We want more. More money, more work, more playing with our kids, more self-care, more connecting with our friends, more Netflix binges, more volunteering for good causes. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do it all?
The quest to fit more into our 24 hour day is driving people into the arms of the seemingly obvious solution – time management.
According to a cursory overview by BusinessPundit.com, time management has grown into a larger industry than weight loss.
And just like the weight loss industry, there’s money to be made selling solutions that are ineffective, unproven, or just plain bad for you. As a result, the time-management frenzy is already starting to see some push-back.
Here are 5 signs that your time is over-managed, and how to fix it.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” – giving rest a low priority
Productivity comes in many forms. One of those forms, believe it or not, is rest. The brain needs “down time” to work out problems. That’s why ideas come to you in the shower, in the middle of the night, when you’re spacing out during your kid’s dance recital. By not making room in your day for rest, you leave the brain over-worked and under-productive.
Rest can mean watching tv, going for a walk without your phone, reading a leisure book that isn’t related to work or business. For me, believe it or not, it’s trying on my own clothes. I go into my closet, shut the door, and experiment with putting together unlikely outfits. You wouldn’t guess it by my t-shirt and jeans style, but I’m literally a “closet eccentric.”
“Everything is urgent” – letting other people tell you what’s important
I was sitting in the grocery store parking lot nursing my newborn when I got a call out of the blue from a woman who needed a short bio written by the end of the day. “I’m desperate!” she told me over the phone. I told her that I could oblige her need by the end-of-day deadline, and quoted her double my usual freelance fee for the late notice. “Oh,” she said. “I thought it would be cheaper.” There was a long silence. “I really, really need this written.” More silence. “Hmmm.” I stood by my price, and didn’t feel one ounce of regret when she said she’d “figure something else out.”
When other people fail to plan properly, they compensate by making their emergency into everyone else’s emergency. You only have so much turbo power, and letting other people tell you when to use it can burn you out fixing problems that aren’t even yours to fix. So keep the “turbo” button under lock and key, and maintain your prerogative as the only person allowed to punch it.
“My brain won’t cooperate” – managing your energy instead of your time
The optimized workday looks different for everyone. Depending on your job and personality type, you might do your best work in the early afternoon or after midnight. If you sit down to work and suddenly get the urge to do something else, you may be trying to perform tasks that your brain isn’t primed for.
One of the best changes I made to my schedule was moving “personal grooming” from early morning to late morning. Somehow, I had the impression that a successful person always does their workout and is showered, groomed and dressed by 8am. Morning after morning, I would berate myself for not following that guideline. I went through the day unwashed, in yoga pants, feeling guilty for having slept through my window of opportunity to “start the day right.” Even when I did have the self-discipline to get up early, I felt ready to go back to bed by 10am.
Then I read about how night owls (like me) who do creative work (like me) can optimize their day for maximum output by doing creative work in the late evening and mindless work in late morning. Eureka! By allowing myself to work late at night when my brain was primed, I felt less guilty about allowing myself to sleep in and wake up slowly. When my infant took her first nap of the day at 10am, that was the best time to get in my work-out and personal grooming.
A little research and a lot of self-observation will help you figure out how to structure your day in a way that matches your tasks to your natural rhythm.
“Ugh, not date night again” – when things you enjoy feel like a drag
You know your time is over-managed when the things you want to enjoy become a source of stress. Your best friend has left you two voicemails and you haven’t even had time to text her back. You’ve been looking forward to this movie for a year, and as you sit in the theater with your date all you can think of is the work you could be doing instead. Your kid’s school is putting on a carnival, but your calendar already has Thursday nights blocked-off for “meal prep.”
When life starts getting in the way of your life, it’s time to stop and ask yourself – is your schedule serving you, or are you serving your schedule?
It’s good to schedule your day, but some people take it so far as to schedule bathroom breaks and applying lip gloss. Without flexibility, you set yourself up for stress whenever something doesn’t go according to plan. If you aren’t planning for the unplanned, you are operating under a false sense of control that will sooner or later lead to the panic and stress of feeling out of control.
Leave room in your schedule for “life” to happen. Be realistic about the downside of not doing your meal prep on Thursday night versus the upside of taking your kids to the carnival. Know which things you can shuffle or drop to make room for spontaneous opportunities, and don’t feel guilty when you decide to make changes.
“There’s not enough hours in the day” – having unrealistic expectations of yourself
You’ve used a stopwatch, done the math, and calculated that not only do you have enough time to get through your to-do list but you even have four minutes to spare! But at the end of the day, only half of your list is crossed off and you feel like a failure. The answer to that “I can’t do it all” feeling might not be more coffee and Tony Robbins quotes. The answer might be that you’re right, you actually can’t do it all.
Your to-do list needs to fall within your human capacity. Many people are seduced by the idea that if they expand their to-do list, their capacity will magically expand to accommodate it. If you find yourself over-committed, here’s how you bring things back into balance.
Know your limits. Notice I didn’t say “limit,” because there are more than one. There is a limit to how much you can do at a reasonable pace, at a busy pace, and at a break-neck pace. Most people live at a busy pace, with monthly forays into break-neck pace. The healthy lifestyle stays mostly within “reasonable” with occasional bouts of “busy.” You should feel like your time was well used, but not busy.
Time management is hard because it’s easy.
The real trick to time management is easy to see but hard to accept. Just like the simple solution to losing weight is to eat less or burn more (or both), the simple answer to managing your time is to outsource or do less. Or both.
Emma Fulenwider is our MHM team writer, covering the many aspects of Mom-preneur life. A mother of two and memoir writer by trade, she runs Cedar Pen Life Stories from her home in Sacramento.