This is how most of my friends describe themselves. They have a lot on their plates; work, kids, housework, social obligations, chesed, spiritual growth, and the list goes on. They have been to time management workshops. Read all about time management tips. But they don’t seem to work.
With everything cramped into our lives, we think we can always take on more, do more squeeze in more. And we feel overwhelmed, tense, and burnt out. After running from one thing to another for a whole day, trivial mistakes like a kid leaving an ice-cream stick on the table, a burnt dinner, or a thoughtless comment send us through the roof.
And then sometimes we just crash.
The culprit is our generation’s belief in multitasking. We think that we can do several tasks all at once, when in reality we can’t. Multitasking has been long proven to be the bane of productivity. It takes longer to do several tasks at once than if you were to do them one after another.
The second mistake is trying to stretch time, because we view it as an abstract concept. But it is not. 100 years before Einstein, the Tanya wrote that time exists only where there is matter. Time, like matter, was created by God as part of the Creation. Before Creation there was no time.
This line of thinking is completely counterintuitive to us, but it has been recognized beyond a shadow of a doubt by modern physics. Time is not an abstraction. It’s a finite, measurable, palpable resource. And looking at time this way can help us manage it more properly.
Think of it this way. Imagine you have a bag with 5 carrots in the fridge. You can make a carrot cake, a carrot salad, a carrot kugel, or a pitcher of carrot juice, but you can’t make all of them. There are simply not enough carrots to go around.
Time is just like carrots. Each day comes with 24 hours. No more, no less. Each project takes a measurable amount of hours and once those are up, they are up. Thinking that you can squeeze more into your day than you actually can is an illusion.
If you are serious about getting your work done AND preserving your sanity, you have to lower your expectations and plan how you will use your time. Let’s look how you can do that practically.
Effective time management strategy for dealing with overwhelm
- Time planned is time well spent. Start each day with a plan. To effectively manage your time, think of each hour as a carrot. You can even draw 24 sticks (one for each carrot-hour) on top of your planning sheet.
- Plan your downtime and self-care first. If you don’t make allowance for it, it won’t happen. Our default is to leave ourselves for the end and then we don’t get to taking care of ourselves. Can you drive from New York to Toronto with an empty tank of gas? No. Well you can’t drive your life on an empty stomach and with an empty sleep tank either. Schedule 6-7 hours of sleep, 1 hour for personal preparation time, and three 20-minute food breaks. At least twice every week include 1 hour of quality downtime (exercise, walk, friends, etc).
- You are left with 15-16 “carrot” hours for the day. Write out a list of everything you need done that day, at work and at home. Laundry is a task. Cooking dinner is a task. Playing with kids, showers and bedtime story are tasks. A conversation with your husband and a phone call to your mom are tasks too.
- Next to each task, write down an amount of time, which is double what you think it will take you to do. Most of us are lousy at estimating time and we think we can do things faster than what’s realistic. Figure in commuting and waiting time. Mark every hour as a “carrot” stick. Be sure that your plan does not have more than 15 sticks in it.
- Whatever does not fit in gets moved to tomorrow. It’s OK. Work is not a dog; it won’t run away. You’ll get to it tomorrow.
How do you deal with overwhelm? Please share your time management strategies with us.