Time is the absolute, unyielding limit of our lives. There is only so much of it, and we will always want to do and create more than we have hours for. For all of us, it's the frustrating cost of life.
But if you struggle with time management, the frustration can become a war you're born to lose. The constant battle just to get things done, more or less on time, drains you of the will and confidence to realize your goals and dreams.
Or, if you're an energetic type, you might launch a million attempts to repel the frustration and satisfy your ambition, and then end up dropping them all in a blitz of self-recriminating defeat anyway.
Success doesn't have to be such a painful, futile fight. Or a fight at all. You don't have to suffer.
Here are three steps from a bonafide time-struggler (ahem, me) to help you leave the battlefield and summit your highest ambitions in the hours you have.
1. Choose what matters most
First things first: put down your weapons. We're not fighting anymore. We're getting clear on what we love.
You must choose the handful of projects, products, relationships, hobbies, causes, and passions that you will love over time. They will grow and evolve and end, of course. You will have new ones. And if you're in transition between big eras of your life, say, in your 20s or in a career shift, or just feeling uncertain or restless, go ahead and try a lot to see what sticks.
But along the way you must get to know your talents and pleasures, your resources and limits, and you must choose how you most want them to be of use. Rather than getting you tangled up in another hateful battle against the clock and your poor time skills, these strong choices give you the clarity to stay centered in love and focused on your goals. (Writer Terri Trespicio has an extraordinary TEDx talk on how to make such big life choices.)
2. Know thy bad time habits
What defines a bad time habit is that it's zero sum: It eats up your time without giving you any fuel in return. This includes:
· Scrolling through Facebook for 30 minutes in the morning
· Scheduling meetings too close together and being late to every one of them as a result
· Agreeing to deadlines you can't make, and then pulling all-nighters and hating yourself
· Committing to work without making a realistic estimate of how long it will take or when you will devote time to it
· Skipping sleep, and food, to get stuff done and then not having enough juice left to do anything you need to
· Jumping at every email and request instead of staying focused on the most pressing project
In truth, you get something out of every single bad habit (the stress-triggered dopamine rush of working against the clock, the pride of appearing to be a super available go-getter, the warm numbness of a social media binge). But you don't get what you need to achieve your most important goals.
Acknowledge, in writing, how you blow up your own focus and energy each day. Seriously, write it down. Now write down the payoff each gives you. This practice helps you bring them into kind awareness, where you can start to shift them from being ambition land mines to ambition allies.
3. Spend a few minutes meditating
If there's one thing you can do to make the very best use of the time you have, it's meditation. Ironic, since you probably think you don't have time for it. But this is how you keep your focus sharp and your stress down.
A 2015 Forbes article highlighted seven proven benefits of meditation, including increased concentration, less depression and anxiety, and more blood flow to the learning and memory centers of the brain. (This Scientific American blog dives more deeply into the research.)
Meditating will not solve your time management struggles. Nor will it snap your ambitions into being. However, there is a good chance that the practice will lessen your stress around time and your time habits. You'll feel good. Meditation practice helps you end the war.
The calm and ease you develop in turn supports your ongoing efforts to change time habits that aren't working. With this strength you can stop fighting and start climbing, not every mountain, but the ones you've chosen with your whole heart to climb.
Keep climbing. You've got this. It feels good. You've got time.