Henry David Thoreau, the great American philosopher, once said, “It’s not enough to be busy… the question is, what are we busy about?” Many of us feel perpetually busy, so much so that we never feel like we have time to do the things we want to do.
Work-life balance? No time.
Exercise? No time.
Learning new things on your own? No time!
The reality, however, is that it’s more a case of not knowing where your time goes than anything else. Here’s why.
Either because you’re feeling pumped up or because you’re stressed out from knowing how much work you have to do, you probably end up frequently trying to pack your day with too many things.
Let’s be honest, when you look at your to-do list and see so many items on it, just knowing that you’re aiming to do that many things in one day makes you feel like you’re already being productive.
That feeling, however, doesn’t last. What often happens in these situations is that we only accomplish half the things on that long task list. Consequently, we end up feeling like we’re falling short of our goals all the time, even though objectively speaking, we’re not doing so bad.
In any case, packing too many things into one day increases your propensity to multitask (reducing your overall productivity and performance) and makes you more susceptible to being scatterbrained.
After all, if your attention, energy, and resources, are constantly spread so thin every day, it’s no wonder you wind up feeling constantly tired despite feeling like you really don’t know where your time goes.
Instead of trying to be everywhere and do everything at once, pare it down to the essentials. Time management isn’t really about how you divide your time as it is about deciding which priorities in your life deserve more time than others.
Being realistic and focusing on a few core goals is a far more effective means of time management, productivity, and growth than just doing many things haphazardly.
One of the biggest reasons we feel like we’ve lost control of our time (and maybe even of our lives) is that we’re out of touch with ourselves. Life just gets so busy sometimes that we end up letting it take control of us instead of the other way around.
We stop keeping track of our personal goals, forget all the things we used to dream of achieving, let our physical health deteriorate, and generally allow ourselves to gradually fall into a rut.
If you want to feel a greater sense of control over your time, your dreams, and your life as a whole, you need to set aside time every day to check in with yourself. Contrary to popular belief, self-care isn’t about pampering yourself or self-indulgence at all. It’s about having the patience and maturity to be honest with yourself and ask yourself, every day, questions like:
Setting aside time every day without exception to clear your mind in this way is crucial to gaining the kind of mental clarity you need to take ownership for yourself, your work, and your life.
As seductive as it can be to expect perfection from ourselves, our work, and from our lives, it also sets you up for disappointment. In fact, perfectionism can make it seem like unless your day (and your life in general) goes exactly according to plan, you’ve wasted your time.
Clearly, it’s unrealistic to expect your day to conform to how you’ve planned it out, right to the “T.” Life itself is unpredictable; exigencies occur all the time, and there will always be certain things that are out of your control.
The point is not to hope for your time to unfold just the way you’d like it; it’s to strike a balance between intentionality in time management and going along with the flow when things don’t go according to plan. In other words, being in control of how you spend your time isn’t mutually exclusive with being flexible and adaptable.
It comes back to knowing your priorities at work and in your life. When you’re crystal clear about where your priorities lie and in what order, it’s much easier to make decisions about how much variance you can accommodate in your schedule.