Your relationship to time is one of your most important relationships. Consider that time is the currency of your life. All the choices you make about how to spend your time add up to the kind of life you have. The kind of life you have gives you the kind of feelings you have. Therefore, if you want to feel good, you need to design a life (in time) that directly relates to your highest ideals and deepest dreams.
Instead, most of us have a crappy relationship to time. Like all crappy relationships, this includes mistakes, checking out, lying, cheating, stealing and diversions. The good news is when you work on your relationship to time, you become more expressed in all relationships and you improve every aspect of your life at once, since they are all connected.
So let's root out the most popular mistakes we make/lies we tell ourselves:
1) "This will only take a minute."
Why do we persist in misjudging how long something will take? Because we wish it were different. Regardless, wishing it does not make it so; it only prolongs the acceptance of reality and your feared consequence of not finishing something. We often erroneously think that prolonging the acceptance of the consequence is a benefit. It's not! The more quickly you feel the consequence of something, the faster you learn the true impact of your actions. Quick consequences cause quick learning and quick correction. This is scientific; do test it in your life.
How? Set a timer for everything you plan to do, and stop when the timer goes off (think "pencils down" in an exam). Get used to working under the truth about what can get done in, say, a 30-minute increment. If you stick to this, very quickly you will learn how to plan and set expectations realistically. As a bonus, you will become more efficient and focused, because deadlines just have a way of making that happen, no matter what! As an additional bonus, your confidence will increase because you will impress yourself by how quickly you can actually work and how much you can get done when you set your mind to it.
2) "I have to say yes."
Another big mistake we make with time is thinking we have to say "yes" to others. We even think we know what will happen if we don't: I'll get fired, my husband will leave me, my kids will grow up feeling unloved. Take a minute and think of all the interruptions to your plan there were today. Other people asked you to do something, and you replaced what you thought was important in order to "please them." If you do this a lot, you need to know this fact: Sacrifices never disappear. They are always recorded in one way or another and have their way of "evening out." The most popular way is in the big blowup or breakdown. Picture the overworked mom finally snapping and skipping town for a few days (really making her kid feel abandoned), or the doormat husband finally getting fed up and cheating or leaving, or the overworked employee finally screwing up something big. Since the "have to say yes" regime is unsustainable and a lie, how do you fix it?
Schedule your day purposefully, before your day begins, starting with all the most important things: sleep, meals, exercise, most important work or family objectives, and then you fill in the rest, making sure everything that is important to you is somewhere in your daily plan and with a time slot in your calendar. Is there time left over? If so, you can then say yes to other people's requests, but only if time is available or you are making a (rare) conscious decision to forgo something in honor of something else you consciously believe to be more important. For example, once a quarter I will forego exercise for five days in order to make time to film a TV show, but only once a quarter.
3) "If I structure too much, I'll lose my spontaneity."
After reading number two, you might be thinking planning in advance that much sounds tedious and limiting. That's not true. But you won't know this until you try. Did you know even with a daily, structured plan, you can add in unstructured time to account for spontaneity? Trust me, with this in your plan, you'll feel a lot freer and happier when it's "go with the flow" time (because you know you're not checking out, avoiding or jeopardizing something important).
There isn't a cookie-cutter answer for how much pre-planning you need, or how much sleep or how much time with your spouse or your kid so that you feel connected. That's the artisitic and creative part of dealing with your relationship to time: You get to experiment and see. But the thing is, test your theories about what structure and planning will actually do for you. I have found that in 99 percent of clients, resistance to structure and planning is just the "chicken" and/or "brat" talking, not actual truth or good thinking. So how do you start?
Try it for just two weeks, schedule your day entirely, including scheduling unplanned time (I schedule two hours unplanned in my work day and one hour in my evenings because I know there will be surprises), and then after each day, debrief what worked and didn't work and what structures you want to keep. Tip: You'll have to schedule the assessment time. Another tip: You have to try this before you vote on it. You simply cannot know what structures help until you've tested them for two weeks.
Tidying up your time management is a powerfully positive investment in yourself and your happiness. These tips will help you redesign your relationship to time in a way that leaves you feeling accomplished and at ease.
P.S.- At the Handel Group®, we have a lot of experience helping people design their relationships to time as well as design their actual days, weeks, months and years, and we can help you, too. If you just need a light touch come to Falling in Love with Time on Feb 14 (a one-hour teleseminar). If you need real practice, under surveillance and with community support you'll want Mastering Time beginning Mar 7 (a four-week teleseries).
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