Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Do You Exhibit These 6 Symptoms of Poor Time Management?

Do you struggle with time management and prioritization of projects and tasks? I sure do. It’s the bane of my existence. But actually admitting it is half the battle.

Symptoms of Poor Time Management

Photo credit: Rob and Stephanie Levy (Creative Commons)

I feel like the pastor who preaches against the very secret sin he’s hiding, constantly encouraging people to have better productivity systems so their creativity doesn’t go to waste. In other words, I feel like a fake.

Most of the time, if I’m being honest, I have pretty poor time management skills.

  • I get distracted with Facebook or kill too much time on Twitter. I obsess over a certain design piece of my blog, spending hours trying to get it just right.
  • I aimlessly wander through the blogosphere, scanning irrelevant articles and commenting on posts that really shouldn’t be a priority to me.
  • I get stuck answering emails for half a day, giving in to the vile temptation to keep hitting “Get Mail” button (even though it’s set to retrieve new messages only every hour).
  • I eat up my day with pointless, unproductive meetings and lengthy phone calls.

And then, when my wife asks me to do something like take out the trash, I procrastinate, using work or personal projects as an excuse for being busy. I am a mess. The reality is I need to get a grip on my schedule. Maybe you do, too.

On occasion, I can be really fantastic at organizing my time. At other times, my whole world falls apart due to “busyness.” Even now as I write this, I’m in the process of reclaiming my schedule. Reading an article recently, though, help me identify what a problem this had become, and I want to share what I learned.

There are six symptoms of poor time management that are worth monitoring:

1. You’re overweight

Do you find yourself saying that you don’t “have enough time” to work out and eat right? There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to spend 20 minutes a day doing some light exercise. If you don’t, it could literally be the death of you.

Fitting more activities into the finite time you have will eventually cut your time on earth short. Don’t sacrifice long-term health for short-term productivity. It’s not worth it.

2. You have lots of email in your inbox

Do you never get your inbox close to zero? Do people send you emails and have to follow up a week later, because they haven’t heard from you?

In today’s connected world, it’s a challenge to stay on top of electronic communication. But it’s not impossible. And if you’re going to be effective in your work, you can’t let the digital “paperwork” mount up.

3. You have clutter — everywhere

Is your office a mess? What about your bedroom? Can you not see your desk, because of all the paper? If you have unpaid bills or unreconciled credit card statements, there’s no way you’re able to concentrate (or fulfill) the tasks at-hand today.

Clutter is a form of procrastination, an indicator of a lack of organization. Which betrays your inability to manage your schedule. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, a surefire way to regain control of your life is to kill the clutter.

4. You often break commitments

Are you constantly running late or canceling appointments? If you’re making promises you can’t keep and always apologizing for it, you may need to acknowledge that you have a problem.

Leading a noncommittal life will project a lack of character and integrity, and it will hurt the relationships you care most about.

5. You don’t spend enough time with the people you love

Do people complain that they never hear from you? Are you unable to make time for friends and family? Do you make excuses about this, like you’re too busy or there’s just too much work to do?

Losing touch with those who are closest to you is a sure sign you’re spending too much time engrossed in activities that are not your priorities, which means you aren’t managing the time you have very well.

6. You are constantly anxious and stressed

Do you constantly feel stressed, no matter how much you work? Do you struggle to fall asleep or go a day without checking email? If you always feel like you could be doing more and never “on top” of things, this is a bad sign. Your life is probably out of balance. It’s time to make a change.

What to do

You don’t have to feel like this. If you were afraid to answer any of the above questions or found yourself saying yes to many of them, then you may have some time management issues. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

In American culture, these feelings are almost inevitable. But you can take control of your schedule. Who cares if this is normal in our culture? You don’t want to be “normal.” You want to be healthy. And that begins with taking the following steps:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.
  2. Revisit your list of priorities. Decide ahead of time what matters most to you.
  3. Start planning your time around your priorities instead of trying to fit the most important things in (like family and friends) last.

We don’t get more time. So we have to learn how to use what we have wisely.

For more on how to deal with this, check out this podcast interview: Saying Yes to the Best Things.

Do you struggle with time management issues? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • 1-6. Check.

    All me.

    Preach on, mister.

    I’m sitting here in my office chair, and I’m squirming.

    • Yeah, me, too. Let’s challenge ourselves today. I just spent 20 minutes walking the dog (albeit while on a conference call, but it still counts!). What about you?

  • Ack. Conviction. Sometimes I make excuses like “Well, it’s just not my personality, I like to be spontaneous! I don’t want to be boxed into this rigid life style….” But I am quickly realizing, those are stupid excuses, and if I ever want to get anything done, it’s time to grow up.

    • yeah, for me, i have to address some issues that have been plaguing me for awhile. it’s not that you change your personality, but every once in awhile, you have to address issues like clutter, poor scheduling, and over-promising.

      for instance, i’m going to tackle cleaning my desk this week. i won’t be cleaning it every day from now on, but the act of getting it straightened up will make me productive for weeks to come.

      same goes with email. i had 200-300 just sitting there. i made the decision to do something with them (put it on my to-do list) or delete them on the spot, and within a couple of hours, i felt much more in control. i hope you can find a way to do something similar!

  • Hi Jeff,

    I think handling tasks one at a time is always a challenge for an easily distracted person like me.
    As for you, it’s hard to believe with all the excellent content you are cranking out these days that you waste any time at all!
    I definitely know what you’re saying here though in terms of being healthy and successful as opposed to normal (who would want to be that?!)
    Thanks for the reminder!



    • Thanks, Peter. I get distracted, too. That’s why I like blogging — because once it’s done, it’s done. No long-term commitment. I also like email for that reason — immediate gratification and adrenaline. The real challenge for me comes with the projects that require a little bit of work every day. I’m a great sprinter, but a terrible marathoner.

  • Thanks for the transparency here Jeff!

    I’ve been struggling with time management recently as well and, interestingly enough, just yesterday I put together an “ideal day” to help get me back on track.

    Don’t be surprised if my blog post tomorrow is about the very same subject!

    Here’s to a productive day!

    • Wow. Look at you, Edward. I’ll look forward to that post — would love to see what your map for an ideal day looks like. I may have to copy it. 😉

  • Jonathan Charlie Chang

    I struggle with #4 – Unfulfilled Commitments. But I find that it’s a lack of setting up healthy boundaries. It’s hard to say “no” to people because we don’t want them to be mad at us. But I’m getting better. And it’s about understanding that most of the time we’re not responsible for how others react. We can only choose how we act. I’m getting there.

    Overall, we make time for what’s important.


    • Agreed, Jonathan. However, when I look at my schedule and where the majority of my time goes, I’m convicted.

      • Davep1320

        Is there s problem if I’m 27 years old and don’t have time for anything else because I’m working non stop

  • This seems to be a constant struggle… If I plan out my days and week, things seem to get done at lightening pace with time to spare. But when I get lazy and just let the day dictate my tasks, that’s when I get out of whack.

    Love the thought of being ‘healthy’… that is the key!

    Thanks Jeff!

    • me, too. easy to fall into reaction-mode.

  • I think another part of my struggle is that I just don’t know how long things take. This is especially hard when you throw 3 kids under the age of 4 into the mix. 🙁 I feel like it’s really, really hard for me to maintian time management. But, I *am* getting better by allowing myself a lot of margin in time and rest.

    And, this sounds so cliche, but having quiet time in the morning with God totally changes the way my whole day goes.

    • good one! unrealistic expectations of time. i try to fit too much in.

  • I think another part of my struggle is that I just don’t know how long things take. This is especially hard when you throw 3 kids under the age of 4 into the mix. 🙁 I feel like it’s really, really hard for me to maintian time management. But, I *am* getting better by allowing myself a lot of margin in time and rest.

    And, this sounds so cliche, but having quiet time in the morning with God totally changes the way my whole day goes.

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  • MichaelDPerkins

    Not until recently. The transition into full time ministry has been challenging. Probably the biggest thing that I’ve had to get adjusted to is everyone’s schedule. We are a one vehicle family so I have to run my son to school, then my wife to work, then pick him up and then get her. I’m not complaining by no means. In fact I love it. I’ve just been learning to take my stuff everywhere I go. Like today, I finished typing my notes out for Sunday’s message while waiting to pick her up.

    • Yeah it can be a tough transition. Sounds like you’re doing a good job if being productive though.

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  • I think “lack of personal touch” hit me the hardest. I’m always in productivity mode, but that doesn’t mean I’m always being productive. Sometimes the most productive thing I can do is spend undistracted time with my wife, rather than surfing the web, like you mentioned, looking at irrelevant things. Great post, Jeff.

  • Mollianne Buster Massey

    I am painfully aware that in many ways, I have outgrown a large portion of my job and am ready to move on. In the meantime, those things that I don’t really care to do are piling up and I find myself more and more distracted…and dreaming of something else. Time to pull up my big girl panties, I think, and stop re-arranging the piles on my deks. Once I have completed what I have committed to do, I can concentrate on moving on. Thanks, Jeff, for the encouragement!

    • Thanks for the honesty, Mollianne! Sounds like you are keenly aware of what you need to do. I’ll bet that puts you ahead of most.

  • Constantly. My one area of consistency is my inconstancy. At work, at home, I blow off the priorities for the immediate. Takes me far too long, for instance, to clean the bathroom. I’ve mastered the art of looking busy while accomplishing little.

    Having confessed that, I have made changes to my eating and exercise habits, and I hope that self-discipline will reap benefits in other areas as I bring it to bear.

    • hah! i’m “good” at all the things you mentioned. excellent, in fact. lord help us!

  • Kerrianderson77

    I have pretty good time management, but I do spend too much time on youtube, facebook, my blog and twitter or wandering mindless through the internet. I need to unplug when I’m writing, but I always think of someone’s blog that I want to read or an email that I have to send.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Jeff, good wake up call, I needed that. First time stopping by the blog,going to explore more (as time allows!) 🙂

  • Autumn Lunsford

    Put me down for about 5 out of 6… yikes. I definitely feel like I’ve been making strides this year to “reclaim” my schedule and be more disciplined, but have SO far to go (baby steps…….).

    Your blog has been immensely inspiring. Thanks so much for your honesty and the challenge to the Best version of myself.

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  • Eek.  Have you been secretly spying on me?  This post nailed me!

  • Did you plant secret cameras at my home?  Because this happens to be the story of my life.  🙂

  • Jonny Scaramanga

    This is me. I only have time to comment on this because I should be doing something else.

  • Steven Daniels

    Nr 4 seems to be my biggest issue 🙂
    You just need to tell yourself get out of your seat and take action!
    Great article by the way!

    Steven Daniels

  • ladyv

    I have always had most of these problems. I am having a much harder time with distraction and making appointments on time. I am at a loss about changing them. I have really tried. I’m considering getting some assistance with a life coach.