We Have Plenty Of Time. Stop Thinking You Don’t Have Enough
How I learnt to make peace with time and be more productive
I reframed my relationship with time and stopped seeing it as the scarcity that it isn’t and now I’m more productive and relaxed than ever. I‘ll tell you how.
I started my career in startup land, where the phrase “I don’t have time” is uttered more than any other. Startups live to grow and busyness is seen as an individual’s public declaration that they are helping the company achieve that goal.
In those early startup days, I loved the frantic pace and I got high off the chaos. I was running on adrenaline and felt a huge rush of achievement if I’d been too busy to stop for lunch. We were a bunch of kids in our twenties with nowhere better to be, so we’d happily stay in the office into the night. But, I felt deep irritation when I asked someone to do something and I was told: “Sorry, I don’t have time.” I’d respond by suggesting they might want to stay at work later in that case. I’d watch them squirm and side eye me and then I’d remember that it’s important to be nice to people at work. I’d ask for us to discuss each other’s priorities to see if we could agree on a plan to get the thing done that worked for both of us.
To be clear — I don’t encourage people to stay at work later. Far from it. I think staying late is a sign of being inefficient and inept at prioritising. We definitely wasted time in the day when we knew we’d be there all night anyway. My irritation came from the ease with which time was being used as an excuse for not doing things. People were talking about not having enough time like it was a status symbol. This is unfortunately true of our social lives. So many people complain about being so busy, and yet they are always the ones who are the quickest to respond to a group WhatsApp chat in the middle of the working day.
But the company grew and I did too. Employees would complain to me that they weren’t learning anything because they were juggling too many things. I’d give them the same lecture that I‘ve given many times over the years and tell them they are in fact learning, they just can’t see what they’re learning yet. In this case, they’re actually learning how important it is to prioritise.
Going freelance made my relationship with time worse
And then I became freelance and forgot to adhere to my own advice. I’d spend my time complaining I didn’t have enough of it. Even though I wasn’t technically working a five-day week, I felt busier than ever. I had no commute and hardly any calls or emails to contend with, so my feeling that I didn’t have enough time made no sense at all.
I also became obsessed with productivity. When you freelance, no one can see you, so you need to be really productive. I needed to produce quality content and fast. And because I sell my time, I suddenly saw myself and my value in relation to my time. My obsession with productivity reached its peak when I caught myself fast forwarding productivity videos on youtube because I felt like I didn’t have time to watch them.
I was impatient. I had so many ideas of things I wanted to do and was frustrated I wasn’t getting to do all of them. I felt like time was running out. I couldn’t stop thinking that time was all we had in our lives and it was slipping away from me. It was becoming a real problem. In passing, I heard a podcast say that there were eight hours in the day for sleep, eight for work and eight for other activities. Wow, that’s ages, I thought. I decided that it was time to revisit my relationship with time.
It was timely when my friend lent me her copy of The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. The chapter on time starts with “For your life to work harmoniously, you need to develop a harmonious relationship with time.” Hendricks tells us to make a major shift by taking full ownership of time. He urges us to stop complaining about time and see what happens. I recalled my conversations back with the startup youth and made a conscious decision to reclaim my time and to stop complaining I didn’t have enough of it. So here are my top productivity tips which have helped me reframe my relationship with time.
Know your priorities and stick to them
Start your day with what matters to you most — I suspect that it isn’t responding to emails. The morning is when the brain is most alive, so use this time wisely. I then do the second most important thing for me in my day. At the moment it’s going to the gym. I like it when I’m there, but I’m terrible at leaving the house to go. So now I have a fixed time, after my first burst of work when I go. It’s then done for the day and I don’t have to think about it again.
Concentrate while you’re working
I can’t recommend the Pomodoro technique more highly. My friend Anna Codrea-Rado wrote about in her brilliant newsletter, The Professional Freelancer. In short, you turn off all distractions, set a 25-minute timer and focus on your work. It’s magical what you can get done in that short burst of time.
Always put your phone away when you’re working, obviously.
Don’t be distracted by housework or life admin
Housework is particularly dangerous for us who work from home. Unless you’re Mrs Hinch, housework is not a priority. It’s very easy for your mornings to be gone to unloading the dishwasher and hanging up laundry. I do the bare minimum in the day and come to it in the evenings.
For bigger home or life tasks eg. Marie Kondo-ing your clothes, Gretchen Rubin’s power hour is a game changer. Like with the Pomodoro technique; you set a timer, remove all distractions and you get a hell of a lot done in that time.
Never talk about time’s scarcity or boast about busyness
Unless you’re running an election campaign and/or have five children — you are not busy. Hendrick’s recommendation to stop complaining about time really works. If you’re about to call yourself busy, remember what you’re really trying to say to people is ‘I want you to think I’m important.’ Explore why you feel the need to do that. And if you don’t want to give time to something you don’t want to, be honest. Practice saying ‘it’s not a priority for me right now.’
Learn where your time is really going and how long tasks actually take
If you’re feeling busy, it is because you are overwhelmed, which is a very different thing to being busy. When I stopped to think, I couldn’t help but notice how during my time feeling like I was at peak busyness, I was smashing through Netflix original content. I also began to track how long certain chores or errands actually take. I got this hack from productivity queen Amy Landino. Write it down. I did this for one day and was staggered by the insight — I had somehow spent 15 minutes putting my gym kit on one morning. I also learnt that everything takes a lot longer than I thought. Now I know how long things actually take I can move to a realistic schedule. If there are a lot of sunken hours you can’t trace, I’m sure they are going to your phone.
So there you have it. There’s loads of time. Stop complaining about it and see how much you get done.
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