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March 19, 2011 by Alison

Time Management and Balance

How to avoid over-committing, over-scheduling, and a lot of stress!

The anxiety of always feeling like there is too much to do and too little time seems to be common among my friends. How often do you hear people say “I’m going to squeeze in a lunch,” or “I’ll try to fit you in,” or “let me work it into my schedule.” When you hear yourself saying that, chances are you’re spreading yourself too thin. By trying to do it all, we often over-commit and when we over-commit we usually end up sacrificing something— like focus, respect, quality time, and peace of mind.

Bottom line, we’re all busy these days and often trying to balance many commitments. But ask yourself what’s more important… participating in lots of activities, or thoroughly enjoying few… accomplishing as many tasks as possible, or completing one task well… having lots of interactions with various people, or having meaningful connections… you get the idea! It has become to clear to me that I need to honor and respect myself, and others, by setting aside the appropriate amount of time for whatever it is I am doing.

When I am honest with myself I realize it really isn’t worth it to do something half-way. I’ve had lunches with friends or peers that are completely unsatisfying because we’re not really present—we’re so rushed that we are talking a mile-a-minute, barely taking each other in, and thinking about all the other things we need to do and places we need to be! When that happens, I usually leave feeling very unsatisfied and wondering if it was really worth my limited time. What was the point? To say I did it? To check that person off my list? Am I hurrying to get somewhere else? What makes me think somewhere else is better? What else is there beside the moment?

Although we may not get to do everything we want, when we slow down, manage our time, and choose what’s important we are at least living each moment to its fullest.  We are choosing to be present throughout our encounters.  We are choosing quality of experiences over quantity, respect for people over disrespect, self-nurturing over spreading ourselves too thin, being focus over scattered, and peace over stress.

Usually we over-schedule for one (or more) of three reasons:

1.     We truly do not realize how long certain tasks/events/meetings/errands take.

2.     We know how long things take, but we have a hard time saying no or we want to do it all.

3.      We forget to account for “transition time.”

Here are three steps to help you manage your time and avoid over-scheduling.

Time Management Tips:

Step 1: Be realistic about how long it takes to do something.

The other day my friend was telling me that her eight-year-old daughter came home from school with an interesting homework assignment. Each child was directed to decide just how long certain tasks take. For example, how long does it take you to get dressed in the morning? How long does it take you to get to school? How long does it take to do your homework, etc… Of course her daughter’s answers weren’t always accurate… 20 minutes to brush your teeth!

My friend and I ooohhhed and awwwed about how cute that was and then moved on to other topics, but later that day I started to think about it. How good was I at estimating how long my daily tasks take? Perhaps not that good as I frequently find myself rushing from one thing to the next feeling like I’m always running late. And when I thought about my friends and co-workers I realized I wasn’t alone—lots of people are overly optimistic about what they can accomplish in a short period of time.

If you find yourself running late a lot, rushing from thing to thing, or always feeling a anxious or overwhelmed about all you have to accomplish, then I recommend re-visiting the third grade and trying this homework assignment: take a pen and paper and write down your daily tasks and hobbies, then guess how long it takes to accomplish the items on your list. Then the next time you do one of those things, time yourself. Now compare your guess with the actual time. If you were close to accurate, then you probably need to move to the next step: prioritizing. But if you were way off base, then start by simply scheduling your day by allowing yourself the appropriate amount of time to complete tasks. By giving yourself a suitable amount of time to complete what you need to do, you’ll find you’re a lot less rushed and you will save yourself, and those around you, a lot of stress.

Step 2: Prioritize and learn to say no.

The truth is it’s hard to do it all, and sometimes simply impractical—at least in a way that is healthy and enjoyable. Let go of the idea that you need to do it all. It can actually be quite liberating to acknowledge that there are limits to our energy, time, and choices. So it’s important to be very clear about what really matters to you. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day tasks and lose perspective of the big picture of our life. When we are not clear about our larger vision for ourselves, the day-to-day can take over and we never move toward more meaningful goals or make the changes necessary to have a more fulfilling life. We cannot prioritize and make choices of what is important if we first do not take the time to get clear about what is essential in our lives. When we are clear it is easy to avoid over-scheduling because we simply do not choose those things that are not in alignment with our goals. The Power of Now by Leo Barboat offers a simple, clear powerful way to get clear about what is essential to you and how to accomplish your goals.

Of course, saying yes to what we do want often involves saying no to those things that are not in alignment with what is essential. It’s my experience that when I say yes to something out of a feeling of obligation—especially if I am spreading myself too thin—on some level it backfires. I learn I would have been more in service to the other person/organization/event by saying no instead.

Step 3: Build in transition time.

Transition time not only includes the obvious such as getting to and from places and preparation and clean up time, but also the time we need to emotionally and mentally shift gears. Running straight from an intense meeting to a dinner with a significant other is not necessarily a good foundation for a romantic night. Piling in twenty errands and then racing back home to have quality time with kids usually doesn’t lead to a focused, fun time.  Sometimes we need to release the energy of our previous experience. Give yourself a moment to breath and shift gears so you can really enjoy and be present for the next event. There is a Feng Shui equivalent to allowing psychological time to transition. Feng Shui gives emphasis to thresholds and doorways, particularly front entrances because it acknowledges the need to leave behind the energy of the outside environment and not carry it into our homes—our sanctuaries. Doorways are placed back from the street and there is usually a path, plant, an archway sometimes fountains things to capture our attention and slow down our entrance so that we are signaled to entering a different world. We need to give ourselves this same breathing time between daily tasks and meetings.

Next time you about to transition from one event to the next, take a minute to take a breath, assimilate what you just experienced, then let it go. Then take another minute to think about what you are about to do so you can be fully present for the next event. This only takes a moment and I find saves so much time and/or helps me enjoy the time more. For example, if I’m meeting a friend and I can enjoy the time I set aside to spend with her, then the experience is that much more fulfilling. Or if I’m doing something as simple as going to the grocery store, I find I’m less apt to forget something I needed and therefore save myself another trip. So take a little time, to help you best utilize your time.

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