Six signs that you are not in control of your time & priorities

Effectiveness is about setting priorities around your goals, and then organizing yourself around these priorities – but this is easier said than done.

Here are six sure signs that you are either not in control of your time, or worse – you are not clear about your priorities.

One – You are not setting the agenda

I got this tip many years ago from one of my managers, and it was like a light bulb had suddenly turned on in my head!

Look at your appointments calendar and count the number of meetings or appointments that you have set up to drive your priorities, versus the number of appointments that have been dropped on your calendar by others to seek your help or participation for their tasks. If you are setting the agenda, you will see a lot more of the former. If you discover more of the latter types of appointments on your calendar, and find yourself constantly complaining about the number of meetings you have to attend, you need to get more proactive about your priorities. Stop blaming others for wasting your time, and start setting and driving your agenda.

I am amazed at the sighs and grins I get from participants of my workshops when I ask them this question!

Two – You don’t create a weekly plan for yourself

There are long term goals, there are medium term goals, and then there are short term goals. But goals are just dreams without plans, and plans are useless without execution. And the best execution tool I know is a weekly plan built around your priorities. A month is too long, and a day is too short. A week is just right.

The best way to create a weekly plan is to set aside an hour to do it on a Sunday evening, or Monday morning. Look at your goals and priorities for all your roles (manager, father, spouse, friend…) and figure out what you want to get done next week.

Three – You often say “yes” when you want to say “no”

If your priorities are really important for you, learn to say no to things that are unimportant. If you are constantly being nice by saying yes when you want to say no, you are draining your most precious resource – your time – with no contribution to your priorities. If you start building a weekly plan and committing to it, it will become easier to say no. When you don’t have a clear plan around a set of priorities, it is much harder to say no.

Four – You are constantly looking for the best “tools” to start getting organized

Tools will not get you organized. Your will will. If you are serious about getting organized, a piece of paper and a pen will suffice. You don’t need fancy worksheets, mobile to-do apps, or the next generation goal planning software.

Keep it simple, and just do it. Sit down with a pen and paper and create a plan for next week. Set up your meeting schedule for next week. Plan personal time for recreation, and physical fitness. If a tool or application helps you get this done more efficiently, by all means use it. But don’t become a servant of a tool, or postpone getting organized until you find the best tool.

Five – You are not setting time aside to get things done

Interruptions are the biggest productivity killers. If you need to bang out a presentation for a client visit, block time to do it. If you have set aside time to help your son with his maths lesson, go ahead and do it. And short of business or personal emergencies, don’t let anyone mess with that time. Remember, if it is important enough for you to block time for something, don’t treat the block of time casually. And if it is not important enough you shouldn’t have blocked time for it in the first place.

Remember, others won’t respect your personal time unless you do it first.

Six – You are looking at your email every five minutes

Unless your job requires you to use email every minute of your work day (answering customer queries, servicing orders that come in over email etc), there is no reason for you to be looking at email every 5 minutes. ┬áIf you catch yourself looking at emails every few minutes, chances are that you are waiting for an email to figure out what to do next, which means you don’t have clear priorities, or a clear plan to work towards them. If you have important stuff to do, get it done first. In case someone expects a response to their email immediately, they will call you.

One of my friends, a senior IT executive, used to check his email twice a day – that’s it. Perhaps you can get away with once every two hours. Find your comfort zone, and stick to it. Trust me, the world will not come to an end of you don’t check emails every few minutes.


8 comments on “Six signs that you are not in control of your time & priorities
  1. Parag Sathaye says:

    Good read Nitin, simple and effective. I have gone from various tools back to simple pen and paper and it works. This article helped me as a refresher.

    Keep writing.

  2. Nitin Kulkarni says:

    Absolutely Parag – that is my experience too :-) And thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Shuhaid Lambe says:

    Nice blog, thanks for sharing, Nitin. Personally I am in a phase where a weekly plan gets made but not followed due to a host of reasons. While it may seem straight forward, activities like a weekly plan requires discipline and effort, not only to create one but to stick to the plan over the course of the week as priorities keep changing. Guess like everything else, habits take time to inculcate, be it good ones or bad :)

    • Nitin Kulkarni says:

      That is right Shuhaid. One of the reasons for frequent urgent interruptions is that there is a lot of stuff piled up in Quadrant-1 (Urgent and Important). If you consciously start setting time aside for some Quadrant-2 (Important but not urgent) activities, interruptions should reduce. Gradually you should be able to get things under control. Try it, and share your experiences and best practices!

  4. Kanwarjit says:

    Nitin, I would probably put no. 2 at no. 1. If one has a focus and makes a plan to fulfill that focus then other things do fall in place. No doubt that the habits you pointed out are real time killers and every body needs to be conscious about it. Can even add looking at FB together with email!!

  5. Nitin Kulkarni says:

    The pull of FB is another very serious matter. We just had a conversation with my daughter last week to limit her FB distractions so she can better focus on her studies.

  6. Manish Gautam says:

    Good read, nicely put in words your observations, Nitin!
    I agree to most of the points except the weekly plan. There is no harm in planning for a week but, “Is a day really too short to plan for?”. I do it regularly, not just for my office stuff but at my personal life too, and its going good! I think I’m getting agile :-) .I feel its about being regular at something, if you look back at the end of day or week and check what did you do wrong or what could have done to make last day / week better, that is what counts. It wasn’t easy to adopt this habit, it’s years I have been trying to put it into everyday’s life. Biggest challenge I personally face is being regular, making habits. One amazingly effective “mantra” is, if you want to adopt a habit, just practice it for 40 continuous days. It damn works!!!

  7. Kiran Ramineni says:

    Couldn’t help laughing for point six. Unfortunately, email, facebook, twitter, sms have become such a distraction and redirects the focus elsewhere.

    Also, I am glad to see the progress and your effort keep the content fresh :)


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