Why is it so hard to manage our time? There are any number of time-management courses, tools, tips and techniques available and yet we really struggle. Distractions are one of the biggest problems. There is always something better to see or do and we cannot help ourselves.

But how do we cultivate discipline? Lets look at some time wasting distractions shall we? And some useful habits to adopt that can nurture discipline that bats them away.

1. Social media

Complete pain in the arse, yet essential. It makes us lose focus on tasks and drags away into its virtual clutches so that we spend our day looking at video clips of pets doing crazy things, people in funny situations and best of all, plates of food.

Dealing with this is easy and whilst not recommended permanently, going into your ‘settings’ menu on your phone and turning off notifications and updates will certainly help. It only takes a second and can buy you a lot of time otherwise wasted not only answering them but also waiting for them. Yes, that’s right, people can often be found staring at their phones just waiting for an update. Tragic.

“Go into your ‘settings’ menu on your phone and turn off notifications and updates… it only takes a second and can buy you a lot of time.”

2. People popping by for a chat and a ‘catch up’

Bloody hell I hate that phrase, ‘catch up’. People love to drop by, and whilst the occasional catch up can be motivational and team building, too much of it hinders work.

My top tip for dealing with people who do this was given to me by a wise man (thanks Gerry) years ago and it has served me well. Whenever someone drops by and I need to get rid of them I simply stand up. By doing this, it sends a message that you are busy and in a polite way, not welcome to stay too long. People tend to pick up on this and get to the point quickly. It also stops them perching on the edge of your desk too, another habit I hate.

3. Perfectionism

Polish polish polish to a nice high shine, and then polish it some more. Are you this person? The perfectionist doesn’t know when to stop and the constant refining stops them from moving on.

Often the source of this can be attributed to university days where word count was at a premium for dissertations and reports. When writing these things, a need to constantly edit and refine the writing is required to make maximum use of the words. This then becomes a habit and can infect projects moving forward.

The trick is establish when good enough is just that; good enough. Fit for purpose, does it do what it was meant to do and is the extra polishing and refining superfluous? Does it add extra value by doing it? If not, stop it, you hear me, stop it!!!

4. Procrastination

Putting things off. Well part of me wants to say “stop messing around and just get on with it!” but this is supposed to be helpful so I won’t. But I did. Whatever.

There is always something more interesting and exciting to get on with, and when we prioritise our to-do lists we often choose the tasks we want to do rather than the tasks we should do. By putting things off, we only expose ourselves to more pressure by pushing up the clock in terms of deadlines and quality.

So seek out and engage the famous model showing urgency and importance (you can look it up) and make more informed choices. If you don’t like it, then try this. When faced with a task you want to put off, play a game of consequences with yourself. “What would happen if I don’t get on with this now?” the answer will certainly give you a steer in the right direction.

“When faced with a task you want to put off, play a game of consequences with yourself. “What would happen if I don’t get on with this now?” the answer will certainly give you a steer in the right direction”

5. Meetings

I wrote a blog about meetings and it contains some great tips and techniques on dealing with these ALMIGHTY WASTES OF TIME. So much time is spent sitting in meetings, it is a wonder anything gets done. How many of you have sat in meetings wondering why you are there? Or drifted off into your own little world while some ego driven maniac delivers a monologue?

I get it that some meetings you cannot get out of, but my discipline on meetings is absolute. First and foremost, if you get invited to a meeting, ask for the agenda. That way you can at least find out what it is about and who is attending. No agenda? Then you are in for a pretty crappy meeting with no structure and probably no outcome either. Weekly team meetings can get like this. Next, find out if you actually need to be there. If yes, see if you can just attend the part where you contribute? Saves you having to sit through the rest of it.

6. Duplicating work

Do you find yourself often doing the same things over and over again? You need templates in your life! Whilst labour intensive to set up, they will reward you a hundred times in saved hours. If you deal with suppliers and customers who get sent the same message, set up a template. If you have to send reminders to people, set up a template, service level agreements, set up a template.Templates people!! Templates!!

7. No self value

If you do not value your own time and value how can you expect anyone else to do the same? You can easily work out who doesn’t value their own time and worth. They have a problem saying ‘No’, they will always try to be the good person, and always put other people before themselves, sometimes at the cost of themselves too. Doormats!

When other people spot these poor saps, they home in on them like sharks, all smiles that don’t quite reach their eyes, with promises of great ‘opportunities’ which is their way of saying, “do this crappy job I cannot be bothered to do.” The best way to combat these people is to make your schedule, to do list, work flow etc very visible. By doing this, it gives them evidence that you are busy and encourages them to look elsewhere. Evidence is really important here. To a ‘dumper’ no list equals nothing to do. Look out below!!

Other great techniques include wearing headphones in the office. If you are permitted to do this, it is a great way to get rid of people, especially when mixed with the ‘dumper’ who just drops by, and you now know how to deal with those too don’t you?

Discipline and focus

There are so many different things that can help with good time management, but to be honest simple discipline and focus is all that is needed. In some companies too much autonomy is given and little emphasis on ownership and deadlines, it is no wonder that time management training is so popular.

In all honesty you have to question the effectiveness not of the employees who appear to be poor at managing their time, but of the managers. Many managers do not know how to delegate effectively or set objectives that are meaningful. Instead they rely on people just getting on with things, but then grumble when things don’t get done.

Management is about effective task management and understanding capabilities. I was talking to a client recently who was explaining that some managers expect their teams to just ‘know stuff’ almost by osmosis! These are not managers, these are people who are wearing badges with ‘manager’ on them and this is where training should be applied as a corrective and developmental intervention.

simon-hares-serialtrainer7Simon Hares is a Bath-based supplier of training and learning and development. He has over twenty years’ experience in training people, whether one to one in a room with coffee, or in a group environment. He runs SerialTrainer 7 – see the courses he offers.