We all recognise the feeling that we are running out of day or week or year with only half our commitments and intentions being addressed. Running out of time is a common cause of excessive stress. Learning to manage your time will help you to organise you home, work and social priorities in a realistic way, giving proper consideration to the time each needs. To do this you need to take some time – think of it as an investment in the rest of your life.
Try to set aside an hour. Buy or draw up in a large, clearly laid out diary or chart for the week to come. On a separate sheet of paper write down all the demands which are going to be made on you, all the appointments you know you have arranged or accepted, all the activities and breaks you would like to have time for. When you are satisfied you have remembered everything, start to fill in the items on the chart/in the diary (in pencil), estimating as realistically as you can the time each will take. It is very important that you balance the demands to be made on you with the time you would like to have for yourself. You must give yourself some personal space and time, however difficult it might seem to find slots in the week. Don’t be surprised if there aren’t enough hours in the day. When you have finished and have identified the overlaps go back to the list and prioritise the items on it. Then you can go back to the diary or chart and amend your entries. (This is why you made the original entries in pencil.) As the week goes on make notes beside the amended entries, recording how the reality compares with the theory and making any comments which you believe will be helpful to you later.
The first time you do this you might end up feeling overwhelmed by the number of activities you felt committed to. Be honest with yourself – were they all essential? It may be that you have simply allowed things to pile up in your life without ever saying “no”. From this point on, now you are aware of the issue, you can start to take some control. Learn to ration your time. Yes it’s easy to say, and you need to do it if you are to reduce your stress. Even at work, if you have a demanding manager, a full work diary can be useful when you are asked to take on one more task which feels impossible.
It may be that you may not have a paid job. The area in which in theory you will have most control is your personal life. However, if there are school runs to do, parents’ evenings and concerts to attend, elderly relatives to make regular visits to, student offspring expecting to be driven up and down the country, write all of these on your chart or in your diary too. They give just as rigid a structure to your week and fill it just as much as working hours do for someone in employment. The same exercise is recommended, of prioritising and balancing demands made on you with things you would like to do.
If you have the flexibility to do this, identify the most important task of the day and try to get it done in the morning. Even if you don’t complete it, make sure you stop for lunch and a short walk – you will finish it much more quickly after a break. When you can cross it off you will have achieved something significant. Allow yourself to feel pleased with yourself.
Don’t forget that frequently you can share the burden of too many tasks and not enough time. Family members can clean their own shoes, some of them can do their own ironing, and if they want you to cook a meal they can turn up to eat it at the same time as everyone else, when it is cooked. At work it might be possible to delegate some parts of a complex task, especially if a colleague has appropriate skills/experience which you do not share. Never be afraid to explore the possibilities. And if your manager gives you several tasks to begin at once, throw the ball back – ask which s/he wants you to prioritise and concentrate on that one first.
If your workload feels overwhelming and yet another responsibility arrives on your desk, ask which of your existing tasks it will be replacing and who you are expected to pass on the other job to.
See if you can share school runs/sports practices/concert rehearsals with other parents or friends. Three children travelling home at the same time to the same small area do not need three separate escorts and/or cars to bring them. If you find yourself with a five-minute breathing space, take advantage of it rather than rushing to fill it with yet another “urgent” task. You will benefit from the break.
People who are perfectionists very often feel stress at the end of each day even if they have done everything asked of them. Try not to waste your emotional energy on agonising over whether you have done everything perfectly. The chances are that you will not have achieved perfection in everything. Does it really matter? In another context a remarkable psychotherapist once commented that in order to be good at something it’s only necessary to be good enough. Try to remember that: “good enough” is good enough.
Taking control of your day is not a skill you will learn overnight, but the more you practise the better you will get. And there will be things which remain outside your control, or course. The secret is to be able to spot the difference. And then, in the areas where you can have some control, make sure that you timetable some breaks. Five minutes is better than nothing. Five minutes every hour will make a difference to your concentration. Five minutes in which you move about, stamp your feet, wave your arms, run around the block, will make a significant difference to both your concentration and your health. If only for that five minutes every hour, you will be in control, not swept along by someone else’s anxieties and demands. And you will be more than good enough.
If you would like to explore any of the issues raised here why not get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services, on 0121 314 9903 or via our website: BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk One of our qualified and experienced counsellors will be able to support your exploration.