Leaders: 3 Time Management Traps and How to Avoid Them

Everyone is chasing better time management these days. However, the loads of apps, tricks, and hacks out there are unlikely to help if you haven’t first taken control of your time management mindset.

Everyone is chasing better time management these days. However, the loads of apps, tricks, and hacks out there are unlikely to help if you haven’t first taken control of your time management mindset.

This pre-work must include:

  • Placing the proper value on your time – This means truly connecting the value of your time to the value of your life. The more you associate one with the other, the more likely you are to care about defending your time. A great resource for making this shift is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
  • Setting long-term goals – Making choices about what you want to accomplish in the long term makes what you need to prioritize in the near-term much clearer. If a task does not directly or indirectly contribute to one of these goals, it should be de-prioritized.
  • Understand your time-wasters – Demands you encounter daily are the things that quickly eat up time, so you must proactively account for what these factors are in your life and plan how to negate them. Logging your time for a week or so is a good exercise to help recognize what your personal time wasters are.

In The Time Trap (4th Edition), Alec Mackenzie and Pat Nickerson identify the 20 biggest time wasters businesspeople encounter based on their decades of research into time management.

Here are the 3 most common time traps I see leaders fall into and the solutions I endorse:

1-Inadequate Planning

The biggest mistake I see leaders make is being reactive because they have not planned. A reactive leader is an ineffective leader, plain and simple. Instead of spending time where they should, they have chosen to let others and their environment determine where they apply their energy. This leads to confusion and frustration among teams who aren’t getting what they need, as well as lackluster results.

The Time Trap recommends a goal-setting framework that, in essence, involves documenting long-term goals, breaking those goals into objectives, ranking those goals and objectives in priority order, and, from there, writing out a daily plan of what needs to be done to meet those objectives and goals. The key to this is considering your personal “energy cycle.” In other words, what times of day you are best able to complete certain types of work, and where you need to factor in time to think, eat, or relax in order to achieve your ideal day.

2-Poor Delegation and Training

Another mistake many (especially new or aspiring) leaders make is failing to delegate. Often, these leaders have been wired to think that taking on more responsibilities without giving up others or “working in the trenches” sends good signals to their teams. In fact, poor delegation has the opposite effect. Failure to delegate is a slippery slope into micromanagement and actually limits opportunities for other team members to learn, grow, and contribute more meaningfully to the team.

To delegate effectively, Mackenzie and Nickerson recommend viewing delegation as a positive leadership skill rather than a weakness. The process should involve carefully choosing the right person to delegate to, providing them with clear instructions, giving them the authority necessary to complete the task(s) delegated to them, and following up regularly to support them in the completion of the work delegated to them. Investing this time upfront frees up more time for leaders going forward and builds knowledge and agency among team members—two key components of strong leadership.

3-Information Overload

This time trap threatens every leader on a near-constant basis, thanks to the massive amounts of electronic communication and information that we’re all exposed to. Specifically, the compulsion to frequently check emails, texts, and social media has proven to take a significant toll on productivity due to how profoundly they disrupt the flow of work and focus. Similar to delegation, many leaders have to re-train their brains around responsiveness. Reacting and responding to communications immediately isn’t as important as the quality of the response.

There are a few solutions I recommend to avoid getting lost in the information jungle.

  • Carve out time to “deal” with information – This includes specific points in the day for reading and responding to emails; sifting through articles, newsletters, or podcasts you’ve saved; and keeping up with/posting on social media.
  • Classify information – Set up email and file folders so that you can easily sort, prioritize, and find information for future reference.
  • Communicate your preferences – Let team members know how they can reach you with urgent requests or questions—whether that’s through a designated chat channel, text, or a specific subject line. This reassures them that they can access you when needed, and you have peace of mind knowing you won’t miss important communications.
  • Limit your exposure – Commit to keeping your mobile device off and email and social account windows closed during other dedicated “work” periods.

Great leaders know the value of their time, they know what they should and shouldn’t be spending their time on, and they proactively plan how they will manage and mitigate their biggest time traps. In short, they play offense with time management.

Providing your leaders with tools, tricks, and tips for time management is rarely enough to trigger truly proactive time management skills.

I offer a coaching framework to help individual leaders and teams master time management—from understanding exactly what their priorities should be to how to avoid derailment and reduce time management stress.

I’m in your corner. Contact me for a free consultation, and we can figure out the tools or programs that will get you the best results.



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