It’s about 4 in the afternoon, and you’re beginning to realize that you are not going to get to everything you’d hoped to accomplish today. There’s simply not enough time left.
What are the thoughts that fly through your mind? Do you start feeling anxious, angry, or overwhelmed? Certainly, time management tools can help you maximize your time (think prioritizing, delegating, or letting some things go), but they don’t get to the heart of the problem.
In fact, it’s your emotions and the stories behind them that most strongly determine how you end up managing your time…. and ultimately how you experience your life relating to time. Here some common emotional time traps people fall into, how to avoid them, and how to transform your relationship with time!
Trap #1: ‘What Will Others Think of Me?’
By far the most common time trap is the fear of how others will react when they find out you haven’t completed what you promised.
What is your story about what will happen If you don’t meet the expectations of others? Will your boss or clients think you are irresponsible and fire you? Will your friends think you are flakey, lazy, or unreliable?
If you find yourself too often putting in extra hours to meet commitments, making excuses for missing deadlines, or feeling constantly anxious about what others might think if you don’t complete tasks, then time management techniques by themselves won’t give you the relief you need. What will help more is a strategy for managing expectations.
You may be familiar with the adage “always under-promise and over deliver.” Here’s how you can put that principle into action and make a habit of protecting your own time, while also maintaining healthy relationships.
1. Get very clear on why you are making commitments you might not be able to deliver on. Are certain deadlines being dictated to you, without an option to negotiate or push back? Are you automatically agreeing to things because you want people to be happy with you? Are you agreeing to do things that sound good at the time, without truly considering how long it will take?
2. Write a script to help you set more realistic expectations that honor your good intentions. Draft a few sentences that might work for you in the situations you commonly find yourself in.
a. If you want to be agreeable but the request isn’t reasonable – Create a brief scenario that postpones the deadline. You can use a script like this: “I’d love to get that done for you by Wednesday, but it will take twelve hours and we need ten hours to run payroll and another four hours to reconcile our books. Once we complete our reconciliation on Wednesday morning, I could devote the rest of that day and Thursday to this project and have it to you by end of day Friday. Will that work for you?”
b. If you have a pattern of getting caught off guard by delays and then running late – give yourself buffer room when making commitments. Effective software programmers and construction managers often double or triple their project timeline estimates up front to accommodate unpredictable but commonly occurring delays. This gives them buffer room so they can stay on time when problems come up, and also allows them to delight customers with an early completion date when all runs smoothly.
3. Develop a system for keeping people posted. Make a list of the people who you want to make sure you don’t let down. Then develop a habit of proactively sending update messages that adjust their expectations on a regular basis. For each person and situation, you may adopt a different approach, but err on updating more often than you believe is needed. If you don’t want to bother them – keep it short. I have many clients who send nightly updates to their bosses or clients with a short status update on anything that might be wondered about. This proactive communication gives you buffer time, and more importantly, allows you to sleep at night knowing that nobody is out there angry with you for not delivering.
Trap #2: ‘Why Don’t Others Support Me?’
If your primary emotion is anger and resentment when you realize you won’t finish what you wanted to, you may be caught in a very different time trap that comes with the story that you can’t count on others. Whether you get angry because others don’t do their fair share, don’t offer to help, or just don’t do things right, this time trap has a very different cause and a different solution.
Usually the anger and resentment you feel towards others is actually a response to an earlier decision you made in your own mind about what must happen. The people you depend on don’t seem to share the same sense of urgency, standards, or beliefs. So, you fall into a power struggle, essentially trying to “make them” live up to your expectations, and continuously feeling disappointed. In this case, a time management technique will not give you the support you need, but a strategy that helps you get buy in from others might.
Here are some steps you can take to get more buy-in and support from others:
1. Get very clear on what you believe has to happen. Write it down. And then write down why it has to happen. Get really honest with yourself. Question your motives and challenge your thinking. Make sure you are crystal clear on your “why.” It should be compelling, purposeful, exciting to you, and most important, likely to be exciting to others.
2. Schedule a time to sit down with the key people whose support you need. You don’t need to be the boss or have any authority over them, and it doesn’t matter if you meet in a group or with one person at a time. What is important is you share with them why YOU are excited about making this important thing happen, and then ask for them to share their thoughts and ideas. Use your passion about the goal and translate it to the group, so others get engaged!
If they don’t agree with you right up front that’s okay. Listen to what they think. At least you’ll learn what the ‘agreement gap’ is and this gives you something to build on. See if you can find a mutual purpose. When people have a common goal, it’s easier to get buy in on specific actions that connect to that purpose.
3. Each person needs to know specifically what he or she can do to help with the effort. Don’t assume they should read your mind or automatically know. Simply state that in order for us to achieve the goal, these specific things need to happen. Then, depending on the situation or the relationship, make whatever agreements work for the group.
4. Frequently remind people of the “why.” Instead of constantly checking in to see if they did what they promised, remind them of how exciting it will be to achieve the goal. And ask how they’re doing and if they need any support from you. This is a subtle shift in energy that helps people feel more empowered, less micro-managed, and therefore less rebellious. The process of moving from an angry power struggle to empowering synergy takes time and may include some missteps along the way. But your patience will pay off, and with continuous effort, you should begin to feel relief. More importantly, you’ll begin to feel much more support in achieving your goals.
5. Remember, sometimes it’s okay to let go! When others fear your reaction to their mistakes, they will be less creative, less engaged, and take less initiative in their work. Their reluctance to “step up” can stem directly from your attachment to having things go a specific way. Asking yourself in advance how you will handle it if things don’t happen the way you expect, and how you can still benefit, no matter the outcome, can completely change your energy, and also encourage others to get more engaged and take more initiative to support you.
Trap #3: “Who Am I If I’m Not Productive?”
This very common and very personal time trap is more about identity than time. Many people get a sense of self-worth and personal value from what they see themselves accomplish each day. Therefore, anything relating to productivity takes center stage, even at the expense of life balance.
Do you ever find yourself feeling utterly overwhelmed, wanting others to see and appreciate how hard you work and how little sleep you get? Yet every time they do appreciate you it seems to fall flat? If so, you may be caught in the self-worth time trap.
As with the other traps, the solution doesn’t lie in getting more done each day. In this case, it lies in how you feel about who you are as a human being, regardless of what you get done.
The core feeling that signals this time trap is personal shame, and the story behind it is some version of “I’m only good enough (or worthy or valuable) if I get everything done.”
The problem is that if you don’t believe you are good enough at your core, and you believe you have to get everything done to be good enough, then you will never feel like you have everything done. So as soon as you stop working, that emptiness will creep back in and you’ll feel restless and unable to enjoy relaxation time. You may feel good temporarily after you’ve had an especially productive day, but it never lasts long, because there is always a new list, and more of “everything” to get done.
If you fall into this time trap, then what will serve you best is to learn and practice deep self-acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness.
Here are a few baby steps you can take, which will allow you to move toward improving your feelings of self-worth and your ability to just ‘be’…. separate from your productivity:
1. Pay attention to your self-talk. Write down what you say to yourself about yourself, especially when you are having an unproductive day. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, seeing it in writing could give you pause, and allow you to question whether or not these things are really true about you.
2. At the end of every day, force yourself to write a list of at least three meaningful things you accomplished that day, why they were important, and why getting them done makes you proud. You may find yourself resisting this at first, because part of this time trap mindset is focusing only on what did NOT get done, (and you’ll always be able to find something). But if you create this habit of self-acknowledgement, you’ll notice you feel much better.
3. Do some self-discovery work, such as coaching, reading, or taking a class or an assessment that is designed to help you get to know yourself better. The goal is to discover who you really are, what you value, and how you are much more than what you do each day. You can take this work as far as you’d like, even seeing a therapist or a psychologist. But you don’t have to go super deep to start seeing results. Even reading a book could get you started. Here are some books I recommend:
a. Total Self-Confidence, by Dr. Robert Anthony – Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2Q5lfUB
b. The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck – Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2Q8UApL
c. Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach – Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2NZTh9S
d. I’m Okay You’re Okay, Thomas Harris – Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/2NWrLdu
e. The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz – Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/32Bf0ZV
Time traps can be confusing on the surface. They seem to be about not having enough time, so the first solution we think of is to take a time-management class or come up with a way to be more productive. But, especially when the frustrations you have with time seem to repeat despite your best efforts, you are usually dealing with a deeper fear or issue. As you resolve the deeper issue, you’ll find that you’ll actually use the time management tools and techniques that you learn, and that’s when you’ll experience a real change in your productivity.
In our group coaching program, we include tools, classes and coaching to provide tangible short-term wins. At the same time, we identify and resolve those deeper issues so that you can reap more significant and lasting benefits.
If you’d like to learn more about the tools we use here at Nahid Coaching and Mentoring around time management, please contact us for a free consultation.