Poor time management can derail your career
There is more to becoming a workplace hero than coming up with great ideas. Solutions require actions. Delays or poor timing of actionable items can end up stomping out great ideas and cause the best laid plans to fail. If you have a habit of putting things off, or repeatedly fail to execute, expect to be left behind by people who stay on top of things. Don’t let procrastination and poor time management derail your career.
Good planning and effective time management pay off.
We’ve all heard “fail to plan, plan to fail”. Waiting until the last minute to get to critical tasks reduces your options and limits your likelihood of success. If you are responsible for execution on any level you’ve got to make sure things get done. Taking things as they come without further preparation may also cause the best opportunities to slip by. Even when aspects of life continue to change at incredible velocities, good planning and effective time management pay off. They allow you to prepare for and navigate unforeseen bumps in the road.
The consequences of procrastination can play out larger than you think.
If you chronically miss deadlines, you are probably creating a reputation for being unreliable. Nice, funny or smart can’t replace trust. Always being late can cause your career to stop dead in its tracks over something that is very correctable. Ultimately, the consequences of procrastination can play out larger than you think. Missing the deadline of a project that could have led to a promotion or secured a bonus can stop your progress. Letting the submission deadline for your dream job slip by can leave you in the same place you’ve wanted to leave. It’s time to take control. The following simple tips can help you get organized and stay focused:
Stop procrastinating and take action. Just stop pretending you’re going to get to (it). Determine how and when you need to take action. If not now, then when? First, examine everything you need to get done. Then decide when to do it! Putting thing off can make tasks harder to wrap your head around when the initial intent fades. A delay in action can make it harder to deal with surprises effectively. You can be distracted by having to deal with things that should have been done much sooner.
Create processes for getting things done. Thinking through scenarios from beginning to end can help you prepare for potential changes. It sets you up to be able to make effective adjustments later. Getting ahead of things will also allow you more time to improvise. Instead of putting things off, start by breaking big things into smaller bites to make sure you don’t miss steps. Create a new habit for how you approach assignments. Outline everything you need to get done. Then develop a system for monitoring and tracking each task. (How to set goals and use a calendar to manage them is described in detail below.)
Use numbers vs bullets. Bullets waste time! Consider your to-do list, an agenda or an executive summary. Are all items on each of equal importance? Probably not. Trying to make sense of a bunch of ideas thrown on a page with only bullets to differentiate them doesn’t prepare you to move forward. Bullets can leave you in a state of confusion and waste time. Get unstuck. Force yourself to define the level of importance of listed items. This step requires you to think through each task and identify what needs to be addressed before you can successfully move on to the next. It relieves the pressure of figuring out the priority of actions at a later date, when the original thoughts may have faded, or when someone new comes into the picture.
Referring to “bullet number 3” is silly. Why not take another few minutes to prioritize items and put them in sequential order? Addressing each item as a specific number will also save everyone the seconds it takes to determine which bullet you are referencing during a discussion. Take this step to keep you from overlooking the most important items.
Establish goals. Don’t make the mistake of confusing a “goal” with a “to-do”. A goal is where you want to end up. It is the culmination of many actions. To-do’s are specific action steps that help you achieve your goals. Placing those action items in a logical order or progression will help lead you to your destination. Once you have clarified your goals (or projects), prioritize and number them in relationship to which is most important. If you are looking at them from a career building perspective, then consider which is most urgent. Make sure to include the completion or achievement dates.
Toss out your to-do list! Prioritizing your goals was a great first step. Your next step is to list the specific action steps required to achieve each of your goals and start prioritizing those, too. Creating to-do lists can be helpful in getting ideas on paper. But you won’t get to a solution if you stop there. Look at your to-do’s in terms of when they will get done. The next step will be to make a commitment. Start moving those action items off of the to-do list and into a calendar.
Use a calendar. A calendar is an effective to tool to use to help prevent you from dropping the ball. The consequences of missing a deadline are almost 100% more costly than the time it takes to enter and track it in a calendar. Ensure you don’t miss things by using a calendar to effectively plan exactly when you need to do something. You can use a calendar to visualize how busy you really are at specific times and determine how many more activities would be practical to add. It helps you re-prioritize when you add tasks with greater importance or urgency. You can use the following calendaring tips to get tasks done on time:
- Record the deadlines for each goal or project.
- Review the space of time between today and your deadline and begin planning backwards.
- Determine when you will be able to complete each required step inside of the deadline.
- Be sure to add padding to cover for “Murphy’s law.”
- Adjust quickly! Take action if something prevents you from completing a task. Move it to another more appropriate time. Don’t wait! Make sure to take this step before the end of the day. Make a new commitment immediately to avoid missing it or falling behind.
You have more power over keeping your career on track than you may see. Get started by making new habits. The tips outlined above can help you to improve your reputation or even become a workplace hero. Stop dropping the ball on things that matter to you and make sure you don’t miss another deadline. Take action today. What is the first step you can take to replace your old bad habits with those that will help further your career?
For more great advice from Sherri on this topic, check out her Managing Multiple Commitments Without Dropping the Ball webinar and follow her on LinkedIn.