“I don’t have enough time”

Things we tell ourselves that aren’t really true.

Exploring time and our sense of overwhelm.

A common and recurring problem I hear from leaders I work with is that they are always too busy. Too many competing demands, tight deadlines, too much to do and not enough time.

No time for being proactive, not enough time to coach employees, not enough time for self-care.  And for so long, I completely agreed.  Until I didn’t.  Until I realized that being overwhelmed is an emotion, and a choice.  Based on my thoughts.

This is not to say that sometimes I still experience this emotion.  However, I do recognize it as something I’m choosing.

Let’s explore this.

Time is fascinating. Because time is just a mental construct. A way for human beings to note the passage of time relative to the sun and moon. Gazillions of years ago time was defined, clocks and calendars were invented to help us navigate through life.

Now the framework of time significantly impacts our waking moments, our lives. And for the most part, we truly believe that there are not enough hours in a day.  And that we don’t have enough time.

Of course, this is not true.

Because we all have enough time. Enough. Time. The same time in a day. The way we choose to think about it, utilize it, talk about it, affects our results. We have enough time if we are clear on our priorities, if we know the results we want to achieve. If we are mindful of how we are using our time and the quality of the experience.

#1 Let’s explore our mindset about time.

Scenario 1: I wake and feel already behind because my to do list is lengthy, at work and at home. I chug coffee, gripe at the traffic and charge into work. I scan the calendar, wondering if I am prepared for the day, consider cancelling that one on one touch base with Bill, he’s doing great anyway. He doesn’t need me as much as the time I need to spend on the projects due later in the week. I can’t believe it’s month end again. My thoughts are scattered, I feel overwhelmed, knowing I can’t close my door because I am an open door kind of leader while I silently pray no one enters or everyone calls in and hope for a meeting cancellation or two.  My new employee Jesse comes in with a problem and a question we’ve previously discussed. I tap down my impatience, answer the question AGAIN and arrive to my next meeting 10 minutes late. As usual. My day progresses and I suddenly realize its half past 5, I long for chocolate, wine, a deserted island, and soft pajamas, though not necessarily in that order. I’m grateful to have survived another day. Its Monday. Only four more days of work until the weekend.

Scenario 2: I wake, thankful that I put together my to do list yesterday afternoon. I put my coffee in a to go mug, and head to work. The traffic is the same as it always is at this time of day and I know that I’ll get to the office when I get there. I come into work, settling in, scanning my calendar. I see my one on one with Bill and am interested to know how he is doing. I ponder how I can support his efforts and keep him engaged. I jot down a few questions I’d like to ask him. Jesse comes in with a problem, and I am thankful that my door is open so we can have a coaching discussion. I realize our last discussion was not as clear to her as I thought it was. I want to make her onboarding experience a successful one. We talk for 20 minutes and she leaves prepared and confident. I apologize to my peers for being late to my next meeting, letting them know I had an important coaching conversation. The day progresses as they do, with some unexpected changes to the schedule. I am calm, knowing that I can tackle any challenges that comes my way. I realize it’s time to head for home and I am thankful for a great start to the week. I know with some upcoming deadlines it will be an interesting one!

Where do you see yourself?  What is your mindset about time and your use of it?  The difference between Scenario 1 and 2 lives only in my mind. The power of my thoughts and how I see time, see myself in the context of a day.

If I see time as a scarce commodity—fretting about precious minutes wasted in traffic, or resenting time with my team—I will be hurried, impatient (even if I am a master at hiding it, it simmers beneath the surface). If I expect a “perfect day” free of challenges and problems, when they arise (as they of course do) I will be surprised and frazzled. Irritated to change the schedule, resentful. My thoughts about time, create my emotions, which affect my actions….and ultimately generate my results.

Examine your thoughts. Do you see yourself anywhere in these scenarios? Do you believe you have enough time regardless of the demands placed upon you? Do you know you have a choice to see time for what it is, a neutral circumstance? At the end of the day, are you confident knowing you used all your seconds, minutes and hours mindfully and purposefully?

I am not advocating for seeing everything as overly positive or naïve. Rather to see time as it is. A construct. A fact. Don’t let time rule your life. Ensure your priorities guide your focus and life.

#2 Let’s explore our relationship with urgency.  Are you addicted?

We don’t even realize how powerfully urgency affects our mindset and our choices.  Stephen Covey examined this in his amazing 1994 book, First Things First.

His concept is about getting used to the adrenaline rush of handling crisis; getting dependent on it for our sense of energy and excitement.

Do you see yourself in these questions?

  • I seem to do my best work under pressure
  • I often blame the rush and pressure of external things for my failure to spend deep, introspective time with myself
  • I feel guilty when I take time off work
  • I frequently find myself pushing people away so that I can finish a project
  • I’m often preoccupied with one thing when I’m doing something else
  • I keep thinking that someday I’ll be able to do what I really want to do

To overcome the urgency addition, we have to realize it exists.  We have to be mindful of the traps that we or others set about priorities, or requests or deadlines.  We have to realize that it compromises our ability to make choices that keep us effective and sane.

Seeds to plant around time:

  1. Clarify your priorities: personal and professional, do this daily, weekly or monthly.  Covey calls these our big rocks.
  2. Expect things to take more time than you planned, expect things to not go as planned, expect to be interrupted. It’s when we are unrealistic that we’re so consistently disappointed.
  3. Change your mindset to one of focus and awareness. Be mindful of how you are using your time and whether it’s aligned with your priorities.
  4. Make decisions and don’t beat yourself up for decisions in the past, we can’t undo the past, we can explore it, examine it and use it to learn and move forward.
  5. Examine your relationship with urgency, know when something is urgent to you and to others, and when it is not. Engage in an urgency detox.  Even if it’s only for one day to know how it feels.

One day. 86,400 seconds. Do you have enough time?  You have a choice.