5 Ways to Find More Time in Your Overscheduled DayBy Homaira Kabir
24 short hours—that’s all we’ve got in a day! And yet, in the mad rush of our lives, we are constantly trying to fit a zillion things into its tiny package.
I had been on this busyness treadmill since the start of the New Year. Initially, I got a lot done. But very soon, the pace and structure of my days began to weigh me down. In an ideal world where nothing goes wrong and no one bothers you with their problems, I may have gone on endlessly. But life isn't like that. Kids fall ill, clients need extra help, problems arise and tend to blow up if not attended to. I found myself losing my calm way too often, and felt like I was running on a time treadmill that was draining all joy from my life.
I knew I had to let go of at least some of my load. I needed more space in my day. Space to maneuver the uncertainties of life. Space to be there for friends in their times of need. Space to read bedtime stories to my little one before she was too old to want me to. Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, calls this practice of creating space, "emptying the cup".
But boy, was it hard! Like the clutter junkie who can't let go of the stuff in their lives, I clung onto each item on my to-do list. I justified its presence and bemoaned the loss of its fruition. I needed a change of mindset. Yes, it took work, but when I found it, I felt I had finally broken free from a cage that had curbed my ability to dream and create.
Here are the 5 steps that set me free. I believe they can do the same for you!
1. Stop Believing in Busyness
Believing that we need to fill each moment of our day with action to feel productive is a fallacy of our times. We evolved to benefit from ample breaks, variety and connection. Even our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent no more than 3-4 hours per day in the active pursuit of prey or plant material. Consider the time for recovery, socialization and artistic expression as essential to your well-being.
2. Use a Long-Term Lens
There are times when everything on our lists seems equally compelling. However, when we're connected to our true selves, we become aware of the direction that really speaks to us. Connect to the things that you want to be remembered by, and it will be easier to shed everything that's simply creating needless noise in your mind and in your life.
3. Plot Your Goals on a Time Ladder
Even so, we are multi-faceted creatures and there is certainly more than one goal we wish to pursue. And yet, operating on too many fronts simultaneously means that we do justice to none. Our attention gets frazzled, our energy becomes scattered and we leave most things incomplete. Instead, make a list of all that you want to accomplish and prioritize it on a time ladder. (Literally, try drawing an item on each rung of a ladder on a piece of paper!) By focusing on one goal at a time, you’ll organize your time and reclaim the energy that was strewn in all directions.
4. Draw a Relationships Circle
When we fill our agenda with urgent items all day, we leave little space for the important relationships in our lives. Worse, when we do connect, we feel guilty about the work we could've been doing. It's ironic, given that we're the most social animals on the planet and our strength and success lies in the relationships we nurture. Make a pie chart of all the important relationships in your life and honor each one with the time they deserve. Your journey will be far more fulfilling.
5. The Two-Column Action Plan
Once you've identified and prioritized important goals and acknowledged the relationships you need to nurture, you're ready for action. Take a sheet of paper and draw 2 columns. Now write down the three things you can do more of in one column and the three things you can do less of in the other. Implementing these small and simple changes will begin to move you steadily in the direction of your goals. Then go ahead and take the first step. Action is the best way to create momentum.
When we create space in our days, wonderful things happen. Our minds go from the fast mode of thoughtless action to a slow one where ideas begin to flow. We may think we are doing nothing, but our minds are at their most active, sorting through the clutter of daily events and filing them in memory compartments for easy retrieval. Matthew Liebermann, Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA, says that the human brain’s greatest skill is its ability to make sense of the world when doing nothing. Things fall into place, the future gradually sprouts plans and we become aware of our place in the larger perspective.
As I consciously began to create space in my day, I started feeling spaciousness grow in my mind. Happily, I breathed in the space to live in the moment, to savor the past and to dream the future. Dr. Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford University, talks about the benefits of changing our time perspective and living in all time frames, past, present and future. As I did so, I felt time stop. And then expand. (Sounds like physics, doesn't it?) And I truly began to appreciate the gifts of opening up my day for the unexpected and the unplanned.
Space is not a waste of our day. Rushing around in mindless pursuits often is. I know that I will never rush to fill it in again, treasuring the moments where I can hang onto that hug just a little longer, gaze at the summer stars just a little deeper, and perhaps, one special day, build in an after-lunch siesta to bide the afternoon away. Now it's your turn.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and a Positive Psychology Practitioner, whose work expands the breadth of the human experience. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. You can read more about her work at homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@homairakabir).
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