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True confession: my relationship with time is the most fraught relationship in my life. When I think about what causes the most stress and anxiety for me, I often find that thoughts about time scarcity are at the root of it. This shows up for me in a couple of ways:
- Full schedule stress: my greatest stress at work tends to come from feeling like I don’t have enough time to do everything that I need to do. A long to-do list and full calendar fills me with anxiety because I can’t see how I can possibly complete everything that needs to happen.
- Leisure time stress: on the opposite side, when I have unscheduled free time, especially on the weekends, I often fixate on how I can best use my time. This seems like a good thought process, but often ends up with me spiraling because nothing feels like the absolute best way to use time, so I feel guilty almost no matter what I do.
In both the full schedule and leisure time schedule above, two things are true:
- It is true that there is a finite amount of time
- My feelings of time scarcity trap me in indecision and inaction, ensuring that I ultimately have less time, continuing to make it feel like a scarce resource.
This is an ongoing struggle for me, but I’ve developed a couple of strategies so far to try to change this mindset:
Get super realistic about time:
Living in vague generalities like “I have no time” is always going to contribute to stress. Instead I have found it helpful to actually get very specific about how much time I do have. So in a busy day at work, that might mean looking at my schedule and identifying that outside of meetings, I have 90 minute of viable work time in the day. That’s not a lot of time, but that actually gives me something I can work with, so I can live in reality. I can now look at my to-do list and prioritize the most key action items and slot what I can into that time frame. This might mean telling my boss or colleagues that there are other things I can’t complete on their preferred schedule. Nine times out of ten, by communicating properly and planning in advance, this is fine.
I’ll do the same kind of strategy in relation to leisure time. I often wake up on Sunday mornings feeling incredibly anxious about the lack of time that I have left in the weekend. In that case, it’s helpful for me to literally write out something like this: “it’s 9am so I have about 13 hours in the day if I want to go to bed by 10pm. I know I have errands and tasks that will take me about four hours, which means I have nine whole hours left to do whatever I want. That’s a lot of time!”.
By doing this I can turn “I have no time left this weekend” and then proceeding to spend two hours on social media because I’m feeling anxious into “I have nine hours to do whatever I want” which feels much more empowering and will often inspire me to try for something I might have held back from otherwise.
Second, I practice estimating how long things will take.
Not to reinforce a limiting self-belief, but I’m so bad at this! I am often ambitious in my head so I think I can complete a lot more in a given period of time than is actually realistic. Then when I don’t successfully complete those tasks, I am left with a negative feeling. So I try to practice predicting how long things will take so I can get more accurate in my expectations. In addition to predicting the length of tasks, I do this exercise when thinking about transit or trying to get multiple things done in a row. I often need more cushion time then my brain wants to admit, but if I can intentionally plan around that, then the feeling of time scarcity starts to go away.
Another thing I tell myself is that small time segments of concentrated efforts can lead to major results over time.
I don’t have to fully complete everything on my to-do list in one day. It does help though, when I complete at least a handful of meaningful actions each day. This is why my organization system works so well for me. I can see week by week how much progress I am making over time, even if I still have things left on my to-do list at the end of the week.
Finally, I am working on trying to reframe my core thinking around time.
I have a deeply rooted belief that the value of my time is measured by how much I get done. The other day I was doing some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises and recognized that this belief was driving my thoughts and emotions. I asked my intuition how I could better approach this and heard:
“Measure the quality of how you feel during your time instead of what you accomplish during your time”.
This was a great reframing for me. Rather than spend my day feeling anxious and trying to get things done, how could I focus on how I felt in any given moment and prioritize feeling present and good? Could I believe that measuring my time by how I felt could be just as valuable as measuring my productivity? I don’t think one belief is inherently superior to the other but getting closer to valuing them equally has lessened my feelings of time scarcity.
Time is a precious resource and should be valued, but a time scarcity mindset can be debilitating and stop you from taking action. If you recognize this mindset in yourself, I encourage you to try the steps outlined above to start to shift your mindset and improve your relationship with time. I’ll be right there with you.
Take Action! If the weekend is a time that you experience a time scarcity mindset, get out your calendar on Friday night and actually calculate how many hours you have available for leisure or to accomplish tasks that you want to achieve. Are you surprised about how much time you actually have?