If you’re anything like me, then you are very busy. Let’s be honest. Right now there’s just more things to do than time to do them in. There’s a lot of talk about how our lives are a lot busier than ever before. I honestly don’t think this is true. I think we were just as busy back in the settler days. The difference is the amount of individual tasks we have now. The things we did before took up our entire day. Individual tasks took a lot longer, so that meant consequently we could do fewer of them. Baking bread and cooking the meal might have taken an hour or two when you had to churn your own butter and make everything from scratch. Working in the field may have seemed slower because it was more of the same monotonous work, but it took the entire day to get it done.
I do think that there may be a “fun-size syndrome” at play in our society today. If you are a lover of candy bars, as my wife is, you will know they now come in a variety of sizes. When I was young, candy only came in one size, but now you can get full-size, king-size, minis, and fun-size. The idea of the fun-size came about when people were trying to lose weight and consequently stopped eating as much candy. Candy manufacturers were losing money. So they came up with smaller bite-size portions so you wouldn’t feel like you had to eat a whole candy bar in one sitting. They ingeniously called these “Fun Size” rather than, “This-is-the-only-size-you-can-justify-because-you’re-on-a-diet Size.” Now you could enjoy your favorite snack without the guilt of taking in so many calories and sugar. Sounds perfect, right? What could possibly be the problem? Well, the fun-size syndrome was created.
You see, your brain is funny in the way it processes data. Instead of your brain thinking, Man, I can still get great enjoyment out of the smaller size and eat less, it instead thought: Man, these are really small. I bet I could eat four or five of these and still not eat as much as a full-size. Because of this line of thinking, people inadvertently ate more than they would’ve if they’d just eaten one full-size candy bar. They fooled themselves into thinking they were doing less and it gave them permission to do more. I think this may be what our brains are doing with our to-do lists. Instead of having to carve out four hours to make biscuits from scratch, milk the cow and make butter for those biscuits, we have 27, 10-30 minute tasks allotted for that same four hours.
So the very first thing to be aware of when managing your time without going absolutely bonkers is realizing that there is a finite, fixed amount of time in your day. You cannot possibly do all the things on your to-do list that day. This small shift in awareness can make huge dividends in being more productive in your time management.
Here are two or three other helpful hints to manage your time without losing your mind.
Balance fixed constants with scheduled time for variable tasks.
It’s important to have fixed constants that you do every day or every week. These act as an anchor. Often people complain that they feel like they’re “all over the place” during the day and therefore get nothing done. Having a few things that you do every day that anchor the day will be important. This might be getting up and getting a shower directly or maybe it’s having your cup of coffee on the patio. Sometimes the task will be built into your schedule for you, like picking your kids up from school. Sometimes these will need to be intentionally built into your schedule especially if you work in an office without a set agenda every day.
The constants need to be balanced with the variable tasks. These are things that change from day to day. These are the things that suck up your time or make you crazy. Often, the amount of time needed for each will vary therefore making it hard to schedule. Fortunately, since you have already established your constants then this will give you a timeframe or structure in which to fit your variable tasks into. Remembering that you can’t get everything done every day will allow you to better filter what you expect to get done and when.
Account for transition and preparation time.
Often, we think in terms of the individual task we need to get done during the day. Time is hard to manage when we lose time within what we thought we had to work with. A great sucker of time is the transition from one task to the next, the preparation needed to do the task, or even driving time from one place to the next. It’s very common to be unaware of these factors when scheduling out your day. Managing time means managing all the things in your time. So, when trying to get things done during the day make sure you think intentionally about the time it will take to transition from one task to another or the preparation it will take to get your supplies ready to do the thing you need to do. This also includes cleanup time.
Try to finish one task before starting another.
When people feel like they are running 100 miles an hour and getting nothing done usually that isn’t actually true. In many cases you ARE doing a lot, however, this effort is spread out amongst many tasks. It feels like nothing is getting done because you’re not able to see the completion of any one task. So, it will be important to have bite-size things that you can complete and see before you start on another task. This isn’t always possible.
In the cases where it isn’t possible, make sure you’ve created road signs to let you know that you have accomplished something. For instance, traveling from Nashville to Atlanta takes a few hours. However, as the number of miles on the “miles to” sign posts get smaller your brain acknowledges a sense of accomplishment. You don’t experience the entire trip the same. As you get closer you feel more relief, because you know there is an end in sight. We always had a halfway point that we would stop to eat. Before we had this halfway stop the trip would seem like forever. But, once we finished eating, it felt like there wasn’t that much more. There were also landmarks as we entered the city that told us that we were getting closer and helped give a sense of relief.
Throughout all these tips, make sure you’re mindful of the fun-size syndrome. There will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. Most of these things will be good things. So instead of expecting the impossible to magically happen, set your expectations on the reality of the time you have in front of you. This will not only allow you to manage your time more effectively, it will also keep you from feeling like you’re constantly running up a hill and never reaching the peak.