Once upon a time (not that long ago), I had a to-do list that was three pages long.
I was working a big job, travelling for work regularly, commuting two hours a day, actively mentoring, and moonlighting as a coach.
Did I mention I was also in a relationship? At least I was trying to be in my relationship (though, it’s the only thing that wasn’t on my to-do list). You try being the best girlfriend when you work until 10pm every night, and see how that goes…
Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale…
Sure, it was a problem that I was busy, but the bigger issue was that I was resentful of everyone. My boss, my colleagues, my friends, my family, and, yes, my boyfriend.
And when I was not busy cherry picking what I was willing to do from my list (a.k.a. procrastinating), I got “overwhelmed” and started feeling bad about all that I wasn’t doing.
It was like groundhog day: I’d optimistically overcommit in the morning, meander through my day with little boxes actually ticked, work ‘til all hours to make up for all I avoided earlier, then be an asshole to my boyfriend when I finally wrapped up.
It was oh-so hard to be me.
Until I realized my biggest problem: no one in my life felt taken care of or loved by me… not my team, not my boyfriend, and especially not myself.
And that’s when I found my first HG Coach.
When she got wind of my to-do list, she told me to rip it up. I was stunned, not to mention reluctant. She also had the audaciousness to ask me to leave work regularly by 6pm. Can you believe it??? I couldn’t. I fought her on that point and, honestly, almost fired her (Hi, Marnie!).
Luckily I woke up to the fact that I was heading toward burnout so fast that I had nothing to lose in trying something new. I stopped the arm wrestling and let my coach hold my hand.
Together, we designed a set of rules to help me manage my schedule. Magically, the curse of my never-ending to-do list was lifted and suddenly I had more time in my days.
Here are the four rules I swear by, even today:
Rule #1: Put everything into your calendar.
I had to accept that there are 24 hours in a day – that is it. Everything I want to do in the day has to fit in that window.
My calendar is my time accountant. It never lies! It always tells me exactly what is possible, what will happen, and what will not happen. If you try to keep it all in your head or even just a few things in hope that “you’ll find the time,” you are living in a delusion (don’t shoot the messenger!).
Magic is totally possible with time, but the math still has to add up.
Rule #2: Be realistic and tell the truth.
I had to get real about all the stuff on my to-do list I was not (read, never) going to do. I also had to tell the truth about the shit on my list that I was using as a cover (read, making myself busy to avoid dealing with real-life challenges like my relationship).
Mostly, we either overestimate or underestimate the amount of time something actually takes. I tracked myself for a week and learned how long it really took me to get ready in the mornings.
Here are some general rules that have really helped me:
- Routine tasks that require no travel should take no more than 15 to 30 minutes to complete, if you are singly focused on completing them. And the better you get at just doing what you need to do on time, without hesitation or distraction, this will easily become 5 to 15 minutes tops.
- New tasks will generally take longer due to a learning curve involved, and depending on the scale of the task you should plan for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Build in time for travel, breaks, and emergencies.
- Put a time limit on yourself, 1 hour of email a day, etc. Set a timer if you need to.
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Rule #3: The One-Touch Rule.
Opening an email, reading it, and then doing nothing about it is just a complete waste of time, because you will have to read it again and do something about it the next time (or the third time) you read it. Same with opening mail, not listening during a meeting, etc.
Therefore, if you are going to touch it, only ever touch it once!
Only open email when you have the time to read and respond. Only attend a meeting if you are going to get everything you need to know in the meeting by listening, and therefore only need to take action after the meeting.
Rule #4: Do one thing at a time, aka Quality not Quantity.
Most multitasking is a lie. If you are someone who, like me, struggles with time, do NOT attempt to “multitask” as it adds to your problem of “not having enough time.”
Mostly, when we do two things at once, we do neither of them fully, efficiently, or effectively, and therefore we are forced to do those tasks again at some point, giving ourselves double work and/or winding up “feeling bad” that we didn’t pay enough attention in the moment. The result: we wind up in the “quantity not quality” – a complete time suck.
Note: Traveling IS a good time to multi-task, so double up – respond to emails, meditate, read, organize your calendar, etc. while on the subway, in a car, on a plane. Otherwise, be singly focused, do what you are doing in the moment fully, efficiently, and effectively.
These are the rules I learned to live by, first as a client and now as a Senior Executive Coach at HG. Now, I very rarely feel overextended or overworked – and if “overwhelm” starts creeping in, I know how to catch it and what to do about it. How’s that for a happily ever after?