In the struggle to manage our lives and accomplish our dreams—on schedule— time seems like the enemy. We fight the clock and try to “manage” time, as if we had any say in the way the minutes and hours pass. The sense of time pressure in my professional and personal life has its roots in my relationship with time: It seems there is just never enough of it.
I often feel that I should be moving along to some other task, right now! My attention shifts, and I’m no longer fully focused on what I’m currently doing.
If stop to make deliberate choices, in that moment, and in my overall planning, I can take back control of my time, and avoid fragmenting my focus. You can, too. Even though there are many demands, we can be the author of our days, and write them to spend our time well.
I’ve seen the unpleasant effects of an overactive “time pressure gauge” when I coach executives: People experiencing extreme time pressure feel like they are losing track of their lives, not just their time.
- They feel like a “human doing,” rather than a human being
- Their world is run by obligations, due dates, and scrunched schedules
- They feel constantly rushed
- They don’t feel well, physically
Time pressure can rob us of being present. Rushing to complete “to do’s” can become overbearing as if nothing else mattered. We can shift this. We can choose to improve our relationship with time. Instead of battling the constraints of time, we could embrace them, and integrate them.
Limited time creates compelling reasons to take care of what is most important to us—to define and live our values sooner, rather than later.
Here are ideas for befriending time in ways that support personal and professional aims:
Value Your Time.
Are you spending your time doing what you value? Make changes so that you spend more time on what matters most.
Steve Jobs addressed the Stanford graduating class of 2005 and planted this thought: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”
If the answer is “No” for too many days in a row, it is time to change something.
Prioritize Your Tasks.
Many of us begin the day with little or no plan for exactly how we’ll spend our time. More often than not, this leads us to spend our time responding to emails and incoming requests, making little or no headway on our own tasks. The day quickly ends with the feeling that nothing has been accomplished.
By taking a few moments to consider what tasks, relationships, or ideas truly need your attention, and setting aside time to focus on them, you can end the day knowing that your time was well utilized.
Just Let Go.
Letting go is counter-intuitive for most of us, but it has two rewards: it allows others to step up to the challenge, and it preserves our energy for higher priority items.
After a long-term illness, I viscerally understood running out of bandwidth, and had to preserve my attention for the thoughts and actions that were most meaningful.
My grandmother, a compulsive worrier for most of her life, inspired me when she began saying to me at 92, “I just can’t worry about that anymore.” And she simply stopped. She just let go of the worrying, and focused on more important things.
Be in the Moment.
Being present is a state of mind. Notice when you find yourself anxious about the future or displeased with something past; then stop and remind yourself to come back to the present.
Re-engage with what’s happening in your interior. Find yourself again. Bring your full focus into noticing how you feel, how you are sitting, where you are in your space. Breathing. Even just a moment of being present helps us take more thoughtful action.
Recognize and Maximize Discretionary Time.
Most professionals have a fair amount of discretionary time each day that can be put to use on their behalf. Notice how much of your day is truly committed and where there is flexibility for you to select where to focus your energy.
How are you choosing to spend your lunch time and transitions between activities? Recognizing and using this unclaimed time between commitments creates the opportunity to support our peace of mind.
Take a Micro Vacation.
Even in the chaos of the workplace, it is possible to slow the pace and rest for a bit.
Stop doing for just a moment. Press the pause button. Look out the window, or at a photo, or something that makes you feel good. If possible, take a 5 minute walk to rejuvenate yourself and enjoy the fresh, outdoor air.
Calm your mind, refresh your energy, and connect with your timeless inner resources.
As a thought experiment, take a moment right now to imagine what it would be like if you had all the time you needed, all the time in the world…
How would your life be different? What would your morning be like? What would you do in the afternoon and evening? How would you handle your relationships with family, friends, and co-workers?
When I did this exercise, it took me just a brief moment to conjure up the image of leisurely starting my day, lingering in the shower, taking time for a morning walk. Breakfast allowed time for a nourishing meal and chatter with my kids. I wrote letters to neglected relatives and had lunch with a friend. I pictured handling all the clutter in my office, taking care of errands, and then relaxing in the midday sun. With unlimited time, I could take a week off work each month to write, take some painting classes, and read good books. The image was very inviting.
Yet, as I imagined having enough time for it all, I heard a nagging inner voice whine, “But I’d never get anything done.”
Isn’t that fascinating? With the gift of all the time in the world, a part of me insists I wouldn’t get enough done! This achievement-oriented part of me doesn’t place much value on enjoying my time.
Can I value the part of me that wants to slow down, relax, watch my children at play, and read books, as well as the part of me that wants to have big accomplishments and change the world?
Of course! These different dimensions of ourselves are not in conflict, they can support one another like important stakeholders who work together to create good solutions for all. Creating room to breathe in my day enhances my productivity when I later return to doing. Making peace with time means doing what you believe and believing in what you do—whether you are relaxing at the beach or working late to get a project done. Calibrating closer to that vision, we make shifts, and re-evolve our plans, adjust our sails, and continue forward.
As you try out some of these strategies, let me know which one you found the most helpful by leaving a comment below. Or feel free to suggest what you have found most helpful to take control of your time.
Jessica Hartung is a partner, coach, and guide for those leveling-up their personal professional leadership, their teams, and their communities to a better future.
Jessica has a passion for inspiring and preparing people to grow from their work to improve their lives. In 1998, she founded Integrated Work, a consulting firm that brings top-notch professional development to mission-driven leaders, while being a learning laboratory for innovative work practices.
Jessica provides self-directed professional development tools to leaders at all levels striving to create positive impact.