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Is Poor Time Management Limiting Your Potential?

Having trouble progressing on that big creative project? Six questions to "reality check" your time management skills and get you back on track.

Are you clueless about how your time management—or lack thereof—has limited your success? As a time coach, I understand the importance of positive thinking and celebrating incremental improvement. But I also know that many people walk around refusing to admit to themselves what is obvious to everyone else: their lack of control of their time is limiting their creative potential.

This denial of facts may provide some short-term emotional comfort. But in the long-run this mindset leaves you a victim of your circumstances because you’re unable to address what you could do to make your future different than your past. The questions below are designed to help you get honest about what’s really going on in your life. If you discover a few areas that could use some improvement, the steps below can help you start making actual progress.

  • Where is my lack of control over my time keeping me from fully unleashing my creative gifts? Red Flags: You have ideas for projects but haven’t actually started to implement any of them. You have parts of a piece of work completed but no finished products. Or you have a strong body of work but have not taken the time to submit anything to shows or potential new clients.
  • Am I moving forward on projects that are meaningful to me? Red Flags: The projects that you decided were your most important priorities in the last few months or years have not progressed. You feel like you always put other people’s projects ahead of your own.
  • How many breaks do I take during the day? Red Flags: You spend more time giving yourself a break than actually working. At the end of the day, you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. And you are the person everyone calls or comes over to chat with when they don’t want to do productive activities.
  • What opportunities have passed by because I wasn’t prepared to take advantage of them? Red Flags: You missed out on opportunities because you wait too long to take action which means that the deadline has already passed or is too close for you to produce anything of value before your time is up. You had people offer to help you or even to hire you but because you didn’t follow up, you never made the connection or got the client.
  • Where am I choosing not to take responsibility for myself? Red Flags: You have the time to get things done that play an essential role in your professional success, but you use it for pleasure activities. You blame forces outside your control—like the economy—but then don’t do things within your control—like update your portfolio.
  • Am I putting my job, business, or academics at risk due to the way that I work? Red Flags: Your boss has called you in to discuss your lack of follow-through. You have lost clients in your business due to missing deadlines or providing poor quality work. Or you run the risk of not completing your degree, if you’re a student, or making tenure, if you’re a professor, because you can’t produce.

Once you’ve completed the above questions, look back over your responses and reflect on these points: Did any of your answers surprise you? Did you notice a difference between what you actually do and what you’ve been telling yourself that you’ve been doing? Would your friends and co-workers agree with your responses? After you’ve gotten real about what has happened in your life and work, it’s time to assess what you really want to see happen in the future. The first step in effective accountability is total honesty with yourself on these three points:

  • What Do I Really Want? If you say that finishing a painting or redoing your portfolio is your top priority, but you spend no time on it, is it really your priority? If it is, then to feel satisfied, you’ll need to start investing more time in it.
  • What Can I Really Do? To make more room for your priorities, you’ll need to let go of doing other things. This could include paring down your involvement in volunteer committees or decreasing your attendance at networking events where you talk about your work but don’t complete it.
  • How Will I Track Results? To keep yourself in tune with reality, you have to hold yourself accountable to assessing what you have or have not done on a regular basis. This could look like going through a simple checklist on a daily or weekly basis. Or if self-accountability isn’t enough, then you can step it up to outside accountability—either one-on-one or with a group.

By giving yourself a reality check on what you’ve done and what you want, you can break out of denial and make and keep authentic New Year’s resolutions and other habit changes. — Over to you… Where have you been in denial about what you’re doing or not doing? How will getting in touch with reality transform your creative work?

More Posts by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at

Comments (28)
  • silent

    Really, REALLY needed this. Thanks a lot.

  • Bryan

    This tip was timely and much needed for me. I used to say that learning a new language was a priority for me yet, i didnt spend a minute out of my day even trying to learn a single word. I found out though that cleaning, exercising, trying to save money and watching tmz were my real priorities. I can tell you your values based on where you spend your time and/or spend your money. If you must do something that is a priority. If you tried to do something but didnt, it didnt matter that much.

    Time management has an effect now and can effect your future just like lack of exercise or poor eating. Not making time to finish a proposal or do a homework assignment or not properly going over your finances have a far reaching effect all because we didnt allocate the time for such exercises. If you want a real eye opener keep a time diary just like you do a budget and document how you spend every single half hour of your day, the results will show you what your true priorities are

  • Scott Free

    Like an arrow piercing through the core of my soul. I wish we could share these articles on Facebook instead of just liking them.

  • David Masters

    You can. Copy and paste the link. Seriously, it’s not that difficult.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Yeah! So glad that it was helpful for you!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    So glad you found it helpful.

    I’ve found time and time again that the critical first step in the process of change is honesty…

    Once we break out of denial about what’s really happening (or not happening) we have the ability to change.

    May the “piercing” lead to a flow of new found freedom to invest your time well.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    That is SO true.

    You can really see what you’re valuing when you see where you invest your time and money.

    That’s why it’s really important to be intentional about those choices so we’re creating the life we really want to live.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Christina Blust

    Ah! A good kick in the butt — particularly “Am I moving forward on projects that are important to me?” I have things I’ve had on my to-do list for YEARS. Thanks, Elizabeth, for your insight.

  • Scott Free

    I know ‘Duhh’ right? Didn’t know it would show a subtle display of the link. Thanks anyway

  • Maria Falvey

    A little reflection can truly show how we cheat ourselves of our time and our potential

  • Aaron Morton

    working with creatives, it is apparent that their gift can also be their hindrance. They have an idea that gets them excited and then just as they begin work on it another idea excites them to the point that ideas stack upon themselves.

    I love the story of Stephen King creating the habit of between 9-12 he locks himself in a room, puts music on high and just writes. When 12 comes, he leaves the room and does other things.

    Your questions are great and forces people to exercise the other regions of their brain which can be lacking within a creative; the critical thinking part. And I would add to ensure they are in the right state for this to be effective, namely a focussed, neutral state, rather than an emotionally critical state.

    Great article thank you.

    Aaron Morton

  • Aaron Morton

    For something to become habit Bryan, it typically has to be intentional first, like a kid learning to ride a bike, all his focus is staying upright. After a while it becomes second nature. Time management is the same, the option of forgetting to do something is not there because scheduling it in becomes a normal part of your day. No matter how rushed you are in the morning you’ll always find time to brush your teeth (i hope!), it is the same with time management, soon enought anything can fit into your day when it first is done intentionally.
    Take care

  • Aaron Morton

    very true Maria

  • Ccultured

    This was much needed for me. I often feel like I have some great ideas but then I never finish them or I makes excuses as to why I haven’t started or finished them. Being honest with yourself is the best way to grow. Share this article. Add me

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    You’re welcome Aaron!

    The example of Stephen King is a great one. So much of producing real value through our creativity comes from establishing rituals that channel it in a useful direction.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    You’re welcome Christina!

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • emma

    oh so very very true…thank you!

  • Jared Bowie

    My pastor at, Craig Groeschel, once said something that blew my mind: “We make time for what we value.”

    You just said it above and it is actually a relief to see that I have progressed. Thanks for another great article!

  • David McGuigan

    Great reality check. Reminded me of this:

  • Flounder No More

    The “Red Flags” are excellent! I am always amazed at how my brain can trick me into thinking I’m being productive when really, I am just burning time. Each of the Red Flag sets are another way of saying, take a look at your REAL results and assess if they are on track or are off.

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Right on! I’m so glad that those were helpful for you in seeing reality in an honest light.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Fantastic! I definitely agree with your pastor, and I’m glad that this article was an encouragement to you that you are heading in the right direction.

    One of the biggest things I see as a time coach is that it’s essential that we are vigilant in how we invest our time otherwise other people will gladly spend it for us.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Glad to hear!

    Keep being honest, and use the insight to really make progress on what matters.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Daniel DiPiazza

    Fantastic article, and a good example of how sometimes you just have to be blunt and upfront with people to initiate change. Have you ever noticed that we often won’t change until somethings bothers or disrputs us to the point of indignation? For instance, nobody wants to ask “where am I choosing not to take responsibility for myself”…but once that question is asked, it cannot be unasked. Then the wheels start turning!!

  • HeatherEbert

    I’m guilty of all those red flags. I intentionally carve out time for important projects, and then sit down only to squander that time staring off into space, daydreaming, checking Twitter, reading online articles, etc.

    Even when I “show up” physically to work, I often have trouble focusing and mentally engaging. This is probably just another level of Resistance (as illustrated in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art), but I’ve yet to find a way to mentally engage and focus with regularity and consistency. I have daily morning rituals, but I think this is where I need to add to it some sort of mental ritual to keep from wasting so much time “getting around to getting started.”

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