“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” –John De Paola
I’m sure at some point in your life, you have come across the dreaded ‘scope creep’. If you’ve ever done a building or renovation project, I’m quite sure things didn’t quite come in on the original budget. There was ‘just this’ one last thing that you hadn’t taken into consideration. Or a project at work had much more involved than you originally anticipated and left you scrambling to try and produce more for the same resources.
I coined a new concept this week – time creep.
Like an architect’s final blueprint, I had mapped out my morning routine. This is between 5AM and 6AM where there are no distractions from the outside world – I deliberately never check my phone or computer in this hour to ensure this.
This time is dedicated for my personal development and self-care which includes yoga, meditation and journaling. I have been committed to this since the beginning of lockdown to ensure I start my day in a peak state and set my intention for the day.
This was fantastic in the beginning, I couldn’t believe the gift of a morning unfolding without the constant rush with early morning gym at 5AM followed by the school run. Over a period of time, I noticed that this blissful hour started to become more rushed. I started shortening the time for my practice to see what else I could fit into my allocated hour. I was trying to ‘squeeze more in’ on the same budget – that is my time budget.
The end result was equivalent to scope creep – if you try squeeze to get the biggest bang for your buck, you will compromise quality. I did the same thing, I had compromised the quality of my head-space. Sound familiar?
The way you view time and how you engage with it will make a huge difference to how you experience it. The next time you start to second guess yourself when you want to take some much needed time out, remember these tools to manage your mind-set towards time:
“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” –Mohandas Gandhi
Time management is boundary management. For someone who teaches this work, I was falling into the trap of time creep. The reason I focus on yoga, meditation and journaling the first hour of my day is to put myself into a peak state. It is a means to be deliberate on how I want to show up and what I want to achieve for the day ahead. I am taking charge of how I want my day to begin as opposed to checking my phone and letting my day be dictated by other people’s urgencies.
Covid-19 has provided the illusion of more time available because you are not commuting and if you are, the traffic is reduced. The truth is, there is less time available with the new demands on your time. This means you need to be really deliberate on how you invest and spend your time. I have written about the concept of time scarcity before – this is a fear of not having enough time to get done what you need to.
As a result, I started to self-sabotage, and justify to myself why it’s OK to cut the session short so I could try and fit in some writing time before the kids woke up because what if I don’t get enough time that day? This back fired and left me anxious and started to dampen the whole morning routine. Instead of enjoying my meditation, I was thinking ‘Have I done enough, can I move onto the next thing?’ This completely defeats the purpose of the practice, it should not be a box to be ticked.
Once I became aware of this, I gave myself permission to set boundaries on this time and use it for the activities that fuel me because no one else is going to. I had to be clear that this time is dedicated to my self-care, not work. I went back to basics and scheduled my week before I was in it so I could have a clearer picture of the week ahead and when I could plan out writing time to give myself peace of mind.
Self-development begins with self-awareness. Have you been compromising on your self-care for work? Take your power back and be really specific what you want to do and when your mind starts to argue with you, ignore it. It doesn’t have to be one hour, it can be as little as 15 minutes. I guarantee you that if you spend less time checking mails and the socials, you will find 15 minutes in your day. Or wake up 15 minutes earlier to carve out space to invest in yourself but make sure you block this time and protect it like a warrior.
Give yourself permission
“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” –William Burroughs
Think about the 31st December or a significant birthday, this is generally the time you press pause and reflect on what you have achieved and what you would like to achieve for the upcoming year. This then leads you to set some new goals for the year ahead and gives you the validation to pursue these specific activities.
Inevitably, life marches on and the excitement tends to fade. When it comes to making time for yourself on a daily basis, emotions like guilt and anxiety creep in because you tend to lose sight on why you began these tasks in the first place. Instead of making space for these activities, you tend to prioritise your ‘actual work’ and then you hear yourself justifying that you are ‘too busy’ to make time for these extra things despite how much you enjoy them.
I found myself falling into the same trap and started to de-prioritize a new manuscript for a book. How could I be spending time on this when I have ‘actual work’ I need to focus on? Peter Bregman spoke about this in his book ‘Emotional Courage’ which completely changed the way I viewed my special projects.
“Here’s the key: you need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediately and apparent return to your efforts. In other words – and this is the hard part – if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive”.
Give yourself permission to schedule time into the calendar for the kind of activities that have no immediate outcome other than to energise you. It can be painting, baking, creating, reading, and studying something not related to your work. You fill in the blank – whatever puts the smile on your face when you think about the activity in question.
If I gave you 2 hours of interrupted time just to focus on yourself – what would you to choose to do? Netflix is not an option! Now take your calendar and schedule in some time to make space for it.
If you’re still looking for validation from yourself about these kinds of activities at a time filled with so much uncertainty, ask yourself how you would like to feel at the end of each day. I call it having a to-feel list as opposed to the dreaded to-do list. Do you want to feel stressed, overwhelmed and fatigued? Or do you want to feel energised, content and grateful? I am assuming the latter. The gap between where you are now and where you aspire to be lies in the activities you schedule into your calendar. In order to feel better, you need to do the tasks that will bring you to this place, even if it’s as little as 15 minutes a day. You will begin to feel the difference and that’s all that matters.
Have a future self
“Your future self is watching right now through memories. Do yourself a favour and make it something worth watching’ – Aubrey de Grey
Benjamin Hardy, author of Personality Isn’t Permanent encourages us to distinguish our present self from our future self and actually view them as two different people.
The reason for this is it forces you to think about the choices you are making daily with a sense of accountability to someone else. He talks about an example of Nate who is heavily addicted to sugar and how Nate is picturing his 70 year old self if he does not make some drastic changes today. He says that “The problem is Nate’s imagined future with sugar, versus his imagined future without it. If he imagines his future without it, he sees all sorts of possibilities that aren’t there when with it. You can and should do this for yourself”.
This is not just about sugar consumption but how you choose to spend your time. Your future self will have a different trajectory if you consciously make better decisions today. When you adopt this mind-set, you no longer require willpower to get through the day because ultimately you are your own motivation. The role model you aspire to be is yourself!
Your whole mind-set towards time shifts because you no longer view your actions as indulgent but a necessity; an investment in the person you are aspiring to become. Guilt is not even a consideration because the actions you take now have a new meaning and context. It is no longer perceived as a waste of time but an investment into your future self.
Embrace a recovery mind-set
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” –Chinese Proverb
When you hear the word recovery, you associate it with something you do after a significant event like a recovery from an illness or after having run a big race. It’s as if you have to do something first in order to earn and deserve this recovery time.
The mind-set to recovery time serious needs to shift especially during this period of lockdown. Just because you are at home, that doesn’t qualify as rest and recovery because you are most likely working harder than you ever have before and your stress levels are higher than normal.
Jim Kwik, author of Limitless, says that ‘there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we never let our mind wander or be bored for a moment, we pay a price—poor memory, mental fog, and fatigue”.
To be completely honest, the reason I can write this article is to share my personal experience that I had no idea how to recover. I am an A-type personality, I want an outcome for the time I put into a task. I like to feel productive and that I am making the most of the time available to me. This really didn’t serve me and as Jim said I did land up with brain fog and mentally exhausted.
I was discussing this with my wonderful meditation teacher who asked me what I do to relax. I told her reading. She asked what I’m reading currently and I told her 2 titles that are both business books. She started to laugh and informed me that reading business books is not considered a mental break.
I perceived as it relaxing because I really enjoy it but I was missing the point. When you are intentional about recovery, it should be an activity that actually relaxes you. It must take you out of the ‘work’ mind-set and into a space where your mind can wonder. The truth is your best insights and ideas never actually come during work, they appear when you aren’t thinking about work. Perhaps a long shower or bath or a walk is how you decompress at the end of the day.
With much trepidation and resistance, I have taken her advice and taken the plunge and ordered some adult colouring books, some new pencil crayons (which I am quite sure my kids will take) and I downloaded a fiction book on my Kindle. (I haven’t started it yet but the intention is there).
I also have set boundaries on dedicated recovery time. I read non-fiction during the day or in my morning routine and fiction before bed to allow for some mental escapism. I can tell you that recovery is a skill and something you need to practice. It does not come naturally to me at all. The reason it is so important to persevere is that it brings you into a different pace from the constant ‘always on’ and having information fly at you the speed of light. It forces you to slow down and be deliberate with your actions.
Recovery is not just time you spend at the end of your work day but you should also be building in periods of mini breaks throughout your day. It is as simple as getting up from your chair every 50 to 60 minutes and taking a walk around your place, getting a glass of water, doing some mindful breathing or stretching.
Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, tells us that we need periods of focused, uninterrupted work followed by a short period of recovery time. When you take your break, you should be strategic about what you do during this time. Cal provides some useful tips on the best use of your time during these breaks. He says:
- “Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a target that might generate a professional or social obligation that you cannot completely fulfill during the break (e.g., glancing at an email inbox or social media feed).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a target that your mind associates with time-consuming distraction rituals (e.g., many people have a set “cycle” of distracting web sites they visit when they surf that has become so ingrained that looking at one site sends their mind the message it’s time to look at them all).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a related, but not quite the same, professional task (e.g., if you’re trying to write a report, and you turn your attention to quickly editing an unrelated report).
- Deep breaks should not turn your attention to a topic that is complicated, stressful and/or something that will sometime soon need a lot of your attention.
- Deep breaks should not usually last more than 10 – 15 minutes, with some exceptions, such as for meals.”
Cal’s key message is “that when it comes to deep work, you shouldn’t feel like you’re required to maintain peak concentration for hours on end. (If you try to, you’ll fail.) On the other hand, be mindful about how you take your cognitive breathers as they play a key role in whether the deep work session as a whole will succeed.”
“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then to rest afterward.” –Spanish Proverb
If you want to make your body strong, you need to incorporate some form of exercise to train and develop your muscles and fitness. It’s the same with recovery and relaxation; you need to train the ‘relaxation’ muscles in order to strengthen and develop them.
I know it is not a natural state of being for me, it is something I have to mindfully practice daily to move me from a ‘doing’ state to a ‘being’ state. This simply means being content in the moment with what I am focusing on without trying to control it or think it should be different than what it is.
There are 2 approaches I use to do this. Firstly, I am being conscious about doing one thing at a time. You can develop the procrastination muscle by stressing or multi-tasking or develop the ‘being’ muscle by having one area of focus. Going back to the colouring book example, my first reaction to my teacher’s suggestion was how I can pair the colouring with listening to a business podcast. She found this humorous because I was trying to find a way to make the activity productive. It wasn’t enough for me to just colour. It felt like I was wasting time. Again, this is a skill and so when I do the colouring, I just enjoy the down time and give myself permission that I don’t have to be anywhere else or do anything else for that period of time. Relaxation is the goal. Simply ‘being’ is the outcome.
The second approach I use is meditation; this is the greatest tool available to you and it costs you nothing other than a few minutes a day. If you think about it, it is a practice about being content ‘doing nothing’. There are so many apps and businesses dedicated to helping people sit down and simply breathe. It sounds really simple so why would you need an app or someone to help you through it?
The reason is because it is not your natural way of being – you like to be busy and productive and making sure you are ticking items off a list. In order to learn how to be still, be present and allow yourself a recovery period, you need to practice the skill. I have been meditating for nearly 6 years now and it has changed my life and the way I experience time. I really encourage you to add this to your daily routine, even if its 3 minutes a day.
You can find your unique ‘being’ equivalent if meditation is not your thing. What can you include into your calendar that enables you to be fully present in the activity – something that takes your mind away from the stresses and challenges on your plate? Maybe it’s a sport or martial arts or painting? Whatever it is for you, it must bring you into a focused awareness of the task at hand.
“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” –Eckhart Tolle
If this sounds easier than done, it is. With all the challenges Covid-19 has brought, you need to be even more deliberate to cultivate a better mind-set towards time especially your own self-care time. Don’t self-sabotage and justify why you are too busy to make time for yourself. If an hour feels too much, then find 15 minutes in a day for yourself. This is the time to ask yourself who you want to show up as? How do you want to feel at the end of each day? Remember – the different between where you are and where you want to be lies in the activities scheduled into your calendar.
Schedule in the time, show up to yourself, take action and create your micro win. When you keep the promises you make to yourself and honour yourself as you would any other appointment in your calendar, you are developing a far greater habit. The habit of daily acts of kindness for yourself. This will yield the greatest growth and benefits than deferring this time for an email or something that seems more pressing.
Take your power back and ditch the time creep. Give yourself permission to do the things that energise you. This is not only about being authentic to your current self but your future self – what are you doing every day to make sure you are getting closer to that version of yourself you aspire to be? Take periodic brain breaks for recovery to reboot and recharge for the next task. Lastly, find a practice that enables your mind to be fully in the present moment.
Here’s to your new mind-set of time,