According to the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, “We are all what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

And who am I to argue with Aristotle?

We all know that we are creatures of habit — we wake and fall in to the flow of our day, each day, much in the same way as the day before and the one before that. As such, from a time management perspective, the key is to understand which of your habits are poor; how you can tweak these habits to produce an excellent (rather than a vanilla) outcome; and how to repeat this new level of excellence again and again until a better habit is formed.

Simple. Well, not really. Unfortunately, we don’t often prioritise time to analyse and improve our poor time management habits. Oh the irony.

5 Top time wasters & solutions

  1. You start your day on email: If you start your day reaching for your phone to check your emails, you are setting yourself up for a reactive rather than a proactive day.

Solution: Get in to the habit of leaving your phone alone until after you have spent 30–40 minutes concentrating on your most important strategic task of the day. Then schedule 3 or 4 batches of time throughout the day to concentrate just on emails.

  1. You multi-task: Multi-tasking is the practice of juggling multiple tasks at the same time, such as taking a call while preparing an email. Despite common misconceptions, multi-tasking is not your friend. Moreover, only 2% of the human population can actually effectively multi-task — with these incredible freaks of nature being called ‘super-taskers’. Chances are that’s not you, sorry — research also shows that the better you believe you are at multi-tasking, the opposite is actually the case. For the 98% of us mere mortals, research indicates that multi-tasking can reduce your level of productivity by up to 40% and knock up to 10 points off your IQ.

Solution: Get in to the habit of single tasking. Head down, bum up, phone off, email alerts closed.

  1. You don’t use all of your time well: We all have little pockets of time we don’t use. For example, when a meeting finishes 10 minutes early, on your commute to work, or between meetings. Few of us, however, get in to the habit of using this time.

Solution: Make a list of the small tasks you can complete in 5–15 minute pockets of time. Keep this list with you including when you are on the go. Each time you find yourself with a pocket of time, start working through your list. For example, maintain a ‘network list’ — when you find yourself with a pocket of time, call the next person on your list for a quick catch-up.

  1. You spend your day in meetings: How many hours a week do you spend in meetings? Maybe a better question is, how many hours a week do you spend in productive meetings? If meetings seem to be taking over your working life, it’s time to take back control.

Solution: Check the agenda up front and ask yourself, ‘Do I really need to attend? Will this be the best use of my time?’ Moreover, meetings do not need to go for an hour. It’s better to have more small meetings than one long generic one. Finally, meeting minutes should be kept simple — Who (who will take the action); What (what is the action); When (when is the action due).

  1. Your devices have taken over: Think about how many devices you own. Now think about how often you check your devices. Now double it — the average smartphone user underestimates the amount of time they spend on their device by half. Moreover, the average smartphone user: checks their phone 85 times a day; spends 90 minutes a day (or 23 days per year) on their phone; and spends 55% of this usage in short sharp bursts of less than 30 seconds.

Solution: It’s time to use your device for good and not evil. Schedule time in your calendar for email and telephone call management. In between these batches, turn your device(s) off. You won’t die.

Aristotle also said that ‘Quality is not an act, it is a habit.’ Is it time to put in place some quality time management habits?