Three major time killers and what to do about them

By Ted Pollock

We all waste time. What many of us fail to recognize is how we do it. Since you can’t correct a fault without first identifying it, here are three frequent time killers, with suggestions for dealing with them.

  • Procrastination. To procrastinate is human. It’s far more pleasant to do what we like to do than what we have to do or find difficult to do. Action on 80 percent of the items in the typical “in” basket could probably be completed without further delay upon first examination. Yet, there is usually a backlog of action items in the “pending” basket because of this tendency to postpone the unpleasant. It’s much easier to read the paper, take a coffee break, or socialize with a colleague.

Remedy: Bite the bullet and dive right in. Do it, whatever it is. Don’t put it off for any reason. Steel yourself and do it. Do it now.

  • Lack of objectives. There is an old saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads lead there.” By failing to establish goals and plans, you are preparing to fail. Activity becomes random and misdirected. Unless you establish priorities, you risk spending time in efforts that are unrelated to your real objectives. Deadlines are necessary to insure that tasks are completed.

Remedy: Establish objectives, priorities and deadlines. Keep them realistic, but stick to them. That’s what time management is all about.

  • Fire fighting. We engage in fighting fires rather than in preventing them. Optimizing our use of time requires that we distinguish between the urgent and the important. Urgent tasks, although often insignificant, call for instant action and tend to make us forget the important ones. We respond to the endless pressures of the moment, the procedural requirements of the system, and administrative minutiae, but never get around to what really counts.

Remedy: Productivity requires a focus on results rather than activity. We need to think of doing the right thing rather than doing things right. To do otherwise is to permit fire fighting to become the objective. The conclusion is that unless the urgent task is important, delegate it or put it on a back burner in favor of the important job.

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