Six Modern Symptoms of Ineffective Time Management

January 13, 2024
3 mins read

By Francis Wade



Friday, January 16, 2015.

In the past, the signs of poor time management were obvious, but in today’s age of the ‘always on’ mobile Internet, you could be suffering from the modern symptoms afflicting employees and not know it.

Many years ago, time-management problems were easy to detect – arriving late and missing deadlines were clear red flags.

In today’s world, however, things are different. The old symptoms remain, but a number of new ones have appeared, including the following six you may be experiencing today:

1. An Exploded Inbox

Perhaps the best indicator of a productivity problem is the state of your email inbox. If you have 200 or more read and unread messages, you may believe that you simply get too much email.

For you, the fault lies with your company and/or the people in your life. They are the reason you feel guilty and overwhelmed.

The numbers don’t lie, however. If your inbox is in trouble, it’s because your daily practices have made it so.

2. Multi-tasking to ‘save’ time

Maybe you have noticed articles and public service announcements discouraging multi-tasking – like texting while driving – as dangerous, time-wasting, and sometimes rude or even unhygienic.

If you know the facts, but still find yourself trying to save time with these practices, it’s understandable – you are so far behind that you think have no choice. Maybe you’ll get away with it a few times, but experts predict that your productivity will take a hit.

3. Dramatic pop-ins

If you have ever been sound asleep and wake suddenly at the thought of an important but incomplete task, you have experienced a ‘pop-in’.

With heart racing and palms sweating, you realise that a deadline has been missed. You could blame your memory, but it’s actually caused by poor habits.

4. Promises like ‘water through a sieve’

If you are someone who has a reputation for forgetting to complete half the promises you make to others, you might think you need Ginko or Ginseng memory supplement. You could be wrong.

It’s more likely that you aren’t managing your commitments skillfully because your system for managing time is ineffective. The same applies to your company.

In many firms, people have stopped trusting each other, having been burned by broken promises. To compensate, they become “follow-up fiends”, using calls, emails, and their feet to ensure that tasks they care about don’t simply disappear.

The issue is rarely an epidemic of amnesia, but of low productivity skills.

5. Failing to get into Campion

In the old days, children did the Common Entrance Examination in order to enter high school. Now, things have changed: Parents are the ones who do GSAT exams. They may not write a single word, but it’s well known that parental involvement makes all the difference between a top-flight high school and one whose name is used to scare kids into studying more.

If you don’t manage your time well over the critical years of your child’s preparation, you may fail to help them attain an adequate score.

6. No time for physical exercise

Our ancestors would be stunned! For them, moving their bodies was required for work, transportation, or to complete chores. We no longer have those needs. With greater affluence has come the opportunity to sit at a desk, computer, or phone, never moving an inch.

One downside is that physical exercise is limited by your ability to manage your time. The only physical exertions we make on a regular basis need to be planned in advance.

Poor time-management skills, therefore, translate into extra pounds – a new equation that defeats many.

Fortunately, these six symptoms have a single cause in common. As a fully functioning adult, you are using the time-management system of a teenager.

You aren’t alone. Research shows that in our early teens, we all start making time demands alongside self-made habits to manage them. The problem our generation has is that these habits no longer last a lifetime. They must be upgraded in order to process, for example, the 100-plus electronic messages coming at us each day.

These six symptoms can be nullified with the right upgrade, bringing your habits to world-class standards. After all, we don’t expect Test cricketers to play with primary-school skills. Instead, we expect them to practise hard.

Employees, for some reason, are treated differently. They are expected to arrive at the workplace with all the necessary productivity skills in place – on Day One – or find a way to learn them on their own.

This just doesn’t work. If the majority of the meetings at your company already start late and are populated by multi-tasking attendees, leaving them alone to magically become more competent won’t happen.

A remedy requires a coordinated response at both individual and corporate levels, revealing symptoms employees need to be able to see for themselves.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a summary of links to past columns, or give feedback, please contact him at

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