This question may be familiar to you if you struggle, like so many of us, with time management. We may be clear in our minds about what we need to do, but for whatever reason we can’t seem to implement real changes in our behavior.
As a time coach, I’ve seen over and over again that when people hit this road block, it’s time for them to stop and examine their emotions. Our analytical minds may resist this idea, viewing the ominous forest of feelings as suspicious at best, and terrifying at worst. We may even find ourselves thinking that acknowledging the role our emotions play in our time management (or as I like to call it, “time investment”) makes us look weak.
But the truth is that having emotions doesn’t mean we’re weak—it simply means we’re human. And the more we recognize and address our emotions, the more power we have to direct our own life, including our time investment choices.
In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt describes the relationship between emotions and rational thought this way:
“Our emotional side is an elephant and our rational side is its rider. Perched atop the elephant, the rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the rider’s control is precarious because the rider is so small relative to the elephant. Anytime the 6-ton elephant and rider disagree about which direction to go, the rider is going to lose.”
There are several crippling emotions that can hold us back from effective time investment, including ambivalence, fear, frustration, guilt, shame and feeling overwhelmed. Here’s how to get started on the way to a more peaceful and productive life.
Address Your Fear
A real or perceived threat to someone or something important to you creates a sense of fear. This is a natural part of the human experience, and sometimes it can even signal that a person has a great deal of good things going on in their life, such as a new job, a great relationship or an exciting opportunity. When we have more to care about in our lives, we also have more opportunities for feeling fear. But this emotion can drive unhealthy behaviors when it comes to time management, particularly procrastination.
The good news is that fear doesn’t have to mess with our productivity. We can reduce fear to nothing more than a passing, momentary impact on our lives—it all comes down to how we handle it.
- Verbalize it. When we don’t acknowledge our feelings of fear, they can nag at us even more in a desperate attempt to be heard. Instead of turning your back on the fear, listen to it, figure out what it’s saying and if it helps, tell someone else. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with another person, try journaling—writing down our feelings has been shown to enhance physical health and psychological growth. Often, fears diminish or disappear entirely when we simply express them.
- Harness the motivation. If a fear has a legitimate basis (such as the fear of not passing a test because you haven’t studied all semester, or the fear of not excelling in a career because you lack organization), channel the fear into positive action. Instead of rehashing a fear over and over again in your mind, develop a plan and get support for studying or getting organized. If fear pops up again even after you’ve begun implementing the plan, quiet the fear by saying to yourself, “I have a plan, and I’m following it. I can focus on doing what is within my control, and I don’t need to be afraid of the results.” Repeat this to yourself every time fear starts to creep back in, then get back to work.
- Develop unconditional happiness. The author C.S. Lewis put it so accurately when he said, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” Indeed, one of the best ways to feel less afraid is to realize happiness doesn’t come from anything or any person around you. Make it a habit to practice unconditional self-love and surround yourself with people who will accurately reflect your intrinsic worth—doing so will provide you with the confidence to weather any fears, which means they’re less likely to knock you off track.
Don’t Blame Others
Placing responsibility for our personal happiness on other people’s shoulders is a guaranteed fast track to unhappiness and poor time investment. When we believe that our feelings and our power to improve our situation lie within other people’s control, it’s easy to feel bitter, resentful and downright frustrated with those around us. And when we spend our time thinking about what others should do for us, we’re wasting valuable time and mental space that could be used to solve the issue. We start to believe we have to wait for them to take action, which makes us the victim—and can stall our progress. Here are three steps you can take to address this pattern of behavior:
- Claim your power. In almost every situation, we have the ability to do something. Even if it’s as simple as changing your attitude, you’ll have taken a giant leap toward lowering your frustration. The next time you start to get irritated at someone else, ask yourself, “What can I do about this situation?” Then get into action.
- Meet your needs. It’s true: People can’t read our minds. Sometimes other people might be completely unaware that you have a need that isn’t being met. Give people the opportunity to respond to your needs by respectfully and directly stating your wishes. After that, if you find that someone is still either unwilling or unable to give you what you need, it’s time to take responsibility for the situation. Need a timeline for a work project? Make one. Want to be more social? Reach out to friends to make some plans. By taking action, you’ll reinforce that you can always do something to make progress.
- Assume good intent. Most people don’t purposely try to annoy you; they simply don’t know you’ll find something bothersome. Instead of assuming that they meant to frustrate you, try assuming they didn’t. Then, if necessary, gently remind them of your needs. If you find this really difficult, remember the words of Albert F. Schlieder: “We tend to judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions.” It’s likely that without too much effort, we all can think of at least a time or two when we frustrated someone else without meaning to do so. Think of how you would want to be treated in that situation, and then give others the same benefit of the doubt. It’s a much more productive response than wasting time on feelings of bitterness or disappointment.
By addressing the underlying emotional blocks to effective time investment, we can all learn to be happier, less stressed, and more productive. To your brilliance!