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.
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!