Getting Stuff Done (A Kind Guide for the Time Poor)

Almost all of us would like to do more than we currently have time for. I’m somebody who gets a lot of stuff done, but there are still far more things I’d love to do than there are hours in the day. Plus I don’t have children, relatives I have to care for, long commutes or other things taking up my time before I get to do the things I’m passionate about.

Often, lack of time is a reason why we don’t embrace the changes we’d like to make. Changing habits and learning new skills doesn’t happen overnight.

But are we really time-poor? Or do we just think we are?

Being Time-Poor: What Does it Mean and What Can We Do About it?

Time-poor means not having time to do everything we’d like to do, or not having spare time. Clearly, we all have the same 24 hours in the day, but I’m not going to tell you that just because you have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyonce, you should be achieving your dreams. Let’s get real here. I’m pretty sure she can pay a nanny, and a cleaner, and a PA.

The way I see it, the way we spend our time can be divided into three:

Things that we have to do.

Things that we feel we should do.

Things that we do because we want to do them, and because we enjoy them.

Then there’s the long list of things we’d like to do, if only we had the time.

The question is, is it possible to change this? And more importantly, do we want to?

One technique I find very helpful for deciding if I’m prioritising my time well, is to divide a piece of paper into two columns, and on one side write down all the things that I love to do, want to do, and that make me happy.

Then, in the other side I write down how I actually spend my time.

I look at the two columns, and see how much similarity there is. If the two columns don’t match, I start to look at what I’m currently doing that I could maybe change, in order to make time for things that I do want to do.

The Things We Feel We Should Do

The easiest ones to look at are those things that come under the “feel like I should do” category. These aren’t things we actually need to do, but maybe feel obliged to do, or have continued to do even though the passion has gone.

Can we actually say no, or turn some things down, in order to create space?

Can we seek help from someone else to do these things in order to free up time?

The Things We Need To Do

These are the non-negotiables, like eating, working and sleeping. Whilst they might be necessities, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to tweak things.

Can we batch cook meals and then freeze them to save time? Can we take the train or bus to work rather than driving, so that we have time to read? Can we actually get up when the alarm goes off rather than dozing for another 45 minutes?

Even small tweaks can free up a little time here or there, and it all adds up.

Appreciating Timeframes

In most cases, we can’t just make changes tomorrow. Maybe we realise that reducing our commute will free up time, but we need to find a new job closer to home before we can make the change. Maybe we realise that when our toddler goes to school we will have plenty more time, but we’re still two year away from this change.

It doesn’t matter, but it can be helpful to recognise that time isn’t static. If we’re frustrated now, we can appreciate that things won’t always be like this. Being ready for the change and doing what we can to make it happen sooner (if possible) might be all we can do for now.

Can We Make Time?

Making time can come down to whether we really want to do something, and are willing to put in the hard work, or whether we like the idea of something.

There’s nothing wrong with the latter. I love the idea of learning plenty of things, but I know I don’t have the motivation to pursue most of them…at least, not now. But I like storing these little dreams in my imagination, just in case the time ever comes. If not, it doesn’t matter. The possibility is enough. 

Think in Terms of Projects

When we feel time poor but really want to make changes, we can look at the change we want to make as a ‘project’. A project is something with a defined outcome and a defined timeframe. We can split it down into what we want to achieve, and how much time we think we need.

We can decide for a month, we will set the alarm two hours earlier. Or we can decide we will: give up TV for a month, switch off social media after 6pm, neglect the non-urgent housework, get takeaway two times a week to free up the evenings, get a babysitter.

These might not be sustainable, long-term solutions, but when we have a clear timeframe, we can make them work.

Particularly with learning new habits, it is the learning that takes time. Once they are ingrained and we don’t need to think about them, they take up much less energy.

Try Not To Get Distracted with ‘Busy’ Tasks

Nobody is too busy to tell you how busy they are. But is busy the same as productive?

Imagine an empty bathtub, and now imagine it filled with watermelons. It’s full, right?

Now imagine emptying a big sack of walnuts over the top of the bath. All those round walnuts fill in the spaces around the watermelons. They don’t come up over the sides. Now the bath is full.

Finally, imagine emptying another sack of poppy seeds over the bath, and all those poppy seeds make their way into the crevices and cracks between the watermelons and the walnuts. Now the bath is definitely full.

We can think of those watermelons, walnuts and poppy seeds as the tasks we fill our day with, and the bathtub as the day. Those watermelons are the projects, or the big tasks we want to work on. The reality is, we need to set time aside for these bigger tasks, or the smaller tasks (the walnuts and the poppy seeds) will fill up the whole day.

We can feel ‘busy’ when we occupy ourselves with small tasks, particularly the repetitive ones that constantly need doing. We can feel good about it too. Finishing small tasks gives us a sensory reward and a morale boost. But it often doesn’t get us any closer to achieving our big goals. Instead they suck our time.

Truth is, small tasks are small, and they are easy to fit in around other things. We will never tackle our big tasks unless we make time for them.

(That’s not to say we can’t make our big projects more manageable by breaking them down into small tasks, if they are small, one-off tasks towards a defined goal.)

Try Not To Compare Yourself With Others

We are all different. We all have different energy levels, and we all draw energy from different things. Some of us love our jobs and feel reinvigorated when we work. Some of us hate our jobs and feel like sitting on the couch for three hours afterwards. Some of us love our jobs, but find then emotionally or physically draining.

Some of us can do tasks quickly, and some of us are painfully slow. Some of us are fast learners, and others are not. Some of us have great memories, and some of us have to be reminded a billion times before it sinks in.

It often surprises people when I tell them that I can’t write quickly. But you’re a writer! Yes, but I can’t just churn out blog post after blog post. I like to take my time and craft my words, and think deeply about what I’m saying. I have massive respect for those people who write multiple articles every single day. That will never be me. (Oh, another home truth. I can’t even touch type!)

Just because someone else can do things in a certain way, or a particular time frame, that doesn’t mean we all can. Besides, often we don’t know the whole story. We don’t know how much support they have behind the scenes, or how much training they have in an area.

We also don’t know how much of a priority this is to them. It might not be such a priority to us.

See other people’s successes and triumphs as what they are – good things worth celebrating. They have nothing to do with you, and what you can achieve has nothing to do with them. Don’t let their achievements rob you of your own. Go at your own pace, and if you want to, you will get there.

I’d love to hear from you – what sucks your time? What would you love to do with a few extra hours in the day? How do you manage to get the important things done? Or what keeps you from getting them done? Any other tips you’ve found useful? Anything else to add? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

11 replies
  1. thefruggebeast
    thefruggebeast says:

    Another great read; the bit that really resonated was “Making time can come down to whether we really want to do something, and are willing to put in the hard work, or whether we like the idea of something.”

    Sometimes it can be surprisingly difficult to admit to yourself that something you thought you wanted, maybe you don’t actually want! I reached a similar clarity not long ago regarding where I direct my money (versus my time). I do really like to travel but I have realised that what I prefer is feeling secure in my finances, which gave me the freedom to leave my job last year to go freelance. Previously I couldn’t understand why I ‘never had enough money’ to travel as much as others so it was refreshing to realise/accept that actually I have just prioritised other things and that my choice is what works best for me :)

    Also, I’m happy that you invest in taking time to craft your words, because I really enjoy them!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Thank you! Our fantasy selves don’t just strike in the wardrobe department, it seems! Not only does my fantasy self like hot pink, she also wants to learn plumbing. The reality is, hot pink doesn’t suit me, and whilst I like the idea of knowing how to fix plumbing, I do not have the drive or determination to actually learn.

      Thanks for sharing your own experiences. It is such a great example. I actually find it a great relief when I realise something about myself like this. It makes me more comfortable, I think. I love the idea of living on the edge, but the reality is I’m too financially conservative to make it work. So rather than be jealous of others, or cross with myself, I allow myself to be in awe of others doing things that I might dream about, but would never actually do.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. cheliamoose
    cheliamoose says:

    Time is my biggest struggle. I find the balance between ‘simple living’ and simplicity challenging. I spend less time shopping than the average person, but there’s ALWAYS dishes to be done. After (full time) work, spending time with my husband and basic maintenance chores it often feels there’s not much time or energy for anything else! I’m far from having the answer on this but two things help. Questioning if I am consuming or creating (helps build the ratio of activities I’d like) and whether I can make it simpler (helps reduce the scale of an activity)

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Rachel, do NOT get me started on the dishes! Mentioning them is forbidden! Still, at least we spend less (no?!) time hauling rubbish to the kerb ;)

      The thing I find the most challenging is saying ‘no’ to things that I want to say ‘yes’ to. I have no trouble saying ‘no’ to stuff that I don’t want to do – but the other way round it is hard! Have you ever read a book called “Essentialism”? It had some good ideas in there that I really liked, that helped me prioritise.

      Thanks for your comment! :)

  3. rowinggranny
    rowinggranny says:

    Another wonderful and very helpful post. I really appreciate the amount of time you give to your readers. The reason I read your posts is because they are a good use of my time, there is no waffle to wade through and I always learn something new. So I am off to make a list now.
    The responses from thefruggebeast & cheliamoose are also helpful.
    So big thank you from me.

  4. Smruti
    Smruti says:

    To make the most of the time I have rules my thoughts most days. And then there are days I want to just sleep walk through the day. Thank God there are noble souls like you who have got it all sorted for someone like me who Googles a logical solution for daily roadblocks
    Thanks for making it look so simple…it made my day.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Smruti, thank you so much for your lovely comment! I think the key is remembering to take time out to assess things. Otherwise it can feel like we are sleep walking (or sleep running?!) through our days. Of course, we all get busy and distracted, but trying to come back to this has always helped me :)

  5. Paula
    Paula says:

    I am recently retired, a stressful job dealing with teenagers with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I find it hard to motivate myself to achieve my goals, there are many of them. Zero waste is a big thing I am achieving, but I struggle with my personal worth, lack of social contacts. Any suggestions? Confidence is diminishing daily.


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