“I’m too busy.”
“I don’t have any time.”
“I wish there were more hours in the day.”
How many times have you said this? Have you ever felt like you’ve had way too much on your plate? Overwhelmed by your schedule and the to-do list each day?
I’ve certainly had these moments in my own life. As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found plenty of ways to fill my time with tasks, attempts at living the perfect life, or simply being busy.
Sadly, I believe that being “busy” is a hallmark of status in our world. I have a tendency to answer the question of “how are you?” with “busy,” with a hint of pride in my voice. If I’m busy, that means I’m productive, I’m doing something worthwhile. If I’m busy, it means that I have value and worth.
See how insidious that distorted belief is?
Laura Vanderkam is a researcher on time management who has written several books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.* For this book, she tracked the lives of busy women who kept week-long time diaries. She shares some of her interesting findings in this TED talk.
In listening to this talk and reading her book, I had a few different reactions. First, I felt empowerment to make the most of my days. It feels freeing to know that I have 72 hours of “free time” each week even if I sleep 8 hours a night and work 40 hours a week. I like having permission to say no to something that doesn’t fit within my priorities list.
At the same time, I also felt shame surrounding how I currently spend my time. I know I like to decompress by watching TV or playing a game on my phone. I keep a clean house, which takes up more time than I’d like. I enjoy unhurried mornings that involve staying in bed a little longer with a book. Could I cut back on these activities to make more time? Sure. But I’ve also fallen into the trap of feeling as though I always have to be doing something productive with my time, which is exhausting. Not enough time for rest and refreshment affects my well-being. I’ve had to learn the importance of prioritizing rest.
Here’s some realistic takeaways I had from this talk that matter in my personal approach toward time management, and I hope will resonate with your personal struggle with time.
I have more time than I think.
When I look at the 168 hours I have in a week and the percentage of that contributed to free time, I am shocked at how much time I have. I might not be aware that those hours are going by, but if I intentionally sit down to plan out my schedule, it’s clear how much time I actually have. When I think about priorities or skills I want to be developing, setting aside an hour a week to focus on them suddenly seems doable.
I need to move from the victim mentality (“I’m too busy”) to the attitude of a responsible adult (“It’s not a priority”).
It feels really good to put myself as the victim. If stress or anxiety in my life is due to circumstances or is someone else’s fault, then I don’t have to take a serious, hard look at what I’m doing to contribute to my own problems. But if I truly want to make a change, I need to shift my mentality to look at ways I can take responsibility. I need to acknowledge the reality, as Vanderkam mentions, that how I spend my time is my choice. Framing time management as a choice helps me to stop making excuses and start implementing the change I desire in my life.
Thinking of the long game is more effective than focusing on the urgent.
I love the exercises Vanderkam mentions in her TED talk that involve looking at longer-term goals for your career and personal life. As a sensing personality type on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I tend to lose the forest for the trees. I focus more on the details or what’s right in front of me, which leads me to be distracted by tasks that seem urgent. It’s a helpful reminder for me to focus on long-term goals as a way of re-centering on the change I want to make.
I have permission to prioritize what’s important to me, not anyone else.
Just because my friend or coworker is focused on climbing the career ladder doesn’t mean that I need to share that same ambition. Maybe I’m really passionate about spending time with my family, weight-training, or cooking. My desires of how to spend my time are not better or worse than anyone else’s, and I don’t need to compare myself as a way of minimizing my desires or puffing up with pride. Instead, I need own my personal priorities and value them as important.
How I spend my time does not reflect on my value or worth.
The fact that we have an entire subculture of books, podcasts, and other media dedicated to productivity means that we have a tendency to value productivity to the point where it becomes an identity. I notice myself slipping into this mentality if I go down the rabbit hole of productivity media. I start to feel valuable or worthwhile when I’m being productive, but if I take time to rest and recharge, I feel worthless and lazy. I heap shame on myself when I’m not being productive enough, and therefore I undervalue my need for rest. In those moments, I need to step back and remind myself of the truth that my value comes from my relationship with God and who I am, not from my career success or productivity.
Making a weekly schedule with priorities in mind is important.
When in college, I started a habit of keeping a weekly schedule. I’d write down what classes and activities I had, made a to-do list of tasks I wanted to complete each day, and tried to plan in downtime or rest. While I’ve had varying degrees of success with this practice over the past several years, I remember how good it felt to have my day planned out for me, rather than having to make little decisions all day about what was important.
In the context of setting priorities, I appreciate Vanderkam’s suggestion to sit down on Fridays and write out your schedule each week, putting your priorities in first. This empowers me to say that my priorities are the most important part of my planning, and it makes sure that they’re included in the schedule. It puts things that are a lower priority on the back burner.
How might you implement some of these skills for time management this week? What are the takeaways you have from Vanderkam's TED talk?
Do you constantly feel like you don’t have time for the things you love? Are you tired of feeling stressed because there aren’t enough hours in the day, or hopeless about ever having enough time to rest or recharge? I understand the pain of constant busy-ness, and I’d love the chance to help you begin prioritizing what you need and creating space for the things you love. At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to help you break through stress, anxiety, addiction, and depression to live a fulfilling life that you love. Call me at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment.
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