Get more time in your life by taking time away.
When I was a young mom, my husband’s 90 year old Sicilian grandmother would stay with us in the summers. Anyone who has a Sicilian grandmother understands that there a hundreds of stories I could tell about these times. She was a force to be reckoned with, a force that thought everything needed a “little” olive oil.
Sharing my kitchen with her was an education all its own. Every dinner time (EVERY dinner time) she would watch me with her eagle eye and wait for her moment. Then, when I would least expect it, as I was sauteing vegetables or cooking meat, she would come over and wedge her 4 foot 10 inch body between me and the stove. It was a clever side step, gently led by her elbow and followed by the olive oil. No words spoken, the silent movement with the stealth of a navy seal. And then, the surprised look of interest when I would ask if she wanted to cook the food (and yes, I always asked ahead of time if she wanted to).
The woman knew what she wanted, how she wanted it done, and when she was going to do it. She had the focus of experience and the drive of a woman who had lived through 2 world wars, the great depression, cancer, and the loss of her only child.
So what does this have to do with having more time in your life? It’s all about focus and desire. We run around, at the mercy of our obligations and to-do lists on a hamster wheel of our own making. How can we get more time and still do all the things? We use Parkinson’s law (which is actually a psychological observation and not a law at all).
This is the idea that work expands to fill the amount of time allotted for it, if you allow 3 hours it takes 3 hours, if you allow 5 days it takes 5 days.
So how do we use this to our advantage? Deadlines can keep us engaged, IF the deadline isn’t too far away. Think of the papers you had to do in college, whether you started it way in advance or 10 hours before it was due, it got done just in time.
Right, right, right, but HOW DO I GET MORE TIME?
By limiting your time, creating mini deadlines, you can get your brain to work for you and not against you. You can get more done, faster, and with time to spare. Hooray!
So how do we limit our time?
Step 1: Make your to-do list
I am pretty sure you already do this, most busy people do. So congrats, you are one step closer to having more time. A pro tip is to do a master list at the beginning of the week so you can put it all down and see it as a whole. Don’t forget to put free time on the list (yes, I am serious).
Step 2: Schedule your time
Before we even get too crazy about limiting our time for any specific task, we have to set a time. This can’t be some ambiguous, free flowing to-do list. Not even if it is color coded. Making the list is an important step but many of us already have that down pat (and we know that unfortunately, having the list doesn’t mean it’s going to get done).
Do you ever find yourself moving items from one list to the next…
without the satisfaction of taking that sharpie and drawing a line through it?
As the old adage says,
“Something that can be done anytime often gets done at no time.”
This basically sums up why putting an item on the list isn’t good enough. Once it is on the list, look at your day and pick what specific time you are going to do it and how long it will take. This isn’t about restricting yourself (which I am definitely NOT proposing) but about giving yourself MORE time; taking control of your day so you can feel awesome at the end of it. You move faster when you don’t have unlimited time. How long does it take you to make coffee and lunch before work vs. on your day off?
Step 3: Do what you say you are going to do
If step 3 is tough you may need to remind yourself when the time comes (and you don’t want to do something) that you are proud of being a person who does what they say. I’ve had to tell myself this every time I have taken the stairs today. By the 6th flight it is almost a chant.
I’m a person who follows through.
I’m a person who does what they say.
I’m a badass for taking the stairs (the badass part didn’t come in until the 3rd time I hit the 5th floor).
When in doubt, engage a mantra for good measure.
Of course there are obstacles to scheduling specific time and following through. To really be successful, watch out for these pitfalls.
Obstacle #1: Changing the rules.
Remember playing Monopoly as a kid? Without fail as the game went on, negotiations would start to change the rules mid game.
What’s funny is, we still do this. Have you ever been to a barbecue and someone pulls out the cornhole set? Teams are assigned and everyone starts playing “for fun”. It’s 0-7 when someone starts subtracting points for the bean bags that landed on the board from opposite teams. Inevitably someone else starts with, “that’s how we’re playing?” We all pretend to be calm but that little seed of frustration comes in. Why are the rules changing? Or better yet, why didn’t we establish rules at the beginning?
The crazy thing is, we do this to ourselves every day. We rob ourselves of the joy of finishing a task because we change the rules AS WE ARE DOING IT. And then we wonder why we are frustrated. If you think you don’t do this, let me give you an example.
I make a schedule and tell myself that I really need to get all these things done. And I start out fine. I fold the laundry and throw in another load before I run to the store. While I am in the laundry room I see that one of my lovely children has rooted through the cabinet looking for something and left the cabinet open and the basket of goggles and ace bandages all over the place. So I decide to take 2 minutes and throw it all back in the cabinet (we will discuss holding children accountable another day). But while I put everything back in the box I realize that we probably don’t need 15 old ace bandages and half the goggles need to be cleaned. Better to just go through the ace bandages and clean the goggles now, right?
NOOOOOOOOO. Do not change the rules mid game!
This will result in everything getting shifted and ultimately not everything getting done. Then the frustration will come in, the sneaky “why can’t I get anything done?” thought. Because I changed the rules without even realizing it. I can’t be a person who does what I say I am going to do if I keep changing what I say.
This is a helpful place to engage the 2 minute rule. If it takes under 2 minutes (throwing everything back in the cabinet) go ahead and take a quick pit stop. If it takes more than that, put it on the list and schedule it for when you want it done and have time to do it.
Obstacle #2: Multitasking
Do one thing at a time! The glory of multitasking has gone the way of the non-fat diet. Science doesn’t support it anymore. By doing more than one thing at a time not only do you lose out on the satisfaction of ever being done, but you waste really crucial brain energy (and time) shifting focus. Catching yourself when you try to do this is the first step to recovery.
Obstacle #3: Competing unexpected obligations
So you have your list, your schedule, and your time allotted…and something unexpected comes up. This can happen but the first question should be, “Is it crucial that this new item get dealt with right this second or can I schedule it another time? Question two, “if I do this right now, when am I rescheduling what I had already planned to do?” . Question three, “If I choose to change my plan is this what I really want to do?” If you find this happens frequently, maybe you plan some catchup time into your day. But keep in mind, you are a person who does what you say you are going to do. Be intentional if you choose to change your plan.
Obstacle #4: Fooling yourself that this is restrictive
A lot of people don’t like the idea of “being tied to a schedule.” These are the same people who struggle to have enough time. If this thought comes up for you, remind yourself that you can set this up however you want. Nobody is forcing this on you.
Follow the schedule and
stop wasting your time figuring out what to do next.
Once you realize how great this works you can up your game and see what tasks you can shrink the time you allow for it.
If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.
Tell yourself when the last minute is going to be.
Then the really fun part comes in, the list is complete, you honored you plans to yourself, AND NOW YOU GET TO DECIDE HOW TO SPEND THE REST OF YOUR TIME!
So take the focus, drive, and wisdom of the 90 year old Sicilian grandmother to elbow your way into your day get what you want. Anything else is just wasting time.