Sunday, November 03, 2013

Jump off the Hamster wheel

These days, time seems to be the most precious of our resources. It is used as a universal excuse “If only I had more time, I would write a book”, “I would get better grades if I had more time”, “I have no time for exercise”. We have all heard these, and most likely use these time-based excuses ourselves, without even noticing it!

In coaching, I am increasingly finding my clients so focussed on being productive – and being seen to be productive – that work has become almost an obsession. People become trapped in a “too-busy” cycle, combining activities such as a lunch break with catching up on emails or going to the restroom as an opportunity to mentally draft a report, or a traffic jam being the ideal place to chair a conference call.  Super-efficient to some, for most this lifestyle isn’t sustainable and can result in overwork, overwhelm, stress and ultimately illness. It is like the hamster continually turning the wheel in its cage round and round.

Breaking out can be hard, not least as we continually seek to affirm our actions so having no spare time is likely to be part of our “current normal” - part of our day to day routine. There are many things that we can do, but all require conscious awareness and choice to disrupt the current routine and create a different space for yourself. Here are my top tips to reclaim your time:
  • Find your show-stoppers – make a list of 3 or 4 things that are most important to you and commit to checking in on them every day.
  • Find your timewasters – even if you think you enjoy these activities, take a typical work and weekend day and chunk it down to how you live those precious 24 hours. Did Facebook, Coronation Street or Twitter make the show-stopper list? If not, drop them for two weeks and see what time you created – and assess how painful the “detox” from these timewasters was.
  • Diarise – it sounds so obvious, but unless you have a formal “appointment” for an important activity, the power of being sucked back into your “current normal” is such that you won’t get started on it.
  • Consolidate – why do something 4 times a week when you could consolidate it into once? It is like batch processing in a factory – do your email in one chunk a day, not continuously: go to the supermarket once a week, not every other day.
  • Keep your daily task list to the three most important things you must achieve in the day. It doesn’t mean you won’t get more done, rather it will help you to achieve the most important things as well as not feel overloaded.
  • Do your “Big Rocks” first – The author Steven Covey uses this powerful metaphor to explain that our lives are full of grains of sand, gravel, trickles of water, and rocks. If we liken our day to a bucket, if we don’t fit in the big rocks first, then by the time we have finished with the sand, gravel and water, there will be no more room in the bucket.
  • Learn to say no – remember that every time you say yes to something, in a full day, it logically means you must be saying no to something else. Work out what you can say no to immediately, say goodbye and scrap those activities from your life.
  • Change your routine – how often do we examine our “current normal” and appraise it for its effectiveness? Now is your chance. Ask yourself, is there a better way of doing things? Make a new routine that is more balanced, more optimal, more filled with activities you love.
We all have the same amount of time, and it’s finite and in great demand. But some of us have made the time for doing the things we love doing, and others have allowed the constant demands and pressures and responsibilities of life to dictate their days. So reclaim your time and create the life you want. When you run out of time to think, you then start operating on automatic pilot – and what is the joy in that? Jump off that hamster wheel right now!

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