If you feel frequently overwhelmed by work, and have difficulty in keeping up with demanding deadlines, then one important aspect you need to understand is not having enough time is often an awareness problem.
Time is an abstract concept in terms of how we perceive it—It is a limited resource and is one thing that we cannot control, but it rules and influences most aspects of our day-to-day activities. In olden days, people had fewer distractions and they lived in the here and now. Being aware of their present moment helped them to invent and build many things for the first time.
Today, however most of our lives revolve around too many aspects—achieving different objectives in work and personal life, fulfilling responsibilities, busyness, keeping up with deadlines and reaching milestones. Time management thus has become a subjective concept where we place excessive emphasis on our moods, attitudes, and opinions.
In other words, when it comes to managing time, we all experience it uniquely and have different perspectives about how we associate with it.
“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.”—Sheryl Sandberg
So, Why is it an awareness problem?
Time-management always comes down to your level of self-awareness and self-management. Because our attitude towards time and how we relate to it impacts how we live life, and experience it. Being self-aware means being conscious of your emotions, behaviour, abilities, habits, preferences and how they influence your usage of time.
For instance, at times we know we should focus on the task in front of us, but it feels impossible as we quickly give into a distraction or reason ourselves into instant gratification. There are several such situations where we experience shortage of time. Such instances make us resort to find a shortcut, miss a deadline, or settle down with not so optimal outcomes.
Not being aware of the consequences of how you deal with your time further lead to chronic stress, procrastination and low productivity. Whereas it becomes much easier to manage by understanding yourself, your best ways to work, your choices and priorities. Moreover how you choose to plan, prepare and prioritise.
How does it play an important role in time management
Though there are enough strategies available on how you can optimise your time, but even to really implement them and to be consistent, you need to be self-aware. Developing self-observation and awareness makes it possible to change your relationship with time and reach your goals with less effort and anxiety.
Self awareness increases your workflow management to facilitate good choices about what you are doing at any point in time. Deciding whether to finish a presentation, or call a friend, or clean up your room will always be an intuitive call, but with proper awareness, you can feel much more confident about your choices.
Awareness of the importance of your tasks overtime develops an intentional mindset where you focus your energy and time available on activities that give you maximum output. And you can be more confident of your choices thereby increasing your effectiveness.
“You cannot add more minutes to the days, but you can utilise each one to the fullest… this is the key to time-management, to see the value of every moment.”M.M.Schneerson
How to become more self-aware
Self-awareness is the primary driver of how well you avoid procrastination, how you prioritise and adapt yourself to your set routines. By getting a full understanding of how your time is spent, you ensure you prioritise right and will be able to use it productively and on meaningful tasks. Here are few ways to improve your awareness.
It is important to make wise action choices when it comes to better manage your time. There is always more to do than you can do. And there will always be a long list of actions that you are not doing that end up making you feel guilty.
One way to decide what to do and what not to do is to develop intuitiveness of your choices. Considering the following factors, to orient yourself to feel more confident about the choices you make, and trust your intuitive judgment.
- Context— We are always constrained by the capability we have to do something at any given moment. For instance, few actions can be done anywhere, but most require a specific location or require some tools and resources. Be aware of the context of which task can be done where.
- Time available—When you have to do something else, you cannot do other things that require more time.
- Energy available— Some tasks require you to expend more physical energy, while others need creative mental energy. Some need veery little of either.
- Priority—Given your time, context and energy available, choose what tasks or actions will give you the highest pay off.
Practice awareness of your procrastinating tendencies
At its core, procrastination is always about emotions. It is one impulse which we all are wired into that acts as a barrier to our ability to manage our time. So, when we are not self-aware, we easily rationalise our emotions, and push aside all meaningful work in favour of busying ourselves with unproductive choices.
If you think your procrastination is triggered by a negative emotion, it is important to notice and express those negative emotions properly. Mindfulness can help you identify what negative emotion you are experiencing, understand why, so you can avoid, or amplify, or change those triggers. Being aware, you can rewire your brain to stop those negative feelings in their tracks.
Be aware of how you are actually spending your time
It always so happens that we want to get many things done. But the time keeps slipping away without us being really aware of where exactly we are spending that time. Also, having more than you can comfortably handle, you might struggle to manage them effectively.
In order to better understand where your time is going, do a time audit. Taking the inventory of your current work at all levels will automatically produce greater awareness. Auditing how you spent your last week or month, you can properly set your intentions as to where exactly you want to spend those hours in the future.
Journaling is another way to keep a track of your activities and helps you organise your schedules. This not only boosts your productivity, but also you can time stamp your tasks, so just in case, if you ever lose track, you can always refer back to assess the clear picture of how you spend your time versus how you want to spend it. Being aware, you can do reality check, adjust, set new intentions and track your progress.
Embrace relative prioritisation
Setting priorities is important as there will be some things that will be more important than others, but knowing their importance relative to what you are doing makes it more easier to manage your time. At any given time, you may be doing—predefined work like things on your lists, or do things as they come up, or determine what things need to be done later.
But most of the times we get busy dealing with second activity like dealing with unexpected or unplanned things as they show up. As a result, you let other things slide or push them for later. It’s easy to get sucked into busy and urgent mode. This however comes at the cost of your other important or predefined work.
Moreover when these tasks become urgent and important, it often leads to stress and burnout. Whereas spending time on tasks that are important, but not urgent leaves you more in control where you can focus better and remain more proactive. Given the context you are in and the time and energy you have, adapting relative priority is more helpful.
Ask yourself, How important is this unexpected work, against all the rest of my work? Out of all my options, what is the most important thing for me to do? With proper prioritisation, you can best use your time on the tasks that give you the maximum returns.
Review your tasks to choose your next action
If you are like most people, you will find that things can get relatively out of control once busyness catches up or when intensity of work increases. But in order to stay in control of your time, you need to refresh once in a while.
Review your to-do’s, project initiatives, plans and next actions as often as you can, to get them out of your mind. At any point in time, knowing what has to get done and when, creates more time for taking your next action. It’s a good thing to check what else remains to be done. Similarly, turning to your next action lists on a frequent basis keeps you aware of time needed to complete those tasks. This also gives you an opportunity to ensure that your goals are reviewed, clarified, and organised.
Be mindful of unseen distractions
During the day, we experience distractions that don’t add value and negatively impact our productivity. Encountering distractions however is inevitable. When your mind is becoming distracted, it is important to redirect it to the present to be able to make your work a priority. When you become aware of what is interrupting or what distraction you are giving into, you can choose to quickly change or avoid it.
If you really need uninterrupted time to focus and finish the job at hand, disconnecting digitally helps you get your best work and thinking done.
- Time block your work to stay with a task distraction free. Once you hit smaller milestones, you will be motivated to go longer without getting distracted.
- Limiting the time you have to complete a task can be another easy way to eliminate distractions.
- For tasks that require your utmost concentration, schedule them during those hours where there are fewer distractions.
Avoid prolonged cognitive activity
Research has proven that you can’t actually multitask or put your conscious focused attention on more than one thing at a time, and if you are trying to, it reduces your productivity. Our minds which are overfed with new information makes our thoughts buzz around like swarm of bees and lose our inner clarity.
If you are involved in high pressure jobs which involve constant decision making or tasks that involve mental effort or that need your focused attention for a sustained period of time, avoid scheduling too many taxing tasks in short amount of time and leave time for yourself to relax and unwind.
Take frequent intermittent breaks and increase your time frame in which you aim to get such things done. Don’t try for perfection except for important tasks. Planning, scheduling and delegating can help reduce stress and excess decision-making.
Self-reflection questions to up your time awareness
How often do you set intentions around how you want to spend your time?
Do you try to create more time for your meaningful work or give into your busyness?
Which distractions make you time pressured?
Is prioritisation a part of your daily schedule?
What are some of your strategies to deal with unplanned things?
How aware are you of your procrastination tendencies?
Time is something we all have in common. However it is your relationship with time is what determines how effectively you can manage it. The key is not to get busy with only the work at hand, but is to develop a good awareness of all your tasks at multiple levels and work appropriately. Self-awareness reduces the busyness, procrastination and guilt associated with it—‘I could have’ ‘should have’, ‘ought to have done this before’.
When you understand yourself better, your emotions, you can make better agreements with self and improve your relationship with time. Being aware of your thoughts, actions, behavioural patterns and emotions, you create more opportunities for effective time management.