How to Invest Your Time Like Money ELIZABETH GRACE SAUNDERS
Harvard Business Review Press ● Boston, Massachusetts
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Dedicated to everyone who longs to have enough time for what’s most important
Dedication 1. Take Control of Your Time and Your Life
2. Identify Your Time Debt 3. Create a Base Schedule 4. Set Up Automatic Time Investment 5. Maximize Your Time ROI Epilogue: Remember What You're Working For In Gratitude About the Author
1. Take Control of Your Time and Your Life
Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed. —Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive “There aren’t enough hours in the day.” You likely recognize this statement. You may have muttered it yourself, frustrated by your consistently packed schedule and competing demands. Day after day, both at work and in your personal life, you find yourself juggling too many projects at once and struggling to find the time to do the things you deem important, leaving you stressed and agitated. How can you manage your time more effectively, in ways that you’ll find both productive and gratifying? Most time management methodologies fail to give you the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction you crave because they encourage you to stuff more into an already overflowing schedule. This creates the false hope that if you only worked harder, faster, longer, and smarter, you could do everything you want and make everyone happy. That’s more or less the equivalent of racking up credit card bills instead of learning to cut costs. When you’ve tried these strategies—and failed to do the impossible—you feel worse than before because you have not only not gotten everything done, but felt miserable in the process. Fortunately, there’s a better way. If you’re frustrated and tired of feeling as if you have no control of your time and all of your attempts to manage your time have failed, you need to learn the skills to invest your time like money. When you do, you’ll finally have enough time for what’s most important. When you invest your time as if it were money, you look at the reality of how much time you have available and the truth of activities’ time cost. You then make decisions that allow you to get out of time debt. And with this balanced budget in hand, you can then set up the structure to consistently invest your time in what’s most important. This book provides a detailed look at how to learn these skills. It explains exactly
how to both put these concepts into action and overcome the resistance that is likely to come up in the process of change. In addition, once you’ve achieved a level of mastery of the process, you’ll learn to maximize the return on investment of your time and assess your big-picture growth. As an expert on effective time investment, I’ve worked with training and coaching clients on six continents, contributed to a number of publications, including Forbes, Inc., and Time, and appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC. My first book provided an overall look at how to achieve more success with less stress through effective time investment. Through my work helping real people solve real problems, I’ve discovered that not having enough time for the important things is one of the biggest sources of stress. That’s why I’ve provided in this book an in-depth guide for allocating your time so that what’s most vital receives the appropriate amount of attention instead of getting pushed aside for other competing priorities. Time, like money, must be invested to work for you now and support your ideal future. For some of you, coming to terms with your ideal time allocation and then moving from your current reality to your desired future state will require radical cuts, such as resigning from jobs, leaving graduate school programs, or ending relationships. Or it may include significant additions, such as starting positions, training for new skills, and adding more people to your life. But for the vast majority of you, very little will need to shift in terms of your external circumstances; instead, what will need to change is you. Your mind-set, your decisions, and your routines determine whether you remain stuck or move forward and decide to intentionally live your best life. At the outset, this will require some work, as you do when you take a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon to set up your retirement plan so you get 10 percent returns in mutual funds instead of 0.5 percent in your savings account (or just spend all the money). But taking the time now will set you far ahead of your peers and make you far more satisfied with your life. Strategically investing your time will lead you to have enough time to be your best self, do your best work, and fulfill your potential. In the following chapters, I’m going to reveal the time investment strategies that have transformed thousands of people’s lives. But in order to see the kind of change in your life that we both want to witness, we first need to tackle three common subconscious barriers that can block your success.
Overcome Your Barriers to Success
If you’re skeptical, fine. If you’re unsure, no worries. If you’re a bit apprehensive, that’s not a problem. All of these emotions play a very natural role in the process of change. As I work with clients, I expect many sensations and feelings to come up, and I encourage individuals to acknowledge them and accept them. In time, their internal resistance subsides as they experience the transition from barely believing they can change to enthusiastically celebrating that change. But to have the mental and emotional capacity to even begin changing your time investment choices, you must address and overcome these three critical barriers: Stop blaming others Disconnect success from suffering Quit defending your past
Stop Blaming Others The first state of mind that I won’t let my clients—or you—stay in is one in which they blame others for their time-pressed situation. When you fall into this unhealthy dynamic in your relationships, often explained by Dr. Stephen B. Karpman’s drama triangle, you end up taking on one of three roles: the victim, the rescuer, or the self-protector. From a time investment point of view, this is what the different roles look like: The victim constantly feels helpless because he believes everyone is heaping more requests or demands on him, and there is nothing that he can do about it. The rescuer feels anxious about another person’s inability to handle his situation and rushes in to help. She later feels resentful that she’s spent so much time helping others that she has no time for her own needs. The persecutor, or self-protector, expresses anger toward requests from others, fearing he’ll become overloaded and wind up a victim. Sound familiar? Each one of us can fall into these roles when the situation is right— or wrong. Maybe you’re the victim at work where you take on whatever colleagues throw at you, but you’re the self-protector at home who bristles when a family member suggests you clean up the kitchen. Although it’s natural to want to point to an external source as the cause of your difficulties, it’s not helpful. To invest your time effectively, you must take ownership of your life and responsibility for changing yourself, regardless of whether anyone else changes. Here are three practical steps to break down this barrier: Observe your reaction. Become aware of how you respond when your time
investment becomes misaligned with your priorities. Do you become a victim and pity yourself? Everyone always piles too much work on me. Do you jump to the rescuer role and take over-responsibility for others? Everyone just constantly requires my help. Do you revert to the self-protector and get angry at others? How dare they ask this of me? Recognize your role. When you have these responses, you’re taking the lazy way out. You are claiming that you’re doomed to act out the characteristics of a certain persona in your relationships instead of choosing your own response to a situation. You give away your power and feel as if you’re at the mercy of external circumstance or who you “are,” that is, “I’m just the person who always has to pick up the pieces when everyone else drops them.” It’s very similar to when people who find themselves in debt blame the credit card companies instead of accepting that they had a choice in spending more money than they had. The way to break out of this cycle is to stop blaming others and passively falling into a role. Instead, consciously decide to respond in a more healthy way to the people around you. Commit to self-mastery. Regardless of how often you’ve fallen into a role in the past in certain situations or with specific people, you have the opportunity to make the future different. What that requires is choosing a healthy emotional response. Instead of becoming a victim, choose to take ownership. This could mean speaking up when you feel that someone makes an unreasonable request, so that you don’t end up overloaded. It could also mean setting clear boundaries to prevent taking on too much from others. Instead of playing the rescuer and feeling compelled to jump in when you don’t believe someone can handle a situation, show respect for your own time and the time of others. Don’t volunteer to help with an extra project if it would mean that you wouldn’t have time for self-care like exercise. Or help someone put together a strategy for how she can get the work done herself instead of swooping in and completing a project for her. Finally, instead of defaulting to the self-protector role and getting angry at anyone who suggests you do anything more, respond with empathy toward yourself and others. Recognize that other people have time pressures too, and that there could be a legitimate reason why they made the request. Also, show empathy toward yourself and realize that you’re afraid of being overloaded and need to set appropriate boundaries to preserve your sanity. By taking responsibility for your time investment choices, you stop wasting energy on fruitless power struggles and start directing it to a productive response toward the
people and situations around you. With that focus, transformation can occur. It will take practice to notice if you start to fall into a role and then choose another response instead. But, in time, the helpful thoughts will become automatic. You can replace harmful thoughts with the helpful thoughts outlined in table 1-1.
Disconnect Success from Suffering Once you’ve stepped out of the bonds of a role you must play, you have the ability to uncouple success from suffering. For many people, the association between these two is so firmly entrenched that it hasn’t even crossed their minds that life could be different. Here’s how one of my time coaching clients described her mind-set when she first began her coaching program with me: I have huge fear issues—one of which is the fear of failure and another is the fear that I will slow down or accept so little that I won’t be able to achieve great things or do a good job in things—essentially this is who I am (who I have defined myself as) are my achievements. To
think of letting go of being able to do these things scares me… Peaceful and accomplished are like two different ends of the spectrum: accomplished to me means rushed, overwhelmed, and never enough. Peaceful seems wasteful—unattainable guilty pleasure and something that happens when you die. My biggest challenge is me, not letting go of the everything that I have and want. Does anything in my client’s story sound familiar? If so, I have good news: she has changed, and so can you. The key to setting yourself up to have enough time for what’s most important lies in overcoming your internal belief that there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation. In psychology circles, this mental framework often has the term “learned helplessness.” Different from playing the victim, where other people cause you to feel out of control, learned helplessness is a way of perceiving the world in which you become inappropriately passive following exposure to uncontrollable events in the past. This experience changes the way that you think about your ability to control similar future events. For example, you may have grown up in an environment where your caregivers told you they had to work crazy hours to put food on the table. Now that you’re the one providing for a family, you automatically fall into the habit of overworking because you don’t stop to consider that it could be possible to work a reasonable number of hours and be prosperous. Research shows learned helplessness can develop within minutes, but you can break out of this self-imposed jail. As one of my time coaching clients put it, this mental shift takes you from the trunk of the car into the driver’s seat. Here’s how to stop unhelpful associations from holding you back: Identify the past message. To help you overcome the assumption that the future must repeat the past, it can be helpful to isolate which seemingly uncontrollable situations led to you becoming passive. There are typically three main sources: the first is your parents’ or primary caregivers’ explanation of events. For example: “My dad always said if he didn’t work such long hours that we would end up on the streets.” The second common source is the adults who cared for, taught, disciplined, and critiqued you as a child, like a teacher: “My teacher told me if I didn’t study for hours, I would fail.” The final source is difficult life events. For example: “My company did a massive downsizing, and all of a sudden, I needed to do three people’s jobs. When I tried to talk to my boss about the issue, he told me that I should shut up and be grateful to have a position. Since
then, I never felt safe to share with him—or any future boss—when I was overloaded.” Once you’ve pinpointed the source, then you can more clearly see why you have certain attitudes about time, and you can create a clear divide between where you were then and where you are now. Observe reality. Because you may have processed the world through this mental framework for a significant amount of time, it is your reality. As a result, the fear that something tragic will happen if you try to take time for all the activities that are important to you seems very palpable. A powerful way to deconstruct this framework lies in overcoming your “confirmation bias” toward only looking for evidence that success has to involve suffering. You can open up your mind to new possibilities by asking yourself, “Can I find any example of the opposite being true?” and “What is different between my current situation and the one in which I developed this sense of helplessness?” For example, you may want to take some time to observe individuals you admire in your organization to see if any of them are achieving greatness without engaging in unhealthy extremes. Or you can take some time to write out the differences between the past uncontrollable state and your current more controllable one. Overcoming the time poverty mind-set is ultimately about letting go of the acceptance of meager possibilities. Just as people who experience times of financial hardship need to learn how to stop depriving themselves of little luxuries they can now afford, you’ll need to grow comfortable with the concept of having a sane and sustainable schedule with (gasp!) free time. It will feel strange at first, but in time you’ll get used to it. Clarify the current issue. Once you have given yourself permission to hope that stress and achievement don’t have an irrefutable link, then you can start to define exactly what you would like to see change. For example, maybe you would like to see fewer spontaneous team meetings. Maybe you are constantly interrupted by questions from your staff. Or perhaps you need clarity on where to focus when you have many competing priorities. These are concrete items that you can attempt to change that can have a direct impact on your ability to be successful in your goals and not be stressed about time. Experiment. Finally, break the link between success and suffering by experimenting with exerting your influence on the issues you identified and seeing what happens. For instance, you could set up regularly scheduled team meetings so that fewer spontaneous ones arise and fewer questions come up throughout the day. Or you might compile a list
of all your projects, estimate the time it takes to complete them, and then ask to have a discussion with your manager about where to focus your time. If you find that one experiment doesn’t work, try another. Many of my time coaching clients take these sorts of steps and discover that they in fact do have the ability to succeed without sacrificing their health and sanity. It comes down to having the belief that you can do something to change your situation and then acting on that belief. The helpful mind-sets in table 1-2 can help you in taking some courageous first steps.
Quit Defending Your Past After going through the exercises to overcome the last two barriers, you may feel a sense of release and empowerment and be ready to move ahead with taking control of how you invest your time. Or you may have one final hurdle to jump: defensiveness about the past. If you fall into the second category, you’re likely thinking something like this: But, Elizabeth, you don’t understand my situation. It couldn’t have worked out any other way. I had to sacrifice this much to get to where I am today.
As vulnerability researcher Brené Brown explains in Daring Greatly, “When I feel self-righteous, it means I’m afraid.” There is a lot of fear in moving forward and vulnerability in discovering that what you’ve done in the past—and the choices you’ve made—may not have been for the best. Your defensive response has nothing to do with the truth of the message and everything to do with your fear—of guilt, of remorse, of embarrassment. Of admitting to yourself and potentially others around you that life really didn’t—and doesn’t—need to be so hard. I’m sure you did the best you could with what you knew how to do in the past. But there is a very high probability that by knowing more now, you could be capable of having enough time for what’s most important in the present and the future. I can relate to those feelings. Before I understood how to live a balanced life, I had no boundaries around my work. When someone questioned why I was working at all hours of the day or night, I would justify my actions with a response like, “You don’t understand. I’m an entrepreneur. I have deadlines I need to meet, and I can’t just check in and check out.” But once I stopped being defensive and started honestly considering the truth of what people said to me, I discovered that my life really could be different. Breakthrough occurs when you stop defending your past and start accepting it—and yourself. Here’s how to let go of defensiveness: Pinpoint the pain. What exactly makes you afraid of learning and changing? Is it guilt that you didn’t know about how to be different before? Is it fear that you will fail? Is it embarrassment that other people might have been right? Is it dread that you’ll have to face an uncomfortable family situation or a messy project that you were neglecting when you really do have time? To move forward, you need to account for your present state. Make a list of what you’re afraid you might experience or how people might respond if you actually did start to have your time investment under control. Accept the past and forgive yourself. What’s happened has happened. You don’t need to hide it or explain it or justify it or defend it. All you need to do is to honestly accept it. If you find it necessary, forgive yourself for past wrongs done to yourself or others. For example, you may write or say out loud something like, “I forgive myself for missing significant events in my children’s lives,” or “I forgive myself for not setting boundaries so my health suffered,” or “I forgive myself for making risky financial decisions that made me feel compelled to work crazy hours.” Live in the present. Once you’ve accepted the past, let it go. When you find yourself mentally replaying events from the past that you can’t change and you’ve made amends
for them the best you can, you need to stop yourself. You could write down the past issue on a piece of paper and burn it. Or delete painful e-mails in your inbox. You could stop bringing up the events in conversation. Or simply shift your focus to something else you can control in the present. We can learn from the past, but all we have the ability to change now is the present. Investing your time effectively requires that you ask the question, “What can I do now?” and then act on it. The mental shifts shown in table 1-3 can help.
Now you’re mentally and emotionally primed to authentically evaluate your time investment. So, it’s time to take a serious look at whether you’re in time debt and, if so, how you can move toward a balanced budget. 1. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress (New York: McGraw Hill, 2013). ↵
2. Robert Taibbi, “The Relationship Triangle,” Psychology Today, June 21, 2011, accessed December 31, 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201106/the-relationship-triangle. ↵ 3. Melody Brooke, “The ‘Cycle of Compassion’: A Way Out of the Tangled Web of Trauma and Dissociation,” accessed December 31, 2014, http://www.readbag.com/melodybrooke-docs-the-cycle-of-compassion. ↵ 4. “Learned Helplessness: Why Bother?” Emotional Competency, accessed December 31, 2014, http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/helpless.htm; and Christopher Peterson, Steven F. Maier, and Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). ↵ 5. Charisse Nixon, “Learned Helplessness,” YouTube, accessed December 31, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFmFOmprTt0. ↵ 6. “How to Help Your Client Beat ‘Learned Helplessness,’” Uncommon Knowledge, accessed December 31, 2014, http://www.unk.com/blog/beating-learned-helplessness-and-depression-2/. ↵ 7. Brené Brown, Daring Greatly (New York: Gotham Books, 2012), 202. ↵
2. Identify Your Time Debt
Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery. —Wilkins Micawber, David Copperfield When I take a deep dive into time coaching clients’ schedules, I consistently discover that people misdiagnose themselves as having a “productivity” problem when, in fact, their bigger issue is an overcommitment problem. When they have committed to more external projects and personal goals and obligations than they have hours for in the day, they feel the massive weight of time debt. One of my coaching clients suffered from a huge amount of false guilt until he realized he had the unrealistic expectation that he could fit 160 hours of tasks into a 40-hour workweek. Effective time investment begins with accepting the reality that time is a tangible, finite resource. This acknowledgment frees you to make choices about what you will and won’t do so you can invest more in what’s most important, feel good about what you do and don’t get done, and still have disposable time left to relax and enjoy yourself. As one of my time coaching clients put it, “I’ve realized there’s only X amount of time, so I need to invest in my priorities and understand that when I choose one activity, I’m not choosing another.” In this chapter, we’ll go through a step-by-step method for figuring out if you’re in time debt and, if so, how to match your expectations to a realistic and balanced time budget.
The Time Investment Formula The single most important factor in feeling like a time investment success or failure is whether or not your expectations of what you will accomplish align with how much time you have to invest. This time investment formula provides a mathematical way to understand the relationship between your expectations and your actual time budget. Once you have this data, you can then determine exactly what you need to do to get to a
balanced budget in which you have enough time for what’s most important.
Look at the right side of the time investment formula. On that side, there’s one fixed value, the twenty-four hours in a day, and one variable, the amount of time needed for self-care. For the purpose of this exercise, “self-care” is the most basic of wellness activities you do on a regular basis: sleeping, eating, and personal grooming, that is, showering, brushing your teeth, and so on. Here’s an example of this breakdown: Sleeping—seven hours Eating—one hour Personal grooming—two hours Total—ten hours On a piece of paper or electronic document or note, add up the hours you need to spend on sleeping, eating, and personal grooming. If you want to do so, you can include more self-care categories, but make sure that you limit these values to only the necessities in order to get the most accurate tally of your available time per day. Once you have quantified the “fixed expense” of self-care, subtract it from twentyfour hours to come up with your daily time budget. There can be some variability in this number from day to day, but you want to determine your sustainable baseline.
After you’ve calculated your time budget, total up the time costs related to your external and internal expectations. External expectations include commitments to others, such as spending a certain amount of time at work or attending family events; internal expectations are commitments to yourself, such as wanting to exercise or read. Here are some potential areas to consider: External expectations: Work Commute Relationships Pet care School/training Related homework Recurring meetings Leadership/committee responsibilities Internal expectations: Exercise Laundry, cleaning, errands Relaxation Social time Personal development Hobbies, side projects Travel Finances Prayer, meditation If most of your commitments recur daily, then the values for expectations in each category of your life can be based on a twenty-four-hour day. For example, you may put down nine hours for work and two for hobbies or side projects. If you have a fair amount of variance from day to day, it may be more effective for you to craft a weekly time budget. To come up with your weekly time budget, multiply your daily time budget by seven.
Then, figure out the weekly time cost for your internal and external expectations. For example, allocate forty-five hours for work to reflect the fact that, on average, you invest that much time in the “work” category each week—both in and out of the office—and only five hours for side projects. Take time to write down your numbers for each category of your life and then total them. If you’re unsure how you spend your time, look back at your calendar or planner. If those don’t provide an accurate enough reflection of your time allocation, write down your expected time allocations for the upcoming week. Now comes an important moment of truth: it’s time to determine how closely your expectations align with the reality of your time budget. Plug your time costs for external and internal expectations into the left side of this formula and your calculated daily or weekly budget into the right side of the formula.
Then fill in the blank between the two sides with a “>,” “<,” or “=” sign. If you’re like most people, you’ll end up choosing the first of the three options—the greater-than sign—because you’ve made more external and internal commitments than you can realistically keep. This has created a lot of guilt and stress for you in the past. But now that you’re aware of what’s happening, you can adjust for the future.
Balance Your Time Budget Since you’ve committed in chapter 1 to taking an empowered, nondefensive approach to this process, your next step is not to conveniently stop reading this book or grumble about the fact that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. Instead, ask these key questions: What does this insight mean? We went through the preceding exercise so you could see the quantifiable reality of what is possible versus what you wish was possible. This insight creates an awareness of the need for intentionality and precision in what you do
and don’t allow into your schedule. The fact that the total of your internal and external expectations adds up to more hours than in your time budget means that you’re living in time debt: either literal time debt to others or emotional time debt to yourself. What do I do? Start by making macro- and micro-level cuts so that you have a balanced budget and therefore a balanced life. Given that you have a limited time budget, you will not have the ability to do everything you would like to do, regardless of your efficiency. The moment you embrace that truth, you instantly reduce your stress and feelings of inadequacy. By the end of this chapter, you want to get to a point where your expectations match your time budget.
Macro-Level Strategic Decisions People who are penny wise and pound foolish, meaning they focus on saving a few cents on a loaf of bread but then don’t negotiate a good price on big-ticket items like a house or car, end up worse off financially than those who do the opposite. The same is true with your time investment. That’s why I emphasize big wins that could save you hours or even weeks of your time, instead of only shaving off a minute or two here or there. To start this process, look at your list of external and internal expectations and see if you can immediately cross off anything. As Arianna Huffington says in her book, Thrive, “You can complete a project by dropping it.” For example, you may want to resign from a committee where you no longer receive value. You may be able to release yourself from this external expectation immediately, simply by sending an e-mail to the organizer. Or if you have a commitment for a certain term or your boss has asked you to take on a certain responsibility, you could decide to decline serving for another term or make a suggestion to your boss of someone who could take over your role. Even if you don’t see any immediate change, these choices will help balance your time budget in the long term. In terms of internal expectations, you may want to release yourself from the expectation that you’ll learn a new language, write a blog, or start a new business. All of these items are wonderful to do if you have the time, but they shouldn’t make you feel guilty, stressed, or pressured if you don’t have the time to do them now. Once you cross off optional time expectations from the list, see how closely your expectations total matches your time budget. If you find that you still need to make cuts, priorities-based decision making provides the best method for making rational time investment decisions that also make you feel good about your choices. Here’s how priorities-based decision making works :
1. Clarify your order of priorities. You have a unique set of priorities based on who you are and what matters to you. Write down a list of those priorities and then put them in order from most important to least important. For example, I order my priorities in this way:
Yours may look similar to the above—or look very different, such as:
Use whatever categories mean the most to you. There is no right or wrong. But to get the most value from this filter, you need to approach this exercise from a place of honesty and authenticity about what you truly think is most important. If you do, you’ll have a lot of confidence in your decisions because you’ll know they align with your values. If you don’t, you’ll find that you’re constantly questioning whether or not you’re making the right choices. 2. Translate your priorities into actions. Defining the actions related to your priorities allows you to plan them into your schedule and evaluate whether or not your time investment aligns with your stated priorities. For example, in my life, an action aligned with spiritual life is setting aside time each morning to pray and meditate; an action correlated with relationships is a weekly conference call with my family. Both of these activities have a consistent place in my calendar. Your wellness activity could be going to the gym five times a week, and your work activity could be devoting fifty hours a week to your start-up. 3. Cut activities from the lowest-priority areas. This will allow you to reduce your expectations’ time cost, guilt-free. Do this immediately by deleting items from your calendar and letting people know that you’re no longer available for certain responsibilities (or at least develop a phase-out plan). When one of my time coaching clients made the connection that one hour spent in a nonessential staff meeting meant one less hour with his family in the evening, he became much more rigorous in guarding his calendar and removing nonessential activities.
4. Make refinements. If you still don’t seem to have enough time for what’s most important, you’ll need to make adjustments to your time allocation instead of cuts. This typically involves trimming down high-priority areas so that you have enough time left for lower-priority, yet still essential, items. For example, you may consider your business a higher priority than wellness activities. But if bringing on a new client today would leave you completely sleep deprived for the next two months, that decision—which could benefit your business—may negatively impact your wellness to such an extent that you may choose not to accept new clients or postpone their projects until you’ll have more time for them. Alternatively, you may place wellness as a higher priority than your business. However, if you notice that training for a triathlon is having a substantial impact on your business performance, putting your company at risk, you may decide that a triathlon doesn’t need to fall within your current wellness activities. After balancing your time budget with your current expectations, you can use this same filter to decide whether to say “yes,” “no,” or “not now” to new opportunities. One time coaching client described how this shift of perspective allowed her to go from feeling completely overwhelmed with just her job to feeling more in control, even though she now was attending graduate school in addition to having a very demanding job: My boss said to me the other day that she noticed that, even with the addition of graduate school, she thought I seemed less stressed than before, something to the effect of, “You are in a very good place.” … For me, it really has been about saying “no” or “not now” or speaking up for my own needs. For example, if you’re asked to volunteer to put on a community service event and it doesn’t take away from other areas, go for it. But if that service would have a significant negative impact on your job and your relationships, then for you, the priority-based decision would be to politely decline based on the fact that you don’t currently have the capacity in your schedule.
Micro-Level Optimization Once you have made good macro-level, big-picture decisions, then you can look at how you can further refine your time allocation at the micro-level for day-to-day tasks.
However, remember that optimizing on the micro-level may not lead to optimizing on the macro-level. For example, organizing your files perfectly may save you a few minutes each day, but if it keeps you from moving ahead on important strategic projects, it’s not an optimal use of time. Or only going to the post office when you can do multiple errands at once may seem more efficient. But if you wait to go to the post office until you have a large block of time and then end up paying your bills late, leaving you to spend time, money, and energy sorting out the resulting issues, you haven’t optimized your time investment or minimized your stress. If you frequently fall into this trap, train yourself to question whether executing a small task perfectly gives you the ability to invest your time well overall. If it does, that’s awesome. Go for it! If it doesn’t, aim to be imperfect in the areas where it doesn’t count as much so you have enough time for what’s most important. Next, when you’re looking at micro-level optimization, ask yourself: Do I have to do this? If the answer is no, then you have a few options: 1. Delete. Just because you thought of something or someone else suggested it doesn’t mean you have to do it. It’s OK to let go of items that would be nice to do, but aren’t necessary, like reading certain books, doing various home projects, or achieving nonessential goals. 2. Delegate. If someone else in your organization or home has the ability and capacity to do something you don’t have time for, let go of that responsibility. That could mean handing off projects completely or breaking them down so you can share the responsibilities. 3. Outsource. Sometimes you or someone within your sphere could help, but it doesn’t make sense from an overall time investment point of view for either of you. In that case, you may want to completely outsource activities, such as having a virtual assistant manage your travel booking or a lawn service take care of shoveling and mowing. If, instead, you answered yes to the question Do I have to do this?, ask yourself another question: Do I have to do this now? If not, then you have a few alternatives that can keep your time investment in order: 1. Defer. Not now doesn’t mean never. When you would like to do something but don’t currently have the capacity, it’s OK to decide with yourself or with others to
reconsider the possibility at a future date. Make a note in your calendar as a reminder of that agreement. 2. Pace. Another way to optimize your time investment on a micro-level involves pacing yourself and setting appropriate expectations with others. Ask for deadlines on a new work project that allow you to move forward without having a significant negative impact on current projects. On the personal front, don’t force yourself to get projects done unnecessarily quickly. Just because your neighbor remodeled a kitchen in a month doesn’t mean you have to. When you work within the reality of your time budget and intentionally cut what’s not a priority, you have the maximum capacity to invest in what’s most important to you.
But I Can’t Do That! After completing these steps, you may feel energized and excited because you see that, through cutting some of the activities at the bottom of your priority list and optimizing the remaining items, you can achieve a balanced time budget. You see what needs to happen and can’t wait to start trimming your expectations. If this describes you, congrats! You can move on to chapter 3. However, you may still feel incredulous. And, despite the logical formula that we’ve gone through, you refuse to believe that you can or should make cuts. You think, Elizabeth, maybe other people can cut things out of their schedule, but I can’t. If you find yourself in that situation, you need to uncover what’s at the bottom of your emotional resistance so that you can let go of it and make time investment decisions that serve your greatest and highest good. Having a crammed schedule is a socially acceptable way to avoid the world, but it could keep you from dealing with real issues. Workaholism can have a huge cost on your health, happiness, and success, and you can only overcome it once you choose to step out of denial into reality. What part of your reality do you feel you need to escape? To help identify your deeper concerns, go through these three steps: 1. State the resistance or challenge. 2. Ask yourself, “Why is this a problem?” 3. See what thoughts, feelings, or images arise. You can go through these steps during a personal meditation time, by writing in a