One of the difficulties we all face is having too much to do and not enough time to do it, so we need to focus on what matters most. If we don’t, we only end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. We may even beat ourselves up and, in the process, undermine our confidence and self-esteem.
When confronted with too much to do, the tendency is often to look for ways of increasing our productivity. We learn to plan ahead, schedule our time more effectively and adopt techniques for overcoming procrastination. We may even invest in personal organizers to help with this process, but somehow still end up feeling overwhelmed.
These techniques are vital for helping us get organized, and make better use of our time, but they’re not enough. There comes a point when, no matter how efficiently we use our time, we simply can’t cram in any more tasks. Time is finite. There are only 24 hours in the day.
So we have to find another way.
And the answer lies in doing less rather than more.
Less is More
It’s important to realize that, with the best will in the world, you simply can’t get everything done, no matter how hard you try. And even if you make really effective use of your time, as you complete one thing, it leads on to another, and another. And so it goes on. That’s the nature of life.
The key to de-cluttering your life – and accomplishing more – is to focus on what matters most. The starting point in this new approach is to look carefully at how you spend your day. And then, to free up time by letting go of the things that don’t really matter.
Keep a Time Log
Start by keeping a time log to establish how you really spend your time, rather than how you think you spend your time.
You need to record all that you do from the moment you get up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night. This means recording:
- Every activity you’re engaged in.
- Its importance in your life (high, medium, low).
- The time you start and finish each activity.
- How satisfied you feel with the activity.
You’ll need to do this for about a week, because keeping a record for just a couple of days might not be typical. Also, do your best to record everything as you go. If you complete the log at the end of the day, your memory will probably play tricks with you. Most of us under-estimate how long it takes us to do various tasks. And we often forget about distractions and interruptions.
At the end of the week, summarize your raw data into meaningful categories for you. This might include family time, looking after yourself (eating, exercise), productive work time, socializing, hobbies, interruptions and distractions. Then record the amount of time spent on each category per day, its importance in your life and how satisfied you feel with the category.
Even a quick glance will reveal how much – or how little – time you spend on important compared with unimportant activities. You’ll also be keenly aware of your level of satisfaction with each. If you’re like most people, you will probably be shocked to find just how much of your day is spent on unimportant and unsatisfying activities.
This whole process may sound a bit tedious – sorry, it is – but when you come to analyze the results it can be very revealing.
Focus on What Matters Most
The first step is to take full responsibility for how you spend your time. This may include no longer complaining about the fact that you’ve got too much to do or blaming other people for the situation. Instead, it means sorting out your priorities and taking steps to focus on what matters most.
Handling Interruptions and Distractions
One of the quickest ways of freeing up time is to become more disciplined about how you handle interruptions and distractions in life.
Manage interruptions by setting aside a block of time each day for answering emails, returning phone calls and getting back to drop-by visitors. Resist the temptation to respond to every interruption immediately.
If people are making unreasonable demands on your time, then learn to say ‘no’. By all means help them, whether at home, work or amongst your circle of friends, but set limits.
And if you have a demanding boss who always wants to give you just one more task when you’re already overloaded, say: in order to do this, which of my other tasks do you want me not to do’
Television, social media and email can also eat up vast amounts of time. So ask yourself whether it’s really necessary to spend hours engaged in these activities. Are they really important in terms of helping you accomplish all you want in life?
Let Go of the Less Important…So You Can Focus on What Matters Most
Getting the interruptions and distractions under control will free up some of your time, but that’s only part of the answer.
It’s likely that when you analyze your time log, there will be at least a few things you regard as important, but you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to them all. So, at this point, you’ll need to make some tough choices in order to identify the most important.
And if you’re tempted to say ‘they’re all important’, just realize that you can’t carry on with an overloaded schedule indefinitely. Eventually, your productivity, health, well-being and sense of fulfillment will suffer.
Be discerning and identify what matters most, and commit to concentrating on those things.
This may mean having to pull out of pre-existing commitments, in which case, so be it. If you’re hesitant about doing this, because you’re worried about letting people down or what they may think, the key is how you handle it. Give them as much notice as you can. Be honest and say you’re just not able to fulfill your commitments as originally planned. If this is as a result of circumstances beyond your control, say so. If possible, recommend someone else who may be able to help them. All of this is better than running the risk of letting them down at the eleventh hour, or delivering something that neither you nor they are happy with.
De-Clutter Your Life
If you really want to de-clutter your life and master your schedule, the ultimate solution is not about cramming more in or becoming more efficient, because there’s a limit to how many productivity improvements you can make. The solution is to focus on what matters most; the things that are in harmony with your core values and all you want to accomplish in life.
It’s all about doing fewer things, not more, and in the process, doing them well, so that you increase your sense of satisfaction and peace of mind.