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Time Management: Don’t Make Sacrifices

Time management skills are critical to completing tasks, but I’ve got an important question for you. Between the things you want to do and things you have to do, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done. Many people call this time management and focus on cramming everything in, but it’s just not possible. Nobody really talks about what do you have to sacrifice?

If you’re like a lot of people, you sacrifice things like sleep, exercise, fun, and leisure. Unfortunately, those aren’t luxuries. They’re needs. Adults need fun and leisure just as much as kids do, and sleep and exercise are basic needs required for our biological systems to run smoothly. You can certainly get by without these for a while, but not without a big toll on your health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

“Great!” you think. “I’m already strapped for time, cramming more than one human being’s worth of stuff into one day, and you’re telling me to add MORE! Exactly how am I supposed to do that?”

I don’t have all the answers, and you may be limited by some very real constraints of your current situation, but the main thing is to get intentional. Time is a non-renewable resource. You only get 24 hours a day, and you have a finite number of days. How do you want to spend this precious commodity? Not how do others want you to spend your time. Not how does your mind want you to spend that time. How do you want to spend your time, based on your priorities and values and taking into account your responsibilities, goals, commitments, and demands?

To help you get intentional and get more life out of your 24 hours, here are a couple strategies to try out:

1. Do a time audit.

Take a few minutes at the end of the day to write down how you spent your time. All of it. Do this for a few days to gather some good data, then look at patterns. Chances are you’ll notice some time drains:

  • Do you lose time scrolling on social media, streaming shows, or other mindless activities?
  • Are you spending more time on certain activities than you realized? Or doing things more often than you realized?
  • Do others hijack your day with requests or demands?
  • Are you putting others’ wants or needs ahead of your own
  • Are you busy with productive procrastination? These are tasks that need to be done at some point but aren’t necessarily the priorities for that day.
  • Do tasks take you longer than anticipated?
  • Are you over-committed?
  • Are you doing things that don’t really matter to you or that don’t add value to your life?

Once you have a sense of how you’re actually spending your time, you’re in a good position to make some adjustments, which brings us to…

2. Plan your day in advance.

Take 5 minutes the evening before or first thing in the morning to plan your day. Then stick to your schedule, barring unexpected out-of-your-control demands that arise. Be sure to quickly reflect on your schedule at the end of the day. Did you follow it? If not, what got in the way?

Planning your day in advance allows you to consider what’s important to you and to be intentional about how you spend your precious time. Pre-making these decisions protects you against others hijacking your time. Of course, there will be people who need things from you – partners, kids, bosses, etc. –  and you may not always be able (or even want) to say no. With some deliberate planning, though, you may find that you’re putting out fewer fires and feeling more in control throughout the day.

Following a daily schedule also protects you from the sneaky things your mind does that take you off course. When you make decisions in the moment about how to spend your time, you’re more likely to fall victim to the numerous biases and shortcuts that all of our minds take. For example, your mind will throw out a million excuses not to do things that take effort or energy (It’s too late to exercise. It’s been a long day, and you deserve a break.). It will prioritize the short-term pay off over the long-term (Scroll on your phone rather than meal prepping. It’s easier.). It will criticize or guilt you into things (You shouldn’t be reading a book. You should be doing XYZ.). And those are just a few of the ways minds try to “help” us out. When you map out your day, you take the decision-making out of the moment, which takes your mind out the equation. Sure, those thoughts may still pipe up, but they’re less likely to sway you.

Following a daily schedule is even more important if you’re at all prone to anxiety or depression, both of which can dictate in-the-moment decisions about what to do and how to spend time, resulting in self-amplifying cycles. Within my psychology practice, I’ve often seen giant reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms simply from creating – and sticking to – a daily schedule!

Setting deadlines gives you more control of your time. Setting time limits can make sure you get to and through all of the important and urgent tasks on your list without neglecting small tasks that lead to wasted time. That said, part of an effective plan to improve your time management is to prioritize tasks and stick to your time slots.

Tips for scheduling your day

  1. For some people, scheduling based on time works out really well. For example, at 8:00, I will make breakfast, check emails, and get ready for the day. For others, planning out times doesn’t work as well. Good time management is part of knowing yourself and what will work for you. If that’s you, try listing your most important tasks as daily “Must dos” instead. These are the activities that you must do today in order to feel good about how you spent your time. This helps us avoid poor time management by focusing on things that matter less but are easier to cross off our to-do list.
  2. Include the big four as often as you can. For humans to be healthy and happy, we regularly need activities that are productive, enjoyable, social, and physical. A daily schedule isn’t about being productive non-stop. Try to carve out time for all of those kinds of activities, and it’s ok to double dip. Maybe going for a walk outside is both enjoyable and physical for you.
  3. It’s also important to make sure that how you spend your time aligns with what’s important to you. That doesn’t mean that every minute should be fun or that we shouldn’t do things we don’t like. It does mean, however, that if how you spend the bulk of your time isn’t In line with your priorities and values, you’re not going to be as happy or satisfied with life as you could be. 

3. Incorporate Self-care.

Building effective self-care practices into your day can be well worth the time cost. When you engage in self-care – real self-care, the kind that helps maximize your energy and mindset – you’re showing up at a higher level for the rest of your day. Figure out daily habits that help you get centered and feel strong. Is it exercise? Stretching? Listening to music while you get dressed? Having coffee on the porch? Cleaning the kitchen the night before? Unplugging an hour before bed? Waiting to check email until after you’ve accomplished something meaningful? Reviewing your calendar and goals each morning? Whatever it is, be sure to include it in your schedule for effective time management that works for you. 

Designing an effective self-care routine can be a game-changer. Self-care [by Design] can help you level up your self-care.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

– Gretchen Rubin

P.S. I wore “busy” like a badge of honor for YEARS before finding Life Design, which was revolutionary. Life Design is all about creating a life that really works for you, rather than passively following the status quo. Combining Life Design with Psychology has made my life look and feel much differently than it did back in those too busy days. If you’re interested in diving deeper into this kind of work, check out our brand new Ascend program.

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Manage Energy, Not Time

I have a confession: I am an efficiency junkie. As a mom of 2 young kids and the co-founder of 2 businesses, I’m always on the lookout for new ways to manage energy, not time.

Now, maybe your specific circumstances aren’t exactly like mine, but I bet we’re similar in that we’re both looking for ways to balance the responsibility of life with the spaciousness and joy of ‘the good stuff.’

Said another way, how do I take care of my responsibilities and manage to feel good along the way?

I wanted to share some insight I stumbled upon recently that has really helped me re-think my approach to my list of responsibilities.

Time Management

Time management is a hot topic. A quick Google search returns over 3.8 BILLION results. We’re all searching for the way to get more done in the 24 hours we each have in our day.

But, therein lies the problem! Time is finite. We each only have 24 hours in a day. No matter how we ‘manage’ it, we can’t make more. 

Beyond that, even when we try to reclaim time, we typically resort to reclaiming it from critical activities like sleep, exercise, socializing, and hobbies. 

If my goal is to accomplish my responsibilities while feeling good, taking time away from the things that help me feel good is certainly not the way to do it!

Manage Energy, Not Time

Tony Schwartz is a new author I’m in love with. He wrote the book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time. He is also the CEO of The Energy Project. 

In his work he points out that time is a finite resource, and no matter how much we try to ‘manage’ it, we can’t make more.

In contrast, energy is renewable. 

We can use specific tactics to boost our energy and our stamina to make sure we can perform at our peak while feeling good along the way.

COUNT. ME. IN.

Here are the 3 areas he points to as ways to boost our energy and our stamina to get things done.

1. Physical Energy

Rituals that help you renew physical energy include the major health-promoting behaviors we all know are important:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising
  • Drinking water
  • Sleeping enough

But, he also points to the ritual of taking regular breaks to give our body a chance to reset and rejuvenate.

2. Emotional Energy

The second set of rituals revolves around emotional regulation. This aligns nicely to the emotional intelligence literature, whereby you cultivate 2 sets of skills:

  • The ability to recognize your own emotional state
  • The ability to use tools and interventions to augment your emotional state

Schwartz points to rituals like deep breathing, to stave off the fight-or-flight emotions we as humans are so prone to experience.

He also points to rituals like gratitude and appreciation as a way to boost positive emotion. 

On both ends of the spectrum, putting ourselves in an optimal emotional state gives us the stamina and energy boost we need to perform at our best.

3. Mental Energy

As we get busier and busier, many of us resort to the same tactics in an attempt to get more done: we multitask.

As it turns out, research has shown that multitasking isn’t actually possible, even though we feel like we’re doing it well. 

Rather than helping us get more done, multitasking actually over-taxes our mental capacity, making us less capable of persisting for periods of time and less capable of focusing on any one task at hand. 

We’ve talked many times about our limited cognitive resources as human beings. If there’s one way to over-deplete these resources, it’s to multitask.

Establish Your Rituals

What I thought was most helpful about Schwartz’s 3-part framework is that it was so comprehensive about the way it views energy management.

It gives us a very holistic way to help ourselves feel better as we go about the responsibilities of our lives.

So, try it!

Think about each of these 3 categories of energy, and develop your own rituals around boosting energy in each category. Put these rituals to work in your life, even if it’s difficult at first. Become a master and manage energy, not your time.

Give it a try, and let me know how it went.

For more help designing the specific rituals and routines that truly work for you, check out our mini-course, Self-care [by Design].

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been at my desk for quite a while, and I’m going to head out to take a walk to recharge.

“The core problem with working longer hours is that time is a finite resource. Energy is a different story.”
― Tony Schwartz