Our time management misconceptions need to be debunked

From working quickly to celebrating busyness, we misunderstand the best ways to organise our workloads, says John McLachlan

Good time management skills are critical to progressing in your career and a vital component in an effective workplace. For leaders in particular, who may be coping with increasing demands on their time, it is even more important to use the time available as effectively as possible. However, many people hold on to long-held time management myths that are actually unhelpful. Here are some of the biggest time misconceptions, and how they could be holding you back.

Working quickly is effective time management

A common idea held by many is that the ability to work through tasks as quickly as possible is the same as efficiently allocating your time, but this is not the case. While you may be able to work through smaller routine tasks very quickly, trying to solve a complex or new task as quickly as possible can cause you to make mistakes and miss vital information. Instead, spend time exploring the options in front of you to help make the correct decision. Similarly, it can be tempting to find a quick fix if a problem arises, but this may not address the true underlying causes. Instead, get together with other members of your team to find common themes and spend time tackling those at their root. Spend time now to save time later. 

Multitasking is good time management

Many people choose to multitask and work through as many tasks as they can at the same time. While this gives the illusion of productivity, in reality it slows you down. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, so multitasking requires our minds to keep switching from one thing to another. Every time we switch our focus, we waste time while our brain catches up. It also leaves the uncompleted task running as an ‘open loop’. This is like having too many applications running simultaneously on your computer: it slows the processor down and drains the battery. Having too many open loops is exhausting. Instead, focus on one thing at a time and work through it to completion, or to a point where you can mentally put it down or hand it over to someone else.

Busyness is a good thing

A common perception is that the busiest people are the most popular, hardest working or most committed to the business. Some people wear this busyness as a badge of honour. However, it may also indicate this person is not managing their time efficiently, and they need support to do so. Leaders should only be allocating enough tasks for a person’s contracted working time. If someone is regularly staying late or always voicing how ‘busy’ they are, it could mean they need to reconsider how they manage their time. In this case, leaders should encourage anyone who is struggling to communicate this and ensure they are role-modelling healthy working behaviours.

Something that works for someone else will definitely work for you

It is easy to think that because something comes recommended as an ‘effective time management tool’ this is what you should be doing too. Making lots of lists, timetables or organisational grids all have benefits in their own right, but only if they fit with your learning and organisational style. For example, broad overviews of plans for the year will work well for a long-term thinker. For those who work more efficiently thinking in the short term, you may need to think of tasks on a daily or weekly basis. Ultimately, we all have the same amount of time but allocate this towards what we hold as important, which will differ for everyone, and our time management tools should reflect this. Spend time understanding what is most important to you and discovering your most effective tools.

John McLachlan is co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy