My Top Time Management Hack

Managing our time starts with managing our emotions.

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One of the main reasons people seek a Professional Life Coach, is to become better at time management.  It seems like an unconquerable and multi-headed Hydra, whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a global CEO.  Our desire to master time and experience a measure of ease and balance in our everyday lives fuels an ever growing industry of books, calendars, apps, and experts.

I love a useful planner, like Brendan Burchard’s “High Performance Planner”, and am never too far from my digital calendar.  I believe we can fine tune all the tools that help us live life more successfully, but tools are the low hanging fruit of this work.  An excellent woodworker did not achieve mastery because of his tools.  His saw, hammer, and drill are required but far from sufficient to allow professional mastery.

My clients, arguably, are sick of hearing me talk about turning pro with their calendar.  But that’s because they are already doing the transformational work of understanding the true and fundamental reason for their battle with managing time.  They have already come to understand that time management is emotional management.  We all have the same number of hours in a day.  Why can some people take care of 5 children, while others can barely manage raising one?  Why does one business leader create a billion dollar company, while another creates a million dollar one?

Before your mind takes you to blame – “I don’t have the resources that others have” – or shame – “I’m lazy and stupid” – come with me to another place. Consider what I’ve learned working with so many people who are far from lazy and stupid, and have experienced the same everyday challenge of feeling like time is an out of control treadmill, and they are about to be thrown off of it at any moment!

Managing our time starts with managing our emotions.  Our ability to focus on what matters most in the course of a day, a month, and a lifetime, is entirely correlated to our ability to manage our given 24 hours as an owner, rather than a prisoner.  It’s entirely human, and frankly, part of our contract with life, to experience uncomfortable emotions.  The folks who manage their time masterfully experience the same range of emotions as other humans, but they have learned how to process those emotions.  To use a phrase from Susan David, they understand and are always learning “emotional agility”.  Here are a few ways uncomfortable emotions show up when we are deciding what to give our time to:

  1. Guilt – I shouldn’t be spending so much time at work OR I should be spending more time at work.
  2. Shame – I’m a bad mother because I work full time.
  3. Anger – I shouldn’t be angry but should instead focus on all the great things in my life.
  4. Fear – I’m being silly AND Just do it!
  5. Annoyance – I should be a nicer and more patient person.
  6. Humiliation – Who did this to me?  Who is to blame? I want to die!
  7. Loneliness – I wouldn’t be feeling lonely if I had made better choices in the past.
  8. Sadness – Don’t worry, be happy! Reframe, forgive, ignore, and just move on!
  9. Hurt – Who, me?  Hurt?  
  10. Grief – I should be over this already.

All these emotions are normal and every single one of us experience them.  But somewhere along the way, most of us learned to push them away with the help of harsh and punishing judgements.  Research shows that when we are hostile towards and resist emotions, they come back magnified.  So many of us are caught in a daily, sometimes hourly, battle with our emotions, and instead of learning how to process all emotions so we can become more able and resilient, we waste all our energy, and then wonder what happened to our day.

When we commit to the work of learning how to manage emotions that society calls “negative”, we learn a new way of being present in our lives, and in the world.  Some of the gifts of this “new way” of being present include:

  1. Identifying our Core Life Values
  2. Getting clear on our Purpose
  3. Deciding our priority in each life area
  4. Shifting from Busy to Productive
  5. Saying “No” to protect the “Hell Yes”
  6. Managing our calendar like a Pro
  7. Letting go of balance in favor of full, focused, and abundance

As I shared in last week’s blog, “Balance is a Verb”, I don’t believe balance is a component of a rich and high achieving life.  But I’m confident that we can learn how to create a day, a week, and a life that allows us to complete all the things that matter, while feeling vital and energized – most of the time!

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