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5 Ways to Protect Your Time and Your Happiness

Take back your time and be in control of your life through simple and sustainable habit changes.

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Unsplash/Windows
Unsplash/Windows

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn

Time is your most valuable asset. It is easy to lose track of and impossible to get back. We often use words like, “blur” and “blend together” to describe our days. Listen, I get it. The last year hasn’t exactly stimulated strong time management, which is why there’s never been a better time to grow that muscle. Doing so will directly increase productivity, happiness, energy, and motivation.

When cultivating the art of effective time management, the key is quality over quantity. While one person’s definition of quality time can differ drastically from the next, the principles I will outline below apply to everyone. Read on to improve time management in five practical steps.

Sleep.

The adverse effects of not getting proper sleep are diminished alertness and logic, general health issues, a lesser ability to maintain healthy relationships, and increased risk in carrying out physical activities. Here are some simple steps you can take to sleep more soundly:

  1. Keep your room dark. To promote melatonin production, be sure to cover your windows and remove electronic light sources. Still too bright? An eye mask will do the trick.
  2. Banish your phone from your bedroom. Doing so at least 30 minutes before bedtime eliminates associated sleep issues and poorer quality of sleep.  
  3. Read a book (not your kindle). Did you know reading induces sleepiness and can reduce stress by 68%? Need more incentive? You’ll also boost your memory recall and creativity.
  4. Do the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Developed by Dr. Weil, this breathing pattern is a “natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” Inhale for four, hold for seven, and exhale for eight. Repeat three more times.

Work less, achieve more.

Now this news should elicit some conscious celebrating. Research shows that in an eight-hour workday, the average person is productive for around three hours. It sounds unbelievable, I know. But consider all the non-work-related things you indulge in everyday (social media, Chex Mix, news, job searching, Skittles, vacation-planning). Is it making sense now? One trick I love is I block off focus time in my calendar. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in 45 minutes when your phone is in airplane mode. Another favorite exercise is writing down all my accomplishments throughout the day. I read that list at 4:45 p.m., making me comfortable with leaving given my production that day.

Set boundaries.

There is always a little voice that tells us when we are stressed or anxious – recognize and act early before overwhelm sets in. Say to yourself right now, out loud, “I will stop when I hear the voice tell me I’m stressed.” It will help to put this mantra somewhere visible. The next time you are stressed, stop what you are doing and write down what is making you feel stressed, angry, or overworked. Read through your notes at the end of the day or week. Over time, you will start to identify common themes and bring awareness to things you need to avoid or modify. This might mean saying “no” to projects outside your scope or scheduling blocks of time to work on specific tasks. Being organized about your time goes a long way in productivity and mindset.

Set aside time to meditate.

When you are experiencing burnout, cortisol levels are elevated, therefore stress is high. Meditation is a fantastic and accessible tool to reduce stress, stimulate your brain, and increase oxytocin, the happy hormone! Square away at least seven minutes daily to observe your thoughts and sensations without judgment. You can use technology to enhance the practice by looking at images and sounds of nature. Research shows doing so has rejuvenating effects on the brain. Of course, nothing beats a walk in the wilderness, but this is the next best thing!

Get moving.

Regular exercise also increases oxytocin levels.  With many of us still working remotely, the time is ripe to prioritize physical activity. Spend the time you would have spent commuting to go for a walk or run. Have a pet? Taking your dog for a walk or playing with your cats are great ways to both stay active while also making up for those missed social interactions at the office.

Practice self-compassion.

Cultivating great time management skills will be a process. And there may be days when you spend more time than you’d like watching Netflix. This doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. And yet, as a culture, when we slip up and miss our lofty expectations, the self-criticism can be unrelenting. Enter self-compassion. This key practice not only preserves your mental and physical wellbeing, it also catalyzes it. Despite culturally promoted beliefs, showing yourself compassion is not self-indulgence, self-pity, or a sign of weakness. I can say from personal experience, when I’ve turned my inner dialogue from faux to friend, adapting to change and staying positive when there were hiccups was so much easier. It allowed me to celebrate the small wins and forgive myself for mistakes.

You now have all the tools you need to step off the hamster wheel and step into personal freedom. Take back your time and rule the day by carrying out the sustainable habit changes.  

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