Learn How to Manage Your Time, without going so far that your time manages you.
Part of mindfulness is paying attention to your reactions to things. This means seeing the interplay between an event, your reaction, and how they blend to create the situation. The specific situation that I have had under the microscope for some time now is my relationship with time management – or my lack of it, rather.
The Anxiety-Time Cycle
I have been looping through an Anxiety time cycle. If I felt late for something, I started getting anxious. When I get anxious, I end up being later because I’m too focused on being anxious. Parallel and supplementary to this cycle was an overall feeling of being short on time. Each day was left with feeling as though I should have done more, and I looked at life like a race to the finish line.
This cycle ended up getting in the way on several occasions, and as a result I became fixated on time management and productivity. I was sure that I was going to find the secrets on how to manage my time more effectively.
I held out hope that all of these productivity hacks and time management how to’s on YouTube would eventually pay their dividends.
It started fairly innocently. Building out a robust Google Calendar based on a video I followed. After that, I built a powerful Trello board based on another video, and eventually started using Notion for all of that.
These productivity hacks bled into lifestyle design videos. As a result, I poured myself into others’ morning routines.
I absorbed a lot of this like a sponge, and tried applying it immediately. Not a lot of it proved successful. Those that were a moderate success only lasted a few days before fizzling out. Cold showers, gratitude journals, 30 minute chunk schedules, batching tasks – Trello, Google, Notion, Evernote, Todoist… I tried everything that was shown to me, and added multiple layers of systemic productivity to no avail.
Within these attempts and experiments, I was able to learn a lot about time management and a lot about myself. But I did not magically cure my time problems.
The Overloaded Tool Belt
After delving down a months long YouTube rabbit hole, I expected to be equipped to lock life down to a schedule. I expected everything to fit within my new, strict systems.
After spending a little bit of time trying to make it work, I came to the realization that a lot of my productivity systems were causing more stress than they were solving. I had spent so much time learning to specifications of the tools that I hadn’t even looked at what the job required.
Simply put, I had an overloaded tool belt.
I had adopted the Productivity systems of people with very different lives than me. Their definitions of productive were carried over along with the systems, and led me astray to what productivity should look like in my own life.
What Productivity Should Look Like In My Life
The genesis of my productivity dissonance is in my verbatim understandings of these systems. I would watch a YouTube video from Thomas Frank, or Ali Abdaal – and immediately apply them in my life exactly as they had.
Somehow in that process, I forget that these are people with very different life circumstances than myself.
Notably, most productivity gurus are not parents. I can wake up at 5 every day, and pretend like it makes me productive. However, my newborn who wakes up many times through the night and his year old sister tend to make my sleep at night less than ideal. Waking up at 5am religiously at that point would be a disservice to myself.
Understanding that is what caused my idea of productivity to change. Resulting in a much different philosophy on how I manage my time.
I used to think that Productivity meant doing as much as I could. Finding the ways of doing things so I can shave 2 minutes off the task and cramming as many working hours in as I could.
This focus wasn’t about being productive. It was more about my fear of feeling unproductive.
My fear of being unproductive stemmed from internalized messages that circulated ‘laziness’. I had heard and absorbed so much judgement cast onto others for not working as hard as someone else. Teachers in school had used “Lazy” as a default label for those they didn’t believe in, and I was terrified I would become one of those if I let off of the gas pedal.
How To Manage Your Time – A New Understanding
All of this contrasting messaging about productivity and laziness were pulling at two ends of a rope, and I felt far from stable in the center of it all. I simply had to change my understanding of both, and add a layer of mindfulness.
Productivity is not a bad thing to think about. It can be incredibly useful for getting life on track, but we have to wield compassion for ourselves when entering that battlefield. Now, when I revisit my productivity structures I am looking through a mindful lens.
Productivity will continue to be important, but I have to focus on it mindfully. This means that I am not worried about being busy. Instead, I will be mindful about what each task is actually producing. Ensuring that I incorporate tools and structures that produce things like Joy, Relaxation, Reflection, Laughter.
Things like taking a walk with no destination become productive under this new lens. Other joyous activities like games with my kids, watching movies, even watching Wrestling become productive because they help me produce the results I want from life.
I’d like to leave this article with a 2 questions.
- Is Your Time Managing You?
- What is Your Productivity Producing?
Spend some time answering those two questions, but also continue answering them every day to keep on track.