Too Much to Do, Too Little Time

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I had lunch with my friend Dr. Pamila Brar, who is the medical director of Human Longevity, Inc., a while ago, and she was telling me about how difficult it is to find the time for her children, her husband, and her patients, as well as exercising and seeing friends. She also goes to medical meetings to keep up with the latest discoveries and clinical trials. Not only is she trying to prioritize her own activities, she sees her patients getting sick over their own unrelentingly hectic lives. She calls it the "No Time Disease."

And so Dr. Brar devised a questionnaire: If you answer yes to most of these questions as I did, you're on overload. It does not mean you should give up something, that is often not possible, but you could look for ways to diminish the stress, the feeling of rushing from one thing to another without a breather.

These are a few sample questions from her test:

  • You like getting cancellations because it gives you free time.
  • You say, "I am too busy" or "I don't have time" at least once a day.
  • 75 percent of your activities (like meals, car rides) are done in tandem with other activities (meetings, phone calls, calendaring).
  • You have a 24/7 work ethic and feel obligated to respond immediately to emails, texts, and phone calls and find yourself judgmental of others don't do the same.
  • You need to check your phone and respond to the second you receive a message or email.
  • You are over-scheduled and always running from one thing to the next, often making you late.
  • You feel compelled to fill every waking moment with something productive (e.g., checking emails while waiting in the line at the bank.)
  • How did you do? I answered yes to most questions.

What to do? I remember dealing with the exact same issues in the 1970s when women were entering the workforce in droves. I taught a course at the University of New Hampshire on women in management and one of the things I said at the time was that you cannot have it all.

Something has to give, so I came up with the motto: "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well." Just get it done whatever it is and move on. Perfectionism is important in some endeavors, but not all.

Can't Do It All!

If I do this
I won't get that done
If I do that
this will slip by
If I do both
neither will be perfect

Not everything worth doing
is worth doing well

Our brains do not multitask well, so when we perceive conflict between goals, we feel anxious. The more we sense conflict, the more we feel stressed about our lack of time. Dr. Jordan Etkin, a professor at Duke University, believes that we can influence our experience of how much time we have by reconsidering the conflict between two goals. She did an experiment whereby some of the participants were told to think that they had a conflict in accomplishing a task while a second group was told to think of the tasks as not conflicting. The ones who thought of the task as more difficult to accomplish also believed they had less time available to them. In other words, we can influence how much time we believe we have by the way we think about our responsibilities and that may reduce stress.

We make decisions every minute of the day, shall I order tea or coffee, shall I take this file to work, shall I call her now or later etc. By mid-afternoon, the brain gets tired and starts making bad decisions. It goes into default mode and just chooses the easiest option. By giving your brain some glucose in the form of a piece of fruit, cookie, or cup of sweet tea, it will re-energize itself for a few more hours. When you feel distracted, have difficulty concentrating, drink a glass of water, the rehydration will keep you focused a while longer, according to White Sands dietician Joyce Wilkins.

If you feel you don't have enough time, you're not alone, it is the disease of the millennium. The advent of social media has added countless hours of computer, smartphone and tablet time to our already overloaded schedules. There's probably some wiggle room there for you to tweet less or not respond to every Facebook notification. So do not pick up your cellphone every time it vibrates unless you must be available for some pending emergency.

And now sit quietly, as Elizabeth Hamilton, our resident meditation teacher tell us, arms resting on your lap, legs uncrossed, breathe deeply, and start counting as you exhale -- one, two, three, four, five... do this for five more minutes and you will suddenly feel like you have more time.

Perpetual Guilt

If I'm in the office
I wish I were home
With the children
If I'm home
With the children
I know I should be
In the office
I always should be
I'm not!