How to Be a Time Management Slacker … and Never Miss Important Deadlines

Do you get “time-shamed” by co-workers? Or those time management experts? Confession time (part I): These days, I do almost nothing the time management experts tell me to do. But, I never miss deadlines … my projects always get done accurately … and my proudest achievement is that I don’t leave any co-workers hanging out to dry waiting for my work to get done. Yes, I’m a time management slacker. I make a ton of time management mistakes according to the experts. Confession time (part II): I don’t care, because it works for me!!!  So, I’m an unapologetic time management slacker.

For background, I’m a 54-year old professional who has been in the corporate world since I was 14 at my dad’s company warehouse (Sshhh … don’t tell OSHA I used to drive the fork lift!). From college through my thirties, I have taken classes on time management, bought expensive calendar and scheduling “systems”, and followed the advice of time management gurus. Like so many of you guys, I was “time shamed” into thinking I had a problem because I never could follow “the rules”.

One day, just before he passed away when I was in my late thirties, my dad and I were talking about this stuff after my boss gave all of his copywriters a nationally-known time management system in a beautiful leather cover. I felt guilty because mine went right into the back of my desk drawer never to be looked at again. As I was telling my dad about feeling guilty, he did one of his infamous long dramatic dad-pauses, then he shook his head and lovingly chastised me to “Forget it! When was the last time YOU missed a deadline and it was your fault?”

Honestly, I couldn’t remember. It had been so long.

When another time management slacker puts a dent in your work

On the other hand, I often found myself waiting on something from others that ate away at MY time. After a few calls and emails with no results, instead of complaining, I would copy my boss and the offending person’s boss on my e-mail correspondence. It showed them I followed up and it left a paper trail. Giving “drop-dead dates” for needing things in order for me to make deadlines put pressure on THEM and not me.

If that makes me sound like a jerk, then you obviously haven’t waited for days, or even weeks, for somebody to get their work done so you could move ahead with yours.

My personal time management system works for me, but might be terrible for you. That’s cool. The point is that most time management seminars, books, tapes, and TED talks consider the following seven things taboo. But, if they work for you, many of what are commonly considered time management mistakes may not be so bad after all.

So-called time management slacker mistakes—7 things I’ll admit to doing … and you should too

  1. You don’t use a planner  

    Nowhere have I seen any evidence that an expensive personal organizer keeps you on track any better than a cheap yellow pad or sticky notes. Time management is about a state of mind—not a system.

  2. Your desk isn’t tidy

    Eliminate distractions by keeping your desk tidy, “they” say? Ha! But how much time does it take to get and keep your desk that way? If you can find what you need easily and quickly, a bit of clutter just drives the OCD people in your office crazy, which is a bit of fun, if you’re honest. And I have three dust bunnies the size of Daenerys’ dragons in the corner of my desk behind my computer screen. Don’t care.

  3. You don’t turn off your phone to “concentrate” 

    Of course you don’t. You’re getting paid to take care of business. However, being accessible 24/7 doesn’t make you more productive. Knowing when to unplug is a key lesson in time management. My bosses never bother me after hours and freelance clients know that I identify them with an individual ringtone on my phone, so I will always pick up the phone if they need me. And yes … I have as much fun picking ringtones for my clients as I do for my family. The one I don’t like (but pays soooooooo well) has the Imperial March/Darth Vader theme, while the accounting firm has cricket noises. Hint: Don’t let them know they have the unfunny ringtone.

  4. You don’t devote 30 minutes each morning to planning out your day 

    I admit to spending the last 5 minutes of my work day on my next day’s schedule. The next day, I spend about two minutes looking it over. 30 minutes is a lot of time most people aren’t willing to give. The important thing is to have a plan. Spending even 5 minutes a day will make a difference. And if 30 minutes works for you, that’s what works for you.

  5. You don’t kick unwanted visitors out of your office  

    I really don’t know anyone who actually does this—without risking coming across as rude. When uninvited visitors show up who don’t respect your time, there are better ways to send them off. You can stand up the moment Mr. Time-Waster enters your office and start heading for the door. Or better yet, go to him—that way you’re in control. You can also stroll with him back to his office and then tactfully remove yourself. And my favorite: Do not have a comfortable chair for that time-waster to plop in. Keep it piled with stuff.

  6. You have a hard time saying no 

    One thing I’ve learned is that it’s not about saying no so much as it is knowing how to say no. Could a “qualified yes” work just as well? The next time someone catches you off guard with a request, try a different response. Such as, “Yes, you can count on me as your Plan B.” Or “Yes, give me a call next week if you haven’t worked it out.” If all else fails, the truth delivered honestly and professionally never hurts. “Sorry, my deadline for my three current projects is next Wednesday. I’d help you if I could. However, if I finish these early, I’ll let you know. OK?”

  7. You attend every single pointless meeting 

    To think you can simply stop attending meetings is not realistic. It is, however, very possible to attend fewer of them. Try these two strategies: The next time you’re on a deadline or in the middle of a project, ask your supervisor if you can skip the meeting to focus on more important priorities. Or, if there’s a meeting where your contribution is small (maybe a quick status update) see if you can do your part ahead of time.

The point is that time management is a highly individual thing, isn’t it? Just using common sense, tact, and honesty with people will keep you on track and out of hot water best. “Time Management Slackers, Unite!”

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