Time is slipping away.
But you don’t even notice it.
You’re working hard to get a project finished, to accomplish an extra task. You’re pushing beyond exhaustion.
What midnight already??!?
Damn. Where has the time gone? You still need to find an image for your blog post. A big deadline looms tomorrow for a client project. And you’ve not even had a chance to pop into Google+ today.
More and more we’re running around, unsatisfied with our achievements. We’re scared of missing valuable opportunities. So we listen to one more podcast, open another social media account, add another book to our ever-growing wishlist.
Late last year, I stumbled upon one simple question, that helped me break through this cycle of Never Enough Time And Always More To Do. I started working fewer hours and virtually eliminated stress. But I still got stuff done.
Want to do the same?
Here’s the story of how I eased my stress…
After another grueling physiotherapy session (that’s physical therapy in the US), my body protested and decided to give up.
It was December 2014, and I’d been coping with a whiplash injury for over a year. But instead of healing, the treatment pushed me into a downward spiral. I was unable to sit behind my computer for long. I struggled to concentrate. I finally admitted I was ill.
And I realized I had to make radical changes.
I’d always been a workaholic. I always wanted to get a little more done, achieve a little more. But I could not continue to work like a maniac.
To-do lists are a source of stress
Let’s imagine a few scenarios we face day in day out.
Say you’re invited for a podcast interview. The interview takes only 30 minutes, and with a little preparation, and some emailing to agree a time, this will take you at most an hour. Sounds doable, doesn’t it? You can squeeze that one hour into your week.
Next, you decide to set up an Instagram account. To evaluate your efforts in a month’ time, you know you need to be consistent in sharing photos and drawings. You put Instagram at the top of your to-do list. It’ll only take you 15 or 20 minutes a day. That’s not much, right?
You’ve also been chatting with a friend about conversion rate optimization. With your social media traffic growing and search engine traffic soaring, it seems a great idea to run a couple of tests to get more web visitors to subscribe to your email list. You allocate one afternoon per month to improving conversion rates.
You can see where this is going, right?
To-do lists fool you into thinking you can easily squeeze a few extra tasks into your week. Working 15 minutes harder a day doesn’t sound like a lot. But your working hours are sneakily increasing. You slowly destroy your productivity.
You might prioritize and re-prioritize the to-do’s on your list. But a to-do list doesn’t force you to evaluate whether you have time for each task.
I’ve cursed my lack of productivity because my to-do list always grows. And as I don’t have an off switch, I kept running and running, trying to work harder and harder.
But my injury forced me to take a step back.
As my energy levels plummeted, I asked myself this one simple question:
If I can only sit at my desk for 3 hours on average a day, what shall I do?
(I changed treatment, and am now recovering. I now work 4 – 5 hours on average a day.)
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this simple question completely changed my working habits. Rather than hopelessly stretching my time to try to do more, I fixed my time frame and decided what I would do.
You can’t manage time
Time passes by whether you like it or not. You can’t speed it up and you can’t slow it down.
So stop trying to manage time.
To radically reduce stress and working hours, stop focusing on becoming a more productive machine. Instead, decide how much time and energy you have. What do you want to do with your life?
At first, I couldn’t answer this question. I knew how much time I could work, but I didn’t know how much time I spent doing various tasks.
For a few days, I tracked what I was doing. I worked in 25-minute intervals and wrote down what I did in each period. And once I knew how much time I spent on various tasks, I started making decisions on what I would and wouldn’t do. I asked myself:
- Which tasks help me run and grow my business?
- Which tasks give me energy? What do I enjoy doing most?
A few examples of decisions I made at the start of the year:
- I decided I wanted to relaunch my blogging course for a new group (This group started in February). I love teaching, and seeing how people improve their communication skills gives me energy. This feels like the future of my business.
- I stopped taking on new copywriting clients, because new projects with new clients guzzle up energy. Moreover, copywriting projects don’t help me grow my business in the long term—I don’t want to establish a copywriting agency. I even forced myself to say no to new projects with former clients (this was hard).
- I wanted to make time for drawing, because I enjoy it. It gives me energy. And while the business benefit is fuzzy, I can’t do only things because they’re good for my business.
- I reduced guest blogging commitments because growing my list has become less of a priority; and although I see opportunities to meet new people and grow my reach through social media, I decided to put this on the back burner. Taking care of my existing audience seemed more important.
When you know the size of your energy basket and the size of your tasks, you find it easier to choose what to do and what not to do. You become aware that saying yes to one task means saying no to something else.
How many hours can you work? How many hours do you want to work? And what do you want to do in those hours?
I used to be deadline driven
I thought I was thriving on stress.
I was addicted to the adrenaline rush of getting stuff done just in time. I loved working long hours. Late at night.
Our working culture celebrates hard work. Stamina. Perseverance. That’s what we need to build a business, right? Being busy is a badge of honor. Being exhausted is part of our identity.
How could I accept working fewer hours?
I thought I was turning into a wimp. A whimpering weakling. A pushover.
But the truth is this:
I work fewer hours than I’ve ever done. But I’m more creative. I have more ideas, and I can implement them faster.
Sure, I’m no saint. I’m not disciplined. My rebellious mind still resists. But most of the time when I work, I work. I mess around a lot less. I stop when I’m tired. I take afternoon naps. I’ve learned to listen to my own body, and accept its limitations.
By allowing your body to rest, your mind refuels, too. So take time for daydreaming, staring out of the window, doing nothing, aimlessly wandering around.
Replenish your energy.
Because your energy is a precious resource.