Finding Balance by Managing Your Time

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 of 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 have to fit, squeeze or work it in, 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.

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 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’m 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’re talking a mile-a-minute, barely taking each other in, and often thinking about all the other things we need to do and places we need to be! When that happens, I usually leave feeling unfulfilled 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?

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 anxiety, being focused over scattered, and peace over stress.

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

1. We simply don’t accurately take into account how much time 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, avoid over-scheduling, and find balance.

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? Of course her daughter’s answers weren’t always accurate… apparently a thirty-minute drive to school took four minutes in her mind.

Later that day I started to think about how good I was 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 seem to be overly optimistic about what they can accomplish in a short period of time.

If you find yourself frequently running late, rushing from thing to thing, or always feeling anxious or overwhelmed about all you have to accomplish, then I recommend re-visiting the third grade and trying this 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 underestimated, 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 fit it all in. 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 can’t prioritize and make choices about what’s important if we first don’t take the time to get clear about what is essential in our lives. When we’re clear, it’s easy to avoid over-scheduling because we simply do not choose those things that are not in alignment with our goals. The Power of Less by Leo Babauta offers a simple, 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 don’t feel I have the time—on some level it backfires. I have learned that 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 includes traveling from place to place and preparation and clean up time. It also includes 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 the best 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 breathe 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, or sometimes fountains or other things to capture our attention, slow us down and signal that we are entering a different world. We need to give ourselves this same breathing time between daily tasks and meetings.

Next time you’re about to transition from one event to the next, take a minute to breathe, 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 doing something as simple as going to the grocery store, I find I’m less apt to forget something I need and therefore save myself another trip. Or if I’m meeting a friend and I can relax during the time I set aside to spend with her, then the experience is that much more fulfilling. So take a little time, to create a better time.