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How to Control Time

How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

We set such high expectations of ourselves, don’t we? We want to do more, see more, experience more, save more, and yet…3 weeks into it we’re already feeling the pressure creeping back in. We just don’t seem to have enough hours in the day to meet all of those goals we set last month.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time the last few weeks. Perhaps it’s a side effect of watching too many back-to-back episodes of Doctor Who over the holidays, but at any rate, time is one of those elusive beasts that none of us ever seems to have a handle on. The title of this post, “How to Control Time” is probably somewhat of a misnomer. None of us really has control over time itself, after all. We’ve all got 24 hours in a day. What we do have control over, is how we use those 24 hours.

In the past few days, a couple of people close to me have asked if I’m “spreading myself too thin”. I’ve got a lot going on, it’s true. A few years ago, I don’t think I’d have been able to handle this much stuff at one time. But I’m learning what it takes to make the most of every 24 hour period that I’m given. I am hoping it might be useful to you if I share some of what what I’m learning.

Stop separating. I used to think that in order to achieve the perfect work/life balance, I had to have a distinct line drawn between what was “work” and what was “life”. Since I’ve been self employed, that line has blurred significantly…and I’ve realized that’s not such a bad thing.

I’m not talking about being a workaholic (though I’m often accused of being that). Certainly we all need to have down time (more on that in a minute). I’ve got a lot going on, as do you…if I add it all up, between my company, teaching, freelance work, blogging, community projects, musical endeavours, and networking/socializing with friends and colleagues, my “work” week probably totals somewhere around 80-90 hours. But see what I did there? I lumped in things like “blogging”, “community projects”, “music” and “networking” to that mix. Why? Because all of that stuff, even the stuff I don’t get paid for, the stuff many people consider “life”, is all part of my “work”. But, it’s also all part of my “life”. That’s how the line gets fuzzy.

Once I stopped defining my activities as either “work” or “life”, and started to mesh them all together, a really strange thing happened. Suddenly I had more hours in the day. I wasn’t waiting till my “work” day was done to think about community projects or networking activities or music. I was incorporating them into my day, and as a result, accomplishing more.

I realize this is not always as feasible depending on the type of job you have (i.e. you can’t spend time when you’re supposed to be working doing personal emails and calls and networking or practicing your guitar). But..there’s no rule against thinking about stuff while you work, right? AND, you are allowed to take breaks? Maybe, instead of spending your lunch breaks or coffee breaks hanging out at the water cooler, try planning that web project you’ve been meaning to get to, writing a new blog post or connecting with your network.

Listen to your body and mind. The only downside of this new way of looking at “life” and “work” is that it’s easy to get caught up in it, and spend all those 24 hours thinking, planning, networking, and doing. It happens to me all the time – I get so excited about everything that I can’t stop thinking about it. I become enamoured with possibilities. It becomes difficult to shut down.

As much as getting control of how you use your time is beneficial, sometimes it can be difficult to slow down. The most important thing you can do in this case is force the issue. Make sure you plan your down time just as much as you plan your other time. If you have a day off coming up on the weekend, do everything you can to protect that. You almost ALWAYS have a choice. Even if you have kids, remember that down time with family is still down time! I often look at my week in advance and keep one day open for doing things I want to do. Sometimes that’s sleeping. Sometimes it’s hanging out with my family. Sometimes it’s Doctor Who marathons. Sometimes it’s even working at things I enjoy. But nothing gets in the way of that day. It’s sacred space.

I’ve burnt out more times than I can count, so I’m well aware of the limitations of my mind and my body. I was a bit sick this weekend. Not a full-fledged illness, but I was pretty tired and achy and stuffy. I knew it was my body trying to tell me to cool my jets for a bit. It was saying, “Sit down, take a breather. Rest.” I listened. Didn’t go out much. Stayed in, drank tea. Ate well. Spent time with my husband. If I’d pushed it, I’d probably still be a bit sick (or a lot sicker). But I’m not.

It’s okay to be busy, on the go, doing lots of different things. That’s the point of this life, to DO things. But balance that with the limits of your body and your mind. We all have a different limit. Find your balance. Listen to it. The result? Your productive time will be more productive. Your rest time will be more restful.

You know…we might not be able to control time (yet). That’s probably a good thing. But we can ultimately control our use of time. Use every minute of every day as well as you can (even if you’re doing something that sucks). And before you know it…good things will start to happen. That’s just the way time works.

No time like the present to get started, eh?

2 Comments

  1. Susan,
    You are so right! I too am self employed and there really is no demarcation line between work and play for me. Example: Saturday I’m going to see The Blind Side at the local theatre. $3 of the $4 ticket will go to benefit a friend who has heart disease. I’ll take my camera and take a few pics while I’m there. My friends are meeting me. We’ll have coffee afterwards and laugh a lot. I’ll write a blog about the day. For me: the day will be big fun. It will also be a great mix of work (pics, blog of the benefit) and fun (great movie with friends!).

    Sundays are pretty much my sacred “it’s all about me” day. Church in the morning, lunch at mom’s, family in the afternoon. Sometimes I might do just a little work – but not usually.

    Thanks for the insight, putting it so succinctly and getting some of the great messages from The Doctor!

    @debworks

  2. Hi!
    This was an excellent blog post. I needed to read something like this because, like everyone, I also have a hard time managing my time. I will try to do what you have suggested.

    P.S.: If you have time to talk about managing your time (especially writing about it, which takes longer than talking) you know you are great at it.

    Valentina
    From your section 010 Web Media class

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