Have you ever had the feeling that there is just not enough time to get everything done in a week?
There’s the basic demands of work and life. Then there’s your personal projects, hobbies and to do’s. Those busy group chats that you need to catch up with. Maybe even a pair of kids. And in between that you still need to find some time for relaxation. Not to mention getting started with that dream you’ve been procrastinating on.
When will you ever have enough time?
I hear you. Thoughts like these have been a recurring source of stress for me this year.
So how will you and I fix this …together 😉
I’m writing this in 2020 and most of us are in self quarantaine at the moment. That means we all have more time than usual. Even the people (like me) who continue to work have 100% of their social events cleared from their calendar, which saves up some time.
Yet this period is where I felt most strongly that I didn’t have enough time. Which of course proves that the feeling was completely self-induced.
I’m going to assume that you feel the same way to some degree (which is why you are reading this post 😉 ). And I can say with certainty that this feeling is based on false information.
In reality, there can never be “not enough” time. There can also not be “enough” time. Time just is. Whether it is enough or not enough, is an arbitrary value judgment that you decide to give it.
So what determines whether time is enough or not enough for you then? Only your expectations. Now keep in mind that these expectations are arbitrary as well: If you decide to be satisfied with what you got done in a day, week or month, you had “enough time”. If you decide you wanted to do more (whether it was actually possible or not), you will feel there was not enough time.
But as I said before. Time just is. It’s not here to meet your expectations. The time will never change. But our expectations can.
Now where do your expectations come from? Many things.
• Maybe your parents didn’t give us approval quickly.
• Maybe your boss pressures you because they also wrestle with the demon of “not enough”.
• Maybe you compare yourself to someone else whose Instagram only highlights some aspects of their life.
• Maybe your friends are projecting their perfectionism on you.
• Maybe you believe you are not good enough unless you meet some standard you had set for yourself.
Probably a mix of all of the above. At some point we decide that we need to do a certain amount of things in order to be satisfied with ourselves and that “demand” gets put on our time. Whether it’s actually possible to achieve it or not.
But in reality there is no good reason to do this.
We never complain about “not having enough arms”, “not having enough legs” or “not having enough genitals”. We just don’t put any expectations on ourselves to do stuff that requires more than the amount we have. Then why do we do so with our time?
Needs Vs. Wants
The language we use when we talk to ourselves has a big impact in how we form our expectations and stress ourselves out.
For example, today it’s Sunday. And I’m writing this blog post. I started writing it because I told myself “I still need to write my weekly blog post.”
Is that true though? Why would I need to? Only because I have decided that I would finish one post a week.But that decision was an arbitrary one I made myself.
The reason I haven’t written one yet is because I’ve set the goal for myself to finish recording my first acoustic EP as a solo artist. So I was working on that. But why was I doing so? Only because I chose that goal for myself. There is literally no other reason it needs to happen.
Take a look at your to do list… How many things are on there that you think you still need to do?
If you are honest with yourself, probably very few.
Because after all, what do we really need to do but make sure that there is food on the table and shelter is taken care of (e.g. rent)?
All the other things are simply things we want to do. They have no deadline. There is no real time pressure. There is only “thought pressure”.
So what would happen if you changed the vocabulary of your thoughts? What if every time you find yourself saying “I still need to do this or that.”, you correct yourself and say “I would still like to do this or that.”
It’s only a small change from “I need to” to “I would like to”. But it makes your words a lot more truthful, and makes you become aware of who or what is really creating the stress you experience around time.
If you had infinite time, what would you spend it on? Probably on procrastinating 😉
All jokes aside, of course you don’t have infinite time. How much time do you have then? 168 hours in a week.
Now what if you were to make a budget of this time, just like you do with money?
Given that money debt can be paid back, but time debt can’t, it’s not a bad idea to monitor your spending habits.
STEP 1: Take care of your recurring payments.
Some things simply have to happen or you get in trouble. I’m talking about things like sleeping, making money, cooking, eating, doing the dishes, doing groceries, etc. Just like paying your bills every month, these things should be accounted for before you spend your budget on anything else.
If you discount these, how much of your 168 hours do you ave left?
STEP 2: Take care of your basics.
After your survival needs, come the basic needs that make a human happy and healthy. Things like exercise (even if it’s just biking to work) and spending time with your friends and loved ones. There are not many of these things, but they require a place in your time budget.
STEP 3: Look at what you have left
Let’s say that after discounting all these things, you have about 40-50 hours in your weekly budget left. Some of those hours you may be tired, but that’s another discussion. What do you generally spend that time on?
The first step, just like with a money budget is to cut out all the unnecessary spending. Is there anything you are spending time on that actually doesn’t make you happy?
For example, do you spend hours scrolling on social media sometimes? Do you hang out with people that get on your nerves? If there’s still any of those in your budget, you can cut them out to make room for other things.
The question here is: “If instead of time, I had to pay money to do these things, would I still do them?”
Considering that time is non-renewable and thus way more valuable than money, anything you’d answer “no” to can be cut out.
After you’ve done this, you will be left with the actual, realistic amount of hours that you have to spend every week to do the things you would like to do.
STEP 4: Prioritize
Now make a list of all the things you’d like to spend some time on each week and count the amount of hours they take. Discount this amount of hours from your time budget.
Chances are, that after doing this, you are still left with less than 0 hours. In my life that is the case. The truth is that there are more things I want to do every week than I have time for. I can hide from that truth and try to cram it all in a week. But there is no point in doing so as it will only stress me out needlessly.
Most people are way too optimistic about what they can achieve in a week. Yet another thing that causes us to set our expectations too high and create unnecessary stress for ourselves.
If you are in the same situation, the way out is to take some time to honestly assess what every thing means to you.
Of every task or project on your to do list, ask yourself: What does this mean to me? WHY do I think it is so important that I would let it get in the way of me enjoying some time off?
An interesting question to ask is: “If I were to die a week from now, is there any reason why I’d choose to do this thing over the other things I want to do?”
This question tells me that writing this blog post matters to me because it may help other people. It tells me that I want to finish recording my music because if I were to die, I’d love for people to be able to still have heard the songs. It also tells me that I want to spend enough time with my girlfriend, family and friends.
Those things are clearly more important in this moment to me than learning Spanish, watching the last season of Vikings or spending an extra hour a day practicing guitar. Even though I would love to do all those things.
It’s not that the other things are not important to me. But there is literally no reason why everything has to happen RIGHT NOW.
If you take an honest look at your list, how many of the things on there are actually so urgent you wouldn’t want to die not doing them? Are there any other things that would be more important to you if you were to die next week (like telling your family and friends you love them)? Maybe those things should come first then 😉
Figure out those few things that truly matter to you and plan them in first. Then throw your to do list in the trash and write a new one that says “would like to do”. (My personal one is called “the endless list of seemingly important things I’ll probably never do but that’s okay”).
All the other things can go on this “would like to do” list. Then whenever you truly find yourself with nothing to do, you can look at that list and do one of those things. Or just do nothing instead.
If you ever find yourself stressed out about not having enough time to do these things, remind yourself that you have calculated exactly how much time you had. And that you are currently using it in the best way possible, spending it on what makes you happy. So you have enough time.
If you don’t think that is true, if you think something on that “would like to do” list would make you happier than you are now, then fine. Assess it honestly. Look at everything you’re doing right now. Does any of that mean LESS to you than the thing on your list? Great. Then scratch it off your schedule to make time for the new thing. But never add anything without removing something, or you’ll find yourself in the same stressful situation again.
STEP 5 (optional): Log your time.
There may be things that matter to you that you are not making time for. Sometimes these things will happen anyway, because they matter. Things like taking time off, or making time for a friend who’s feeling bad.
At the start of this year, I started updating my schedule at the end of the day to how I actually spent it.This taught me a lot about what those things are. Now I can keep time free for them in my schedule.
It may sound a bit over the top, but I’ve found it a very helpful thing. Those things will happen any way. So if you don’t account for them, your time budget will be inaccurate.
You can compare this as the “time equivalent” to those moments you spontaneously have a few drinks with your friends. It’s not a lot of money, but if you don’t make space for it in your budget, you’ll run into problems at some point.
I’ve found that one of the things that often adds pressure to my schedule is saying yes to things friends ask of me. It’s not that I don’t want to do these things. It’s just that if I say yes to 5 small tasks for 5 friends, that’s already 5 hours in my budget that weren’t there.
The reason it adds pressure is because once I’ve said yes, I of course don’t want to let them down. But at the same time, I don’t actually have the time. So I need to postpone something else for it.
A good way to avoid this is to always start with “No” when somebody comes up with a new task (including when that somebody is yourself). That doesn’t mean saying no right away. But thinking about it first:
• “Do I have time for this?”
• “Is there any reason why I should not say no?”
• “If this person was asking me to give them some money instead of time, would I still say yes?”
A reason not to say “no” could be that you are the only person that can help them and it’s urgent. That this person matters a lot to you, or simply that you have nothing more important to do.
But it’s better to say no by default. Is this selfish?
Saying yes too quickly can make you less dependable. If you only say yes when you know you have time to do it, people will at least know they can count on you. If you have trouble saying no to people, feel free to inform them of this.
Honestly, this is something I haven’t mastered yet myself. I still have 3 pending tasks on my plate that I promised to do for other people when underestimating the amount of time they would take.
But it is worth to get into this habit, as it will make it easier for both your friends and yourself to trust in you.
What if you have a boss making unreasonable demands on you?
It can be a bit more tricky to say no to a deadline due to the hierarchical nature of the relationship. But it’s worth communicating this idea to them.
I don’t think any decent employer would complain about you wanting to become more trustworthy, dependable and accurate with your estimate of deadlines. What’s the point in saying yes to deadlines if you won’t achieve them any way?
If your boss is not willing to be realistic about time, then at least you offered. But since you did these exercises, you are now aware that the demands put on your time at work are unrealistic. Within that framework, you can continue to realistically make optimal use of the time you have at work.
Putting It Into Practice and Making More Time
Even when you do all this, you may still find that after a few weeks you still want to cram more tasks in your day than are possible to do.
It may not as easy for you as I make it sound. I’ve been going through this cycle every month. I decide to clear out my schedule and get realistic. But then the demon of time continues to chase me from ehm… time to time. And I end up filling everything up with new projects again.
But when that happens, you simply catch yourself and apply the tips from this article again. Remind yourself that the pressure you put on yourself is not real. Whether it comes from wanting to keep up with the culture around you or from your own refusal to be happy with what you’ve done in a day doesn’t matter. You are only creating it for yourself, and it doesn’t serve a useful purpose. So it’s time to let go of it again 😉
What other options do you have?
A. Lie to yourself about the nature of time and live with unnecessary stress. That’s about it 😉
B. Appreciate the actual amount of time you have and spend it in a way that makes you most happy.
While you’ll never be able to increase the quantity of time you have, you are always able to increase the quality. And that’s what option b gives you.
Not just by spending it productively or pleasurably, but by being more mindful and present with the actual thing you’re doing.
Getting out of the “rushed” lifestyle of racing with the clock and instead “slowing down” the pace with which you do things is actually the closest thing you can do to increasing the amount of minutes you have in a day. Because your relative experience of those minutes will make them seem longer.
But anyway, I really have to go do something urgent right now so talk to you later, kay? Bye.