Around this time last year I started to feel overwhelmed about having a lack of time and not being on top of things 100% of the time. To be honest I’m not any busier than anyone else and this is partly why I kept putting off doing anything about it for such a while.
I always keep in mind the infamous quote ‘you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce’ and while it can at times be motivational, I had surpassed that point and wondered how people managed to do what they do in a 24 hour day.
There is a lot of be said for working smart not hard and of course how you manage your time plays a big part. Another important element is how you give your time and that’s one of the areas I realised I needed to work on.
This might not be the most obvious part of time management however it’s certainly the most important in terms of productivity and wellbeing in general. There is no way you’ll be able to manage your time well or be as productive or efficient as possible without getting enough sleep each night. Sleep is an area where I unashamedly excel. I love to sleep, I love having a set bed time and routine and I’m extremely rigid about it. There are a few reasons for this which I’ll go into in a minute however it’s really important especially if you struggle with getting to sleep. Having previously been in a job where there was no set routine, no regular hours, crossing various time zones & being really out of sync and out of control almost, it took time for me to adjust to a routine of waking and going to sleep at the same time each day. At the beginning it felt boring if I’m honest, the thought of doing the same thing day in, day out was foreign and having adjusted my body to be able to work when I should have been asleep and vice versa, it was a challenge to get to sleep at a normal time and in turn to wake at a decent time. Perseverance is key and now that I have a set process, I struggle when I need to veer from it or if it’s disturbed in any way. I guess it’s the same with any habit that’s been formed.
While I’ve not always had the same routine, I have always required at least 8 hours of sleep in order to function. I know there will be many people out there who are lucky if they manage 6 hours sleep per night and parents who survive on much less but my body just can’t handle it. Not only am I unable to concentrate or focus on anything and likely to fall asleep by 3pm, I get so irritable and short tempered if I haven’t had enough sleep and often have a headache the entire day, almost like a punishment despite already feeling lousy enough. It’s really interesting how some people simply manage, my friend rarely sleeps more than 4 hours a night and I’ve often wondered how she gets through the day without losing it.
Being really strict with my bed time routine has improved my quality of sleep. It’s not something that happened overnight (excuse the pun) it took time to implement a solid process that works for me and mentally prepares me to go to sleep. I don’t allow any distractions, I generally have a long soak in the bath with epsom salts, do my skincare routine and get into my pyjamas. I set my alarm for the morning if it’s a work day, I switch off the tv if it’s on and that’s it. I generally fall asleep within 15 minutes of laying down and ideally before 10pm and often wake up a few minutes before my alarm is set to go off which I don’t mind as I really hate being woke up by an alarm and much prefer to wake naturally. As summer sets in, I tend to wake between 6-7am and just like having a night time routine, I start with a morning routine. Sleeping from 9pm – 6am is my goal on work days and on non-working days I still like to be sleeping by 10pm and generally wake from 7am onwards. While my routine is rigid, the timings are a little flexible and not always set in stone.
As I like to be in bed for 9pm, this means I have 4 hours after work to do anything I want or need to do. Generally this includes preparing and eating dinner, speaking to my gran on the phone, spending time with my nieces, having a bath or washing my hair. I do try and avoid making plans during the week as I find that after 4pm I’m pretty tired and anything that eats into that 4 hour free time window I have each day, is going to impact on my sleep and rest which can impact on the next day etc. Of course there are birthdays and celebrations which I make exceptions for but I generally try and keep my evenings free.
How you give your time
When you break your day down into blocks, it’s easy to see where you’re investing most of your time and where you may need to rebalance or adjust. 4 hours of free time each day isn’t a lot and of course if I stayed up later at night I could squeeze more in but having tried that, I find the quality of what I’m doing past a certain time is simply not worth it. If I wanted to invest in myself and take an evening class or do some distance learning, I’d need to squeeze it in to that 4 hour window and keep in mind the potential knock on effect. I’m not saying it’s not possible but it’s just about forward planning and avoiding a burnout from committing yourself to too much.
Everyone has different commitments, priorities, agendas and this determines how you give your time along with how much time you have to give. Up until October last year when I reduced my hours, I was working full time (9-5 M-F), creating content for 3 blog posts per week, looking after my nieces 5-7 days per week, seeing my friends and trying to look after myself in between. While I accept there is no perfect balance and at times there will be more social occasions and commitments, even just doing the minimum each week of work, family and blog was too much and I could feel myself burning out. As an introvert (something which I might talk in more detail about soon) I need alone time. I need time to re-energise and recharge from overstimulation which can be anything from a busy day at work to a day out with friends or a concert. I need a chance to gather my thoughts, process what’s happened/what I’m planning/what’s coming up and more generally just chill out. I crave this time and now schedule it into my week especially when I have a busy week or a lot of social interactions.
Despite being an introvert I do give my time generously and I value and respect the company of others. I’ve always said the most important thing you can give someone is your time and I very much live by that motto. The problem I faced last year was I was giving everyone else my time and not taking enough time for myself. I was visiting friends after work during the week, looking after my nieces every evening and weekend, trying to visit my gran regularly, spending time with the rest of my wider family, all while trying to do well at work, preparing content for 3 blog posts per week and wondering when I would have time to wash my hair. It literally got down to that level of detail and looking back now, it was unsustainable. I know there are a lot of people out there doing more than that, parents particularly single parents who have no choice but to sacrifice their own time for that of their kids however I haven’t yet committed to having kids, I haven’t yet given up my independence and freedom although it almost felt like I had. I couldn’t make plans a week or a month in advance as I knew every evening and weekend was already occupied with commitments. It got to the point where I had some annual leave left and I scheduled a few long weekends without telling anyone I was off to make sure I could have a day for myself. I decided to start saying no if there were plans being made during the week or if there was a social occasion on the weekend that was going to zap all of my energy and impact on the following days. I stopped offering up my time and suggesting ideas for things to do. I’m not for a second suggesting my time is more valuable than anyone else’s because it isn’t, I just needed to take it back to basics and give myself some time out.
Managing time better
When I reached the point of realisation that the current way of managing my time wasn’t working I had to work out how I could make it better. Certain changes had already been made such as reducing my working hours but there was still a way to go. I had to be selfish and step back from certain activities even though it was difficult. While planning every minute of your week might make you feel like you’ve got time management fully under control, I’ve found that having blocks of time without any plans is much more satisfying and allows for spontaneity. Some of the best days I’ve had recently have been the ones where I decided to do something without planning in advance and it actually felt like a luxury being able to do so.
I’m someone who thrives on a routine however it can’t be so rigid that you can’t enjoy yourself or steer from it, it alls come down to balance. Now that I work a 32 hour week over 4 days, I have an extra day to myself to do things I want or need to do. I could still do with being more selfish with my time especially on Friday’s but it’s a work in progress and my work/life balance has improved tremendously. While I accept it’s not possible for everyone to reduce their hours or work a 4 day week, there are other ways to re-establish the balance such as ensuring you leave work at your contracted finish time, taking a proper lunch break away from your desk, identifying your most productive hours and focusing on difficult or challenging tasks during that time leaving emails for later as they tend to require less concentration. I know if I get a request at 4pm to analyse data or carry out a complex task which will require my full focus, I’m better to leave it to first thing the next morning as otherwise I won’t be giving it my best attention. I’m most alert and productive between 8am-2pm and I tend to catch up on my emails between 2pm-4pm then make a plan of action or list for the next day between 4-4:30pm before heading home. It allows me to check my to do list for the day, carry forward any tasks I didn’t complete and ensure I’ve captured everything for the next day. Of course during the course of the day priorities change and I constantly re-evaluate to fit everything in but there are times when I have no choice but to carry a task forward to the next day and generally that’ll be the thing I start on first.
We all do it and at times it’s unavoidable however I try to identify the first signs and nip it in the bud as quickly as possible. I generally find it’s the least interesting or engaging tasks which I put off or avoid but it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same amount of attention and while they may be mundane, they are often essential and non-negotiable. If you are someone who procrastinates a lot, it’s important to identify the reasoning. If it’s because you’re not sure how to execute the task or it requires input from others, the sooner you learn or ask or find out, the better. There’s nothing worse than being asked why you haven’t completed something if you don’t have a valid answer. You can’t blame anyone but yourself if you are unsure what’s expected but you didn’t ask or if you weren’t 100% clear how to run a specific report but didn’t approach others for guidance or support. This is only going to reflect badly on you and with that in mind consider the impact on your reputation and whether it’s worth the constant headache procrastination gives you. If you’ve been set an unrealistic deadline and you know it’s going to be impossible to achieve, rather than letting that thought take over and make you feel like there’s no point even starting, consider how you could get it done either through getting additional support or breaking the task down into specific components. Maybe you won’t get it fully executed however getting 95% done is better than nothing and it’s better to utilise time making progress on something instead of worrying about not getting it finished in time. If you’re procrastinating about something which is impacting on your own personal progression then you need to try and address it as soon as practical. In years to come you’ll wonder why you didn’t just get on with it.
Know your limits
This is crucial when it comes to nailing the work/life balance. I know I can’t stay up past 10pm but there are times when I can’t avoid it. Careful planning helps ensure if I do have a late night, I allow myself sufficient time to rest. That might mean working from home the next day or avoiding creating any blog content at the weekend if I’ve had a hectic week. Recognising the signs and symptoms or where possible, mitigating them by either scheduling in down time in advance can make life run much smoother and avoids having to take time out when you’ve overdone it or over committed yourself. Health is something you can’t buy and it goes hand in hand with time. While we’re in an era of constantly being on the go and living life at 100 miles per hour, it will catch up with us eventually.