Time has become one of the most important commodities. We’ve all said it some or other time… ‘If only there were more hours in the day’. What is the relationship we hold with time? We may tend to over- or underestimate how much time we have.
Having a chronic feeling of not having enough time and hurry sickness or chronic time urgency can increase stress levels and even induce feelings of anxiety. Having realistic notions of time and managing our time effectively can significantly reduce our stress and/or anxiety levels:
Examine your limiting beliefs about time
Pay attention to your mental chatter when you are feeling stressed about not having enough time and you will soon access the underlying limiting beliefs. The conversation in our heads directly impacts our stress levels. Examples of limiting time beliefs include, ‘I can only have fun when I have ticked all the tasks on my list’; ‘I must be productive all the time’; ‘I feel upset and anxious when I have not finished a task’; ‘Downtime is a waste of precious time’. Once you’ve identified your limiting time beliefs, actively challenge them, rescript into rational beliefs and catch yourself whenever you default to the limiting beliefs.
Do you procrastinate?
Common limiting beliefs related to procrastination include ‘I work better under pressure’, ‘It’s too difficult, I am going to fail at it’, ‘I don’t know how to do it, so I’ll just pretend it’s not on the list’, ‘I hate doing (admin)’. In reality, tackling the unpleasant or difficult task first is the best way to manage your time. In this way you will be able to spot knowledge/skills deficits with enough time to remedy these and get the job done. Unpleasant tasks followed by easier more enjoyable tasks also leaves one with a feeling of accomplishment and means that that underlying niggling, ‘I know I still have to do ____’ can be discarded.
There are things that we do automatically and simultaneously like breathing and dressing, eating and watching TV, doing the dishes while talking to someone. However, the multitasking is not a great idea when performing tasks that require concentration and focus. When we attempt to multitask with more complex tasks, our brains have to switch between the rules of the different tasks leading to what we call task switching. Task switching can slow productivity by up to 40 percent. It also negatively affects our ability to retain new information and can also result in making more mistakes.
Prioritise and schedule everything
Haphazardly approaching tasks can cause feelings of overwhelm. Make a to-do list. Be specific and use a prioritising system. The ABC technique where A is for urgent tasks, B is for tasks that are important but can receive attention after the A’s are done, and C’s are for tasks that can wait a day or two, is an example of a prioritising system. Once tasks have been prioritised, schedule them. Use a diary system and remember to be realistic with what is achievable. Watch out for those unrealistic expectations of self and limiting beliefs about time. Scheduling tasks according to how much energy and focus they require according to our own rhythms of high and low energy times can significantly improve time management.
Set internal and external boundaries
Internal boundaries include managing distractions like scrolling on social media and ensuring blocks of uninterrupted time to facilitate focus. External boundaries could include having clear available and unavailable times and learning to tactfully and assertively say ‘No’ when demands exceed available time. Express a willingness to re-evaluate requests as your time availability changes.
Maximise your efforts
Break larger tasks into smaller ones and tackle smaller tasks to maximise focus. Work in chunks of time by setting a phone alarm or downloading useful apps that have these functions. Take short break between completing tasks with a simple stretch at your desk. Schedule downtime for exercise, relaxation and time with loved ones preferably away from screens. Short breaks and longer downtime allow our minds time to rest and recharge so that we have more mental and physical energy and sharper focus for efficient completion of tasks.
Effective time management decreases stress levels and improves overall wellbeing and mental health. Improving your relationship with time will inevitably lead to an improved sense of personal control and better work and health outcomes.
This article was originally published in Arabian Business in July, 2021.