your most important tasks when you have the most energy and focus. If your peak is at sunset, that’s when you should block out the time to focus on your most important tasks. It’s a much better strategy than fighting against your body’s internal clock.
6. Being inflexible.
No matter how well planned you are, you will get interrupted. That’s why it’s crucial that your calendar has some flexibility. For instance, the other day, everything was going according to plan until right after lunch when a high profile client reported some technical problems with our software.
My team and I had to stop what we were working on but, thankfully, I usually leave open the hour after lunch — it always gets filled. On most days, it’s when I check my emails, catch-up with my team, or slip in an important client who wasn’t scheduled. However, because of this blank space in my calendar on that day I was able to resolve the matter with the client without rescheduling any other items on my to-do-list.
7. Being “perfect.”
We all strive to deliver quality work, but constantly aiming for perfection is unrealistic. Often the pressure we put on ourselves to “be perfect” leads us to pressure other people about their issues. It’s not worth it.
Take Steve Jobs as an example. While his perfectionism drove him to create some of the most iconic products in recent history — it also extended the time it took to develop products and created friction with employees. As an entrepreneur, you already know that you can’t afford to prolong the development of your products or services excessively. If you put off what has to be done — you can be confident that someone else will beat you to the punch.
8. Over-and-under committing time.
We tend to miscalculate how long a task will take us to complete. We estimate something will only take an hour, then it takes closer to two hours. Sometimes it’s the other way around but either way it throws a monkey wrench into our entire schedule. Whatever was supposed to get done today has to be pushed until tomorrow.
It’s not always easy to determine how long it will take you to finish a task — but usually it takes longer than you think it will. The best idea is to keep a time log for at least a week to see how you spend your time. You can do this manually in a notebook or using time tracking software.
9. Cleaning your workspace daily.
Do I mean that you should leave food wrappings on your desk? No. Should you grab a file or tool and never return it to its rightful place? Of course not. The first is unsanitary, and not returning items to their home results in you spending a boat-load of time searching for misplaced items.
What I mean is that it’s acceptable to have a little clutter around your workspace. One study found that a messy desk can spark creativity. So, if you don’t have the time, then there’s no need to stress yourself out about a small mess. Personally, I set aside the last hour of Friday afternoons to clean and organize my workspace. The end of the week usually tapers off a little, and this is a soft productive task that still ends my week on a high note.
10. Working non-stop.
A lot of entrepreneurs pride themselves for putting in an insane number of hours at their startup. Elon Musk, for example, is known to work 80-some hours per week. The truth is regardless how much you have on your plate, everyone needs breaks to refocus and recharge. I’ve done the 80-hour weeks. It’s brutal on you and everyone else.
Your break need only be a 10-minute walk between but try to unplug completely during non-business hours. Seriously, force yourself to take a break and unplug — get a remote desk and move it up and down a couple of times a day. Walk while you have a meeting on the phone — anything helps.
11. Never finding the time management system that works for you.
There is no shortage of time management strategies and hacks but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the value of time. What works well for one entrepreneur may not be sufficient for you.
Experiment with various time management techniques until you find the system that works best for you. It will take some trial and error but until effectively manage your time, you’ll constantly battle the clock.