We think of time management as the simple act of managing our time better. Most of us believe we need help in this area because we just can't seem to get everything done. Our to-do list is overflowing, our commitments are overlapping, and we can’t even remember the last time we didn’t feel behind.
We believe if we could learn the right way to manage our time, we’d magically knock off everything on our to-do list, enjoy time with friends and family, have a beautiful organized home, and sport perfectly coifed hair and manicured nails all at the same time. Am I right?!
In other words, we believe the secret to having it all is getting a better handle on our schedules and controlling the clock better.
I hate to bust your bubble but here’s the no-BS reality about time management that no one wants to hear…
...it’s not about your calendar or the clock.
...there are no magical tips and tricks.
...there isn’t a secret system or a perfect planner that will answer all of your I-don’t-have-enough-time prayers.
The cold hard truth is that you don’t need to learn how to better manage your time...you need to learn how to set priorities, drop the excuses, and get real with yourself on what you truly want.
Time management is a smoke screen for what’s really going on…your inability to prioritize, saying yes to too many commitments, not being honest with yourself on what’s truly important, and not dealing with the insecurities that keep you from tackling the things that scare you.
Why Time Management isn't Our Problem
Most of us have too much on our plates and not having enough time is a badge of honor that we wear to show that we're busy, productive people filled with meaningful things going on in our lives. In turn, that must mean that we are meaningful and our lives are fulfilling.
Our level of productivity dictates our value to ourselves, our families, our jobs, and society.
Therefore, we pile on more than we can possibly handle, overcommit ourselves to show we care or that we can handle it all, then get stressed out and complain that we don't have enough time.
We get mad at the clock, irritated with the demands, and feel we are at the mercy of our schedule.
We feel it’s out of our control and if we could only learn to manage our time better, we’d feel a little less stressed and have time to ‘get it all done’.
The uber popular planner industry is well aware of all of this and promises that their planner will be the magic ticket to getting your life organized, your time under control, and your to-do list magically complete at the end of each day.
I don't know about you, but as a recovering planner addict, the stacks of planners I've acquired over the years hasn't helped me one bit in getting my time under control.
Your beautiful planner and your time management skills have nothing to do with how much you get done.
Before you hyperventilate and feel completely hopeless, stick with me here, ladies...
There are only so many hours in the day, right? We can’t control that…we each get 24 hours each day to with what we want. We try to control the clock…stretch time, or maybe a better way of saying that is we try to cheat time.
We can’t do that. No one has the power to create more time.
We’re placing our ability to get things done on something external from ourselves and that's uncontrollable.
So…it’s no wonder we get stressed out, frustrated and feel we are at the mercy of the clock.
If not time...what is our problem?
Us...we are our own problem.
Here’s a short list of the main things that prevent most of us from getting things done:
- Taking on too much
- Not being clear on what’s truly important to us
- Inability to Prioritize
Read through this list again…notice anything?
What does any of this have to do with time??
None of it!
Also notice I didn’t list “poor planning” as one of the reasons…poor planning deals with time, so that’s the same thing and poor planning is generally a result of all of the above.
Another thing to notice about this list…it’s all internal. It all relates to things within ourselves.
While that may sound a little scary and you may even feel a little mad at me because you think I’m blaming you, set that aside and think of it this way...
Anything that is within us is within our power to change and control.
You can’t change time, but you can change yourself which will allow you to better use your time.
And that, my friends, is where you can make magic happen and get on top of things instead of behind them.
When we learn to take a peek inside to see what’s really going on and why we keep getting in our own way, we will start to spend our time more meaningfully and not waste it on the crap that isn’t doing anything for us. We will start to find our daily accomplishments more rewarding.
Who doesn’t want that??
Dropping the Excuses
When I start working with people on setting goals and getting things done, it’s SO common for them to come back later without finishing what they promised they’d do. It’s normal, it’s natural, and honestly, it’s almost expected (NOT that I'm expecting people to fail!!! But, if they didn't have any problems getting things done and achieving their goals and dreams, they wouldn't be hiring me!).
We all make excuses for not getting things done....myself included.
The beauty of excuses is that it makes us feel better because we shift the blame away from ourselves and onto something else.
“It’s not me! I have way too much on my plate!” Mmmm hmmmm….
So, let’s take a look at some of the common excuses and what’s really going on.
I'm betting most of us suffer from procrastination. For some, it's an ongoing problem and for others, it may only be a sporadic affliction. But, you know what I'm talking about...having something that needs to be done and you keep putting it off and putting it off until you are down to the last minute.
It's typically at this point where panic ensues and you swear that you will never wait until the last minute again!
I get it. Buh-lieve me, I get it!
I’m the first to admit...I'm the Queen of Procrastination and I'm trying very hard to break my bad habit! Have you heard the phrase “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” (or something along those lines)? My motto used to be a slight variation of that…”Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”
Yeah…I know all about this one!
Procrastination may present itself as getting sucked into your social media of choice (Instagram and Pinterest are my weakness), making other plans instead of focusing on what you need to do, binging on the latest Netflix release, or even feeling like you have to clean the house from top to bottom right now.
I could always tell when my college roommate had a big exam to study for because I'd come home to all of her furniture sitting outside her bedroom door as she cleaned every inch of room and rearranged the furniture. She had a very clean and organized room, but had a hell of an all nighter due to her procrastinating.
The problem with procrastinating is that we end up spending way more energy on the task by trying to avoid it then it would take for us to just get it done. All that mental energy spent dreading it, or telling yourself that you should do it, or coming up with all the excuses not to, is wasted energy.
Also, when we finally buckle down under pressure because the clock is running out and we have to do it…it causes us to procrastinate on other things we need to be doing. It’s a vicious cycle!
Now, I know…some of you will say that you work better under pressure. Maybe you do, or maybe you’ve conditioned yourself to only be able to work under those conditions. How much better could you do something without the added pressure and with sufficient time to really explore all of your options?
If we are procrastinating, we are choosing to not take care of what we need to do. We are choosing to fill our time with other activities (either legitimate or fluff) instead of what we should be doing instead.
Managing your time better is asking yourself why you keep putting it off. What is underlying your reluctance to work on that project, or clean out the garage, etc. Maybe it feels overwhelming, maybe there's some self-doubt or fear that you are trying to avoid, or something else entirely. But, I promise you, there's more to it that you need to get to the bottom of if you want to get sh*t done.
The key to getting a handle on your procrastination is to figure out what you’re trying to avoid. Deal with that or face your fears, but don’t let it waste your time.
Taking on too much
I alluded to this one earlier...we are busy people and we like to be busy. We feel important when we're busy.
So...we pile on as much stuff as we can so we can fill our pretty little planners with appointments, meetings, projects, phone calls, etc.
Sometimes, we do this because we don't know how to say 'no'. Sometimes we do it because seeing a blank calendar makes us feel empty or useless.
Whatever the reason behind it, it's a chronic problem in our overworked, productivity obsessed society.
When we have too much on our plates, we can't fully focus on any one thing and it becomes very easy to blame all of the other stuff and the lack of time in the day on not getting things done. If you have 12 hours of stuff to get done and only 6 hours in which to do it, guess what? No amount of time management training is going to help you manage that time better.
Think of it this way...if someone suffers from an overeating problem, we don't blame the plate that is overfilled with food. It’s not the plate’s fault. It’s not the food’s fault. We would ask the person...why are you overeating? What is making you want to eat more food than you need and that ultimately makes you not feel well?
When we overfill our calendars and schedules, its the same concept...it's not the fault of our calendar, or the clock, or anyone else. We have to ask ourselves why we’re doing that. Until you can uncover that nugget of truth, you won’t stop doing it and you will never be able to feel caught up.
You may be surprised to see perfectionism on this list, but since there is no such thing as 'perfect', a constant quest for perfectionism masks a fear of not being enough.
Now, I could talk at length about this in a post all on its own, but with regards to time, what do you think happens when you constantly seek perfection in everything you do?
Your productivity grinds to a screeching halt because you drag things out much longer than necessary as you try to make it perfect. You nitpick all the details, you redo things that don't need to be redone, and in the end, you spin your tires while everything else on your to-do list sits untouched and falls behind.
I'm all for expecting top quality in your work, but there's a difference between high quality work and perfectionist tendencies.
Its okay for something to not be perfect. Personally, I finding perfection boring! It’s the imperfections that give something or someone it’s character (unless you’re building a bridge…in that case, please continue to strive for perfection!)!
Waiting for Something Else to Happen First
How many times have you said "I'll just wait until XYZ happens before I do ABC."
We have the best of intentions when we do this...we want to make sure our ducks are all in a row before we put in the time. However, it wastes time, leaves unfinished projects on your list, and when the ducks line up, you have to rearrange everything you're working on to finally bite the bullet and get started.
As with procrastination, this excuse is one I'm intimately familiar with. I'm a planner and I don't feel comfortable jumping in with both feet until I know there's a net there to catch me. The 'net' is generally in the form of whatever I'm waiting to happen.
The problem with this is, again...things don't get done; our to-do list stays clogged with projects, and we stand still.
Wanna know what typically underlies this excuse? FEAR. Cold, hard fear.
"I can't launch my business until I have my website done!" "I can't apply for that job until I take that workshop that's only offered once a year." "I can't clean out the garage until I figure out the new storage system I want to install."
Deal with the fear and you'll drop the excuse.
Getting Clear on What's Important
Most of us are so busy, we don’t even know what’s important to us anymore. We just take on more and more because we have to.
Anytime we do something because we have to, it’s generally a red flag. If we’re not doing it because want to is it really a good use of our time?
Now…there are obvious exceptions to this:
- Some family obligations
- Some adulting tasks
Obviously, we have to work to pay the bills and most of don’t bounce out of bed every morning excited to head to our jobs. For most of us, this is a non-negotiable have to. Some family obligations, like taking care of your family is also non-negotiable, but I emphasize some because I’m betting there are some have to's that you could drop to open up your time (remember…you CAN say NO!). As for the adulting tasks, these are things like grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, doctor’s appointments, etc. All those things that we do actually have to do, but aren’t always things we want to do. But…can you outsource your cleaning or laundry or grocery shopping? If you can, then by all means, do it!!
Once you reconcile the non-negotiable have to’s, it’s time to get clear on everything else. What’s truly important to you?
If spending time with your kids every night is important to you, then why do you keep volunteering to help with the PTA when you hate it?? Drop it and align your time with what’s important to you. You don’t actually have to spend your time the way other people want you to if it’s not something that is important to you.
Is finishing your MBA really important to you, but keeps taking a back seat to other things that aren’t as meaningful to you? Get clear on what’s important and start dropping everything that doesn’t align with it.
Getting Real on Your Priorities
Being clear on your priorities is your key to getting stuff done.
For those of you with kids...no matter what's on your plate, you make time to feed your children, take them to school, get them to bed, etc. Yes, you love them, but you do it because your children are a priority.
Think about the other things in your life that always seem to get done no matter what. I bet if you consider it, you'll realize they rank pretty high on your priority list.
On the flip side, the things that are not getting done are not priorities even if you think it's a priority. If it's not getting done, you have not made it a priority.
Evaluate your Priorities
Take a moment to think about a few of the things that keep sliding off your to-do list and never seem to get done. For some, you may instantly see they aren't priorities, so let's not worry about those.
Let's focus on a few of the items that you keep telling yourself is a priority but you never seem to find the time for it. You might be telling yourself XYZ is a priority because it's important to you.
This is where the disconnect generally happens. Because, again, if it were a priority, you would make time for it.
If you find yourself constantly working on other things instead of the higher priority tasks, here’s a tip...
Take a few minutes to reassess your priorities on the things you really want to do, but keep putting off…where do they fall on a scale of 1-10 (1 = no priority at all; 10 = top priority)? Now look at your calendar and ask yourself where you’re spending time on things that fall below that on the priority scale. Where are you wasting time less important and lower priority tasks that are keeping you from the higher priority items?
Once you identify all the ways you’re spending your time on things that are less important and not as high of a priority, start dropping them off your calendar. That may mean dropping out of some organizations, un-volunteering for things that feel more like obligations, and saying ‘no’ to future requests.
Saying yes to every request, every project, etc. may make you feel like you are a contributor, a team player, and/or everyone’s best friend. But, if you’re frazzled, stressed out, and grumpy all the time, how’s that working out for you?
You have to learn to say No…it’s okay to not be available for every request that comes your way! How many times have you overbooked yourself with things you don’t even want to do, only to get a request for something you’d love to do, but you have to turn it down because you’re tapped out?
Be judicious with how you fill your calendar. Plan in time for yourself so you aren’t overstretched. With less on your plate, you’ll be able to pick the projects or commitments that mean something to you. You’ll be able to focus on them more because you won’t be pulled in so many directions and you’ll be able to finish everything.
Dealing with the Fear, The Doubts, etc.
A lot of times what is lingering behind our procrastination, overcommitments, saying yes to everything, etc. is insecurities, fears, and doubts.
The fears can range from the fear of missing out, being afraid to fail, something changing, etc. Sometimes when we doubt ourselves, we stall because we don’t want to deal with it and we don’t want others to see it.
The fears & the doubts that hold us back are a big part of what’s behind the excuses, so in order to get a better handle on getting things done, you have to deal with these.
You have to pull back that curtain and take a peek at what’s really going on or you’ll just stay in the same place. Time management skills will never help you feel less afraid or give you more confidence.
I know we all like to blame the lack of time or our overstuffed schedules with not getting things done, but I hate to break it to you…that's just an excuse.
We feel at the mercy of the clock, but we all have a choice in how we spend our time. If we take on too many projects, assignments, activities, etc. then blame our busy schedule saying ‘we don’t have enough time to get XYZ done’, we’re misplacing the blame.
It’s not our calendar’s fault that we’re too busy…it’s OUR fault. We said yes. We took on more responsibility than we could handle. Managing your time better has nothing to do with how to juggle more balls in the air than you can handle.
Time management is about figuring out why you keep overfilling your plate or why you keep procrastinating or why you don’t stick with your priorities.