Balancing work and personal life is a known crapshoot. Even if you’re ahead of schedule on one project, you’ve gotten behind on others, and the hamster wheel spins faster.
All the while, we’re wearing how busy we are like a badge of honor, while wondering where the time goes.
Janet Choi, productivity writer and CCO of to do list app iDoneThis calls this feeling of time scarcity a wheel-spinning state: the poverty line of your productivity. Just enough gets done to stay afloat, but not as much as you’d like to reach your full potential. The more energy you spend trying to recover from time scarcity, the harder it gets. Tunnel vision closes your focus in on the immediate tasks and blocks out everything else, to the detriment of your relationships and health.
Of course, we’re not getting any less busy by sheer force of will. But there are a few mental tricks you can try to make yourself feel a little more time-affluent.
Some of us are gifted with the ability to rise, shine, and beat the day into submission. For the rest of us, it works the other way around. But no matter what, we all have a time of day when we get into a flow.
Take control by optimizing your tasks, categorically. Most office-dwelling people do a mixture of bland tasks like filing paperwork or organizing finances, and the stuff we really love about our jobs, like creating and socializing. So why waste those precious hours where you’re firing on all cylinders, on those dull daily tasks you could do in your sleep?
Experimenting with your peak hours for each task makes you more aware of how you’re spending time–whether it’s a stray 30 minutes on Facebook at 3 p.m. or a hyper-efficient mid-morning of organizing your workspace at the expense of real work. Slot your most thought-intensive duties into times when you’re naturally more energetic, and the mindless stuff for when you’re feeling drained–whether that’s after a morning coffee or mid-afternoon break.
Choi calls this scheduling for “high-bandwidth times.” Doing important work when you’re mentally most able to tackle it means you’re never stuck staring at a blank page saying, “I just don’t feel like it right now.”
Since you can’t eliminate all the time-sucks from your life and you’ll likely never reach inbox zero, why not be generous with the time you have?
Before you panic at the thought of handing out precious chunks of your life to every person that pops up to steal it, start small. When you feel time slipping away in the checkout line, in traffic, or during pointless meetings, don’t start gritting your teeth. Simple acts, like saying yes to helping a colleague with a project for a small part of each day, or being more flexible about lunch invitations, makes you feel like you have more time to spare.
Added bonus: Loosening your time-miser grip means opening your schedule up to more opportunities for valuable career connections.
At some point during an especially sanity-testing deadline you’ve probably thought a version of, “If it’s not actively burning down, it can wait.” Only doing what’s right in front of you works in the short-term, but in the longer run, it leaves less urgent items on a perpetual wait list. Exercise, relationships, and time for reflection feel less important than the threat of a hair-trigger boss waiting for your deliverables.
Letting “important” and “urgent” become synonyms is a problem. Instead of saying, “I don’t have time for this,” try saying, “This isn’t a priority.”
So, “I don’t have time to meet up for coffee this week,” becomes, “Having coffee with you isn’t a priority.” This is an especially guilt-trippy way to organize your time, but it works.