Overwhelmed, firefighting and a never-ending to-do list? 

Procrastination, can’t think straight and no time to do the strategic stuff? 

Sound familiar?  And isn’t it ironic that you THINK you don’t have the time to address the root cause of these issues? I have been caught in this cycle many times myself. It resulted in high-stress levels, not being able to deliver to the standards I knew I was capable of and eventually burnout.  

Burnout is a term that is bandied about quite a bit these days but we shouldn’t become desensitised to it or underestimate its effect.  At best it can be debilitating and have a profound effect on both your physical and mental health.  

Very few people I work with feel in control of their day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting the foundations of effective time management is a non-negotiable if you want to be productive AND avoid burnout.  

To change the way we behave, we need to change the way we think. 

Exploring where beliefs and values are linked to our relationship with time crops up with almost every client I work with. “I just can’t say no” or “there isn’t anything else I can take out of my diary” are regular comments.  

Underneath these statements are well-established beliefs that are connected to values. Values such as wanting to help others or be seen as a team player. Beliefs such as “if I say no, people will think I can’t cope” or “everything in my diary is important”.  

As Patrick Lencioni declares in 5 Dysfunctions of a team – “If everything is important, nothing is important.” It makes you think, right? We can resist and defend it, but ultimately taking control of your priorities and your time might require some hard conversations with yourself. If you need someone to work with you 121 to take control back once and for all, contact me hello@jocowlin.com to find out more about my signature coaching programme.  

If you know it is a problem you can’t tolerate any longer and are ready to take action now, then here are five things to do today if you want to shift your relationship with time for good.  

“It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about?” — Henry David Thoreau

1. Increase awareness – How are you currently spending your time? Vague statements like “I’m in back to back meetings all day” or “we had a crisis to deal with” are not going to help you make the appropriate change. I am not suggesting you take on a time and motion study, but colour blocking your diary can be a great way to give you a visual picture. Go back over the last month and create a key that works for you. I will be sharing my method in my May Newsletter. You can sign up for it here 

2. Get clear on your goals – If you are running on autopilot (most of us are!), then this is a critical step in reclaiming your diary. If you don’t know what is essential (vs what is urgent), then how can you make informed decisions? Look at what you want to achieve over the year, the next quarter and each month. Now, look at whether your diary reflects this and delete and delegate accordingly. 

3. Create useful habits – “First, forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not” – Octavia Butler. Change rarely happens overnight and is primarily a series of habits. We all have habits; you need to discern between the ones that are moving you towards your goals and those that are moving you further away.  

4. Create and maintain healthy boundaries – You could argue this is a habit in its own right, but I like to think of it as a skill that we need to develop continuously. As new situations and circumstances arise, boundaries require revisiting. Boundaries are more than saying no. Consider what boundaries you need to support focus and minimise distractions in addition to boundaries that pull you into helping others beyond the notion of teamwork. 

5. Contingency time planning in “wriggle room” is massively underestimated in my experience. We tend to underestimate how long tasks take and are over-generous with what we are prepared to give to a request or task. Ringfence regular slots that can support you to deal with the unexpected or inaccurate estimation of time. And the feeling of ‘gaining’ time in your diary when you don’t need it is a big win! 

Time is, without a doubt, the most precious commodity we have. Let’s use it wisely and with conscious intention. Overwhelm, stress and burnout do not have to accompany the quest for productivity. They are counterproductive no matter how many times you tell yourself that you “work best with a deadline'” This may be true but is not a sustainable strategy for the balance of performance and wellbeing. The Balanced Leader is a new programme I will be launching later this year. If you want to be the first to know about it, just hit REPLY and we will make sure you hear about it first.

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