Updated: Jan 23
The Prinzo Group
When you wake up in the morning, the day stretches in front of you like an open road. You have a long list of things to do, but you don’t know how far you’ll get or what you might accomplish. You have 1,440 minutes ahead to fill with…whatever you want. And it seems like almost anything could happen. You believe that your only limits come from how you prioritize and how efficiently and quickly you move forward from each minute to the next.
But before long, you may start to notice that most of your minutes are already accounted for, and they slip away quickly. As you scramble to pack eight hours of goals and accomplishments into four hours of available time, you realize that you’re left without any time to just sit and think and be present in the moment.
And you’re not alone; this challenge has become a nearly universal reality of working life that seems to be taking a toll on our collective mental and physical health. Stress levels are up, focus and presence are down, and our quality of life is often exchanged for something else—some mysterious reward that isn’t well-defined and doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Time management and balance are essential skills that can help individuals be more productive and lead happier, healthier lives.
How can we slow things down, so we have the time to think carefully and implement meaningful plans that can take our organization to the next level?
And most important: How can we get off the treadmill of to-do lists and start charting our own path through the days and years of our lives?
As with almost all of life’s biggest hurdles, the first step is identifying the question and recognizing that we have a problem that needs to be solved.
Here are a few ways to regain control.
Hit Pause. Even Better: Hit Stop.
Unplug the treadmill, literally. Turn off your phone and computer and leave the demanding environment of your office for just one hour, or even fifteen minutes. Recognize that you own that time, and use it to purposefully pause, collect yourself, and do nothing.
Turn off the noise (or at least turn it down for a few minutes)
Mindful meditation means deliberately blocking off a period in which you focus on being present in the moment and observing events and feelings without reacting to them. On the outside, meditation looks like a person sitting quietly. But on the inside, the person is sitting beside the events of the world, including the rise and fall of his or her own feelings. The person is breathing, being, and not reacting. Meditation in any form is helpful, but some guidance and a conducive environment can provide the training you need to make the most of your session.
Think about how you spend your time.
By identifying what is most important and focusing on those tasks first, you can ensure that you are using your time most efficiently and effectively as possible. It can also be helpful to break larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks and use tools to stay organized and on track.
Think consciously about how you divide and spend each minute of your day. Divide your day into a grid made of ten-minute blocks, then identify and account for the contents of each block. Review how you actually spend each block. Then think about how you’d like to spend that specific block instead. Here’s a concrete exercise provided by Tim Urban from Wait but Why: https://waitbutwhy.com/2016/10/100-blocks-day.html
Effective time management also involves learning how and when to say no. It can be tempting to take on every opportunity or task that comes your way, but this can lead to overcommitment and burnout. By learning when it is appropriate to say no, you can focus on tasks that are most important and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Make Change Gradually
Building new habits into your routine—and getting rid of old ones—can be much harder than you might expect at first. But you can do it. You just need to consciously schedule and add (or delete) the new (or old) habit again and again until the habit has been solidified into the day and you can take your hands off the wheel. This may take ten conscious repetitions, but it may take five hundred. Or even a thousand. Be patient with yourself. Start with small changes. Don’t feel guilty if you miss a repetition; just shake it off and start again the next day.
Rinse and Repeat
After you spend a couple of weeks consciously reforming a habit, revisit your 1000 Blocks to see what has changed. Some small changes or small improvements may give you the confidence boost you need to tackle bigger ones. What aspects of the change do you find easiest? Which ones are harder? Which changes are most satisfying? Which makes the most difference to the overall quality of your life? Target those for further and closer attention. Repeat this process periodically. Our lives are constantly changing and maintaining balance can be tricky.
Strike a Balance
One way to achieve balance is to use the “50/30/20 rule,” which suggests that you should allocate 50% of your time to your most important priorities, 30% to other tasks and activities, and 20% to relaxation and self-care. This can help you strike a healthy balance between your work and personal life and avoid feeling burnt out or overwhelmed.
In addition to managing your time effectively, finding balance in your life outside of work is also important. This can involve setting boundaries and making time for activities that nourish your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as exercise. Even a few minutes of exercise each day can help, no matter how or when you fit them in. Exercise provides a new venue and some fresh air for your thoughts, and it also improves your circulation, which means more nourishing oxygen is delivered to the cells of your body and brain. And just 30 minutes of exercise each day can lead to fewer aches and pains, more energy, and better-fitting clothes.
Effective time management and balance also involve being mindful of your time and energy and making choices that align with your values and goals. This can involve setting limits on the time you spend on non-essential activities, such as social media or TV in exchange for relaxation or socializing with friends and family.
Some new habit patterns provide their own reward. These are fun and pleasant results that are easy to enjoy. But if your new habits mean you’re spending more time building client relationships or adding more money to your retirement account, you may not feel those pleasant effects directly. So, give yourself a treat! Try a few minutes of you-time, an internal high-five, a night out, or whatever seems to fit the moment and re-enforce the message that your efforts are worth it. Celebrate your achievements! A healthier, happier, and more meaningful life is waiting.