Gaining Control of Your Time

Six Steps to Getting Control: Surviving in the Age of Overwhelm

I am a professional speaker. I speak, train, and consult all over the country, and in the past few years, I have seen a definite increase in the time challenges that everyone I meet and talk with seems to have. People are in pain. People are completely, utterly, miserably overwhelmed. No, scratch that. They are beyond overwhelmed. They are totally “whelmed!”

I am meeting lots of people who are swimming in the sea of time management and clearly drowning as evidenced by the following:

  • Clients calling in a blind panic because they “dropped the ball” on something and need last-minute help.
  • Parents attending their kid’s soccer game while checking email on their iPhones on a Saturday morning.
  • People calling into conference calls while they are on vacation.
  • People getting 100 to 300 emails per day.
  • Clients sending emails at midnight during the week and at any hour on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
  • People not returning calls for three weeks because they are “swamped.”

So how can you solve this dilemma of life balance and still keep your job? How can you meet the expectations of your company or organization and still meet the expectations of your loved ones or perhaps more important, yourself? Well, it’s never easy, but it’s getting even harder. So you have to be more proactive and make some effort to regain control. Carpe Diem—“seize the day!” As John Bon Jovi sings, “It’s your life.” Here are six suggestions to help bring sanity back to your daily existence.

Just Say “No!”

You have to learn to say “no” in a very nice way. Why don’t we? My theory is that we want to please others too much, or we want to avoid conflict. Maybe we are trying to lessen our guilt about something (for example, “I’m not a good Mom” or “I am an absentee Dad”), so we say “yes” to make us feel better. It is a temporary boost because when we say “yes” too many times, we are right back to the same issue: we can’t meet all our commitments.

I was recently asked to be an officer in an association to which I belong. I have to admit: this request really appealed to my ego, but I said “no” because I knew it would interfere with other priorities.

Set Your Priorities

Consider your goals. This gives you the opportunity to analyze any request you get and decide if it is aligned with your priorities. Then you have a sound reason to say “no.” So repeat after me: “I am sorry. I can’t help with that. I have some other current priorities, but I really appreciate your asking me.”

Train Your Boss

Your boss keeps giving you more and more work, and you keep accepting it. Because you are really good at it, you get rewarded by getting more to do. By accepting the additional work, you are training your boss to give you more. You don’t want to say “no” because saying “yes” reinforces your value and keeps you employed. Right? Yes and no.

Yes, you have to always reassert your value, but the knucklehead who sits behind you does half the work but for the same pay. You have missed five of your son’s last ten basketball games because you agreed to work on nine new projects and had to stay late. Where is the line? It has to be drawn somewhere.

Here is a “boss management” technique. When you are over capacity, make a list of all your projects and print it out. Go to your manager and say, “I know you want me to work on the Monkey Knuckle project. Here is a list of all the stuff I am working on. I can’t get them all done, so which one should I delay?”

Sometimes bosses don’t remember all they have given you to do. By showing them the list, they may be able to give you some relief and delegate some projects to other people like Wilson, who is sitting in his cubicle eating microwave popcorn.

Reconnect with Your Passions

Outside of work, do you love to paint? Take photos? Hike in the mountains? Go to Star Trek conventions? When was the last time you took part in the activities you love so much? If the answer is “not for a long time,” congratulations! You are caught up in the whelm.

I recently met a woman at a training class I was conducting who said, “Being outdoors is my joy; it completes who I am.” I asked her how often she gets to enjoy the outdoors, and her answer was “never.” Her reason was that she didn’t have time.

You don’t have time to restore your soul? Book time on your calendar with yourself, and keep the date. It makes you a better you and a better mother, father, son, husband, daughter, wife, employee. You will come back to work recharged and refreshed—guaranteed.

Take the Long-term View

Ask yourself what is really important in your life and work. There are not many people on their deathbeds who wish they would have done one more purchase order request form. They always say, “I wish I would have ______________” (fill in the black here). Ironically, it is almost never about a work topic.

So at the end, when you are looking back at the landscape of your life, what do you want to have accomplished? Consider this deep question and spend some time developing answers and actions you can take before it is too late.

Stop Overscheduling

We never leave any room on our schedule to just hang out and relax. A recent visit with out-of-town family in Virginia found us on Saturday in the car taking two kids to an endless stream of soccer practices, birthday parties, karate classes, etc. This went from 8:00 am to about 5:00 pm. It felt rushed, not relaxing; scheduled, not serene; and overdone, not authentic.

Block time on the calendar to do nothing. Guess what? Doing nothing when you have been working hard is good for you.

The bottom line is somewhat simplistic but true. It is your life, and you can either manage it, or have someone manage it for you; have a map, or have one provided for you that is not your own. It’s your car, dammit. Take back the wheel and drive! 

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