The Time Management Problem Most of Us Have — and How to Fix It

by Nora Dunn on 3 April 2014 1 comment

You're up to your eyeballs. Everybody wants a piece of you. You don't have time to think, eat, or sleep properly. Everything is a rush. You probably don't even have time to read this article, but you're drawn to it, despite yourself. (See also: 20 Free Ways to Relieve Stress)

"Stop the bus! I wanna get off."

Does this sound like you? If it does, you're probably among the masses who are over-committed and wondering how to dig yourself out. But before we start digging, let's take a look at the trap you've fallen into.

Pitfalls of Over-Committing

We live in a fast-paced world, one with more opportunities and obligations than time. In many cases, over-committing is borne of enthusiasm. But it ends up doing more damage than good.

The pitfalls of over-committing are plentiful, affecting:

  • Concentration
     
  • Diet (too much, not enough, or the wrong stuff)
     
  • Substance reliance (alcohol, drugs, even medication)
     
  • Sleep
     
  • Mood
     
  • Health

These pitfalls of over-committing, in turn, create a vicious circle that worsens everything, creates more stress, and makes it harder to get out of the commitment hole you're in.

Getting Out of the Commitment Hole

"Great," you say. "I'm stuck in the swirling eddy of over-commitment. Now what?"

It's time to dig yourself out. Here's how to begin.

Accept Responsibility

This is a tough nut to swallow, since it may appear that we're simply reacting to the hand life has dealt us. But ultimately it boils down to you. Once you accept responsibility for getting yourself into this bind, you can also assume the power to get yourself out. (See also: How to Break Bad Habits)

Let Go of Perfection

Become a recovering perfectionist. Although it's commendable to give your all (and then some) to everything you commit to, rarely is it expected — or even appreciated. Sometimes, good enough is just that — good enough.

Breathe and Keep Perspective

It's simple, but effective. When overwhelmed by your workload, close your eyes and take three deep breaths, remembering that nothing lasts forever. You'll get through this busy time, and hopefully you'll use the techniques below to not let yourself get this mired in commitments again.

Prioritize

Write down your commitments and prioritize them. Sometimes, in simply writing down your obligations, you'll gain perspective.

Make Lists

Take pleasure in crossing things off your list. But be warned: Sometimes the top priorities on your list are also the most onerous, so instead you tackle the little things first. Although this gives you an initial sense of accomplishment, there will always be new little things added to your list; get those big things out of the way.

Ask for Help

Delegate! You may be the best person for the job, but you're a recovering perfectionist now, so let it go. Somebody else can do it, and you're not weak by asking for help. (See also: How to Delegate)

Don't Worry

It's so much easier said than done. The more energy you expend worrying, the less you have to get through your commitments. Just breathe, and focus on the next item on your priority list.

Sleep

The more rested you are, the more perspective you'll have on your situation and your commitments.

How to Stop Over-Committing

Once you're out of the commitment hole, use these techniques to ensure you don't end up back in it.

Learn to Say No

Remember that note above about accepting responsibility for over-committing? You're responsible for over-committing because you didn't say "no" to too many requests on your time and energy. (See also: How to Say "No" to Friends and Family)

I recently had an amazing job offer in Peru that would give me free accommodation for a mere two days per week of work. But my freelance writing obligations are also a full-time job, which means I would have been working seven days a week, without time to actually experience Peru. This seemed like a crime to me, but learning to say no to this job was one of the most difficult — yet cathartic — things I've done. (Instead, I paid my way in Peru, in essence buying the free time I so badly needed and deserved.)

Evaluate Opportunities and Commitments

Once you're comfortable with saying no, you can evaluate opportunities to choose what to accept (and decline). Ask yourself these questions:

  • How will I benefit from this opportunity?
     
  • What is the cost? (Will you pay a price in money, or time, or at the expense of family, exercise, work, or something else?)
     
  • How much time will it take? (Don't forget travel time and other related obligations.)
     
  • If I will profit from this, what is the value of my time? (Work out how much money you would make per hour for this commitment.)

Face Your Fears

Why have you over-committed in the past? Are you afraid of disappointing somebody? Losing your job? Not making enough money? Missing out on a good time? (See also: 9 Techniques to Conquer Any Fear)

Before I sold everything to travel full-time (in 2007), I was the poster-child for over-commitment. I had a busy financial planning practice; I was a Rotarian and a Toastmaster; I was acting in film and television, and performing in musical theater; and I was rock climbing, motorcycle racing, and more. I had over-committed myself to all these amazing opportunities because I was trying to quell my inner voice which said "Nora, you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing. There's something else out there for you." Every time I heard it, I added something new to my repertoire hoping it would satisfy the inner voice.

But along with that inner voice was a knowledge that the "something else" out there for me involved a lifestyle change — and I was afraid. I ultimately paid the price for over-committing and not facing my fears with my health — which became the tipping point to my making the lifestyle changes necessary to recapture my dreams.

Believe Less Is More

We live in a world of opportunity and abundance. Although the temptation of all the amazing things we can see/do/be is alluring, life balance and managing our expectations is much more rewarding. (See also: The Secret to Time Management and Work-Life Balance.)

It has been shown many times over that meditation is good for us — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Why then is it so hard to do? Because it looks unproductive! We're thinking about nothing, going nowhere, and accomplishing nothing. Or so it appears.

Instead, meditation (this act of doing less) gives us more, by helping us stay healthy, and giving us perspective, patience, and the ability to evaluate and manage our daily commitments — hopefully without over-committing.

Although you don't necessarily need to take up meditation, look at it as an example of how less is more, and how we can enjoy life so much more, by filling it with less.

Are you an over-committer? How do you plan to stop?

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Guest's picture

Great post Nora, I definitely think a lot of business owners struggle with time management and can find themselves struggling. Admittedly the first few years of a business can be sleepless but by delegating tasks and as you mentioned, stop vying for perfection there is a much better chance of getting a good hold on how time is focused- Ben