Let’s get stuck into that key word we’ve all heard: time management.
Now I have no doubt those two words will have divided you all fairly quickly. We’ll have group 1 that are going ‘Yay! Something to help me be more productive!’, and group 2 that are more like ‘Yawn… Reading blogs is meant to be fun and not remind me of all the things I don’t have time to do…’. Recognise which group you automatically fall into, read into it what you will. Let me rephrase my focus. I’m going to tell you how to fit in everything you want to into your week. I’ve picked this topic because it’s the question I’ve been asked most frequently over the months…
‘Cat, how do you have time to read so many books..?’
‘Cat, when do you find time to sleep?’
‘Cat, how are you doing everything?’
And the short answer is, I manage my time (and I don’t do everything, I promise).
I think most people go wrong with time management in one of two places. They’re either trying to do way too much and so, of course aren’t going to be able to fit it all in, or they’re falling for the myth of multi-tasking. Luckily for you, there are easy fixes for both of these time-stealers: prioritisation, and presence.
As we go about our lives, we all seem to be cursed to try and be superheroes. We try to do everything, and the bigger the goals we have, the more we try to do. Unfortunately, this never works and usually leads to burnout and that’s why all the coolest people prioritise. I’m pretty sure you all know what a priority is, and most of you probably know you should be prioritising better, maybe you just don’t know how. So here’s the cheat sheet: list everything you need to, want to, and think you should be doing. Do this for your day, or your week, or even your month if you want to be really organised.
Once you’ve exhausted your to-do list, grab three colours and allocate a colour for need, one for want, and one for should. Start with need. Go down your list and circle/highlight all the actions you need to do. These might be things like going to work, or doing the food shopping, or taking the car for its MOT. Things that, if you didn’t do them, your life would likely crumble around you. These are your must do’s even if they suck, top priorities.
Next, we have wants. These are the actions that fill you with excitement, passion, love, happiness, calm – all those positive emotions we want to be feeling. For me, this includes teaching karate, coaching, and reading. I can survive without doing these things, but it really wouldn’t feel like living if I cut them out. Remember, these actions need to manifest positive emotions. Maybe the want for the day/week/month is to watch your child’s nativity play, or to go and meet your best friend for coffee. Maybe it’s to watch an episode of a TV show you’ve been meaning to catch up with. It’s worth remembering that this is coming off your to-do list and so needs to be firmly planted in reality whilst also cultivating those feel-good emotions. We can goal-set and dream another time.These are your starred, will-fit-in-at-any-cost priorities. They only lose out to your needs.
Lastly, you’ve got your shoulds. Interestingly, in coaching I often find my client’s shoulds actually belong to someone else. They’ll tell me they should be going to their works Christmas party and then discover that’s actually the expectation their boss, or partner, or parent has set for them. So when you’re reviewing the shoulds in your to-do list I’m going to encourage you to cross them all out. Remember, you’re trying to be a super successful person here, you want to be able to get stuff done and feel proud of what you’ve achieved and happy in yourself. It’s impossible to do this whilst you’re trying to do everything everyone else expects of you. Cross them all out. If you find that there are one or two that you just can’t cross off for whatever reason, reassess them. Do they actually belong in need or want? You’ll probably find that they do. In case you’ve not realised, shoulds are your absolute lowest priority, and only get done if you find some very rare spare time that you don’t have a want to fill.
If you’re brutal with this process, I guarantee you’ll find yourself enjoying your life more. You will have more time to do what you love, and you’ll spend less time doing things that aren’t benefitting you. Take ownership of your decisions. You’ll have to learn to say no, of course, but you can do it in a way that keeps you in your power. For example, say that you’re not choosing to spend your time in that way right now, or that you’re choosing to spend your time on something else instead. Your time is just, if not more, valuable than your money. Say it out loud. My time is as valuable as my money. Good, we’re getting there.
The less acknowledged stealer of time is having a lack of presence. To be present is to exist and experience life in the here and now. It is to be out of the incessant chatter in your head, and fully in the situation you find yourself in. For the majority of us living in this technological world, this is actually really damned hard to practice. Try it! Set a timer on your phone for three minutes and close your eyes. Just listen to your surroundings and feel the sensations in your body and try not to think. When a thought arises, notice it but don’t attach to it, let it go. Keep doing this until the timer goes off.
Alright be honest, how many thoughts did you hear? I’m betting for most of you it was a lot – me too! The thing is, our brains do our most effective work when we’re present and fully tuned into the task at hand. That means we work both more quickly, and more accurately! But in the age of smart phones our attention spans are dwindling to nothing. How often do you sit down to do a task and find yourself checking your phone part way through? And how often do you try to do three things at once because you think it’ll get them done quicker? (Hint: it won’t). Luckily, over the last decade there have been more and more studies myth-busting the so-called benefits of multi-tasking. I imagine this won’t be the first time you’ve heard it said. But what does this mean for your time management?
A couple of months ago, a man on Instagram messaged me to ask, ‘how can I do well at school, be successful at karate, progress in my job, and have a healthy relationship at the same time?’. My answer is that you can’t. But you can have each in the moment that you are focusing on it. When you’re studying, only think about the material in front of you. When you’re training, put 100% into every movement. When you’re at work, do every task to the best of your ability. When you’re with your partner, love them in the best way you can, pay attention to them, be present. When you put your everything into whatever you’re doing as you do it, you will progress more quickly and you’ll enjoy the moment more. It’s science. So when you’re with your children, just be with them – work can wait. You get the idea.
It’s impossible to do everything, but it’s possible to make time for the priorities, especially when you’re making the most effective use of your time by being present. Yes, it’s difficult at first, you’ll have to stand up for yourself and defend your choices, you’ll have to tackle the onslaught of invading thoughts and emotions when you start doing what’s best for you and what you care about, but after a few months you’ll look back and think WOAH – I did all of that, rather than meeehhhh I didn’t do all of THIS! Pick what you really care about, and then go after it. Be both creative and ruthless with your time – it is your life force. Don’t waste another second.