One of the most common things we blame for our feelings and results is TIME. As entrepreneurs, we think we just don’t have enough of it. I ran out of time or I’m just so busy is the reason we’re late for the meeting or why we skipped the gym. It’s the reason why our presentation is missing two important slides, why the proposal had a typo. As a society, it’s so common to blame time that we don’t even notice how ridiculous this is. After all, time cannot do anything to us – it does not cause a result. It’s a completely neutral circumstance.
Is time relative?
We all have the same amount of time. But it doesn’t seem that way, does it? Don’t you know some people who seem to get more done and wonder what their secret is?
I used to make long lists of things I had to do each day, prioritize them, and tick them off one by one. Of course, I never finished everything on the list. The next day I would pick up where I left off, add more things to the list, and the cycle would repeat day after day. I thought getting things done was a strength of mine – and believed my method worked pretty well.
Not all “to do’s” are created equal.
But my to-do list method wouldn’t scale. This became obvious when I decided to transition my business model from services to solutions. Instead of billing by the hour, my team and I identified what our clients had in common and created solutions to systematize these things. This was an enormous endeavor that couldn’t effectively be handled with my daily lists. A change like this required time for thinking, planning and strategizing, which were not tasks I usually put on my “to do” list. Those were things I just did, in my head, while doing other things, like exercising or driving.
Changing the direction of my business was not something I could just “fit in” between other things. I knew I had to find a way to use time more effectively. Procrastination wasn’t a problem for me but scheduling my time and honoring my calendar definitely was.
Scheduling time on my calendar felt like a trap.
The first problem was that I didn’t want to do it. Even the thought of scheduling all my time on my calendar made me feel trapped. I would think, “I don’t want to be held hostage to a schedule on a calendar. I want to feel free! After all, that’s why I own the business.” I tried it a few times, but when I was done scheduling, looking at the entire day blocked out from top to bottom created a feeling of anxiety. “There’s no free time here. I have to move nonstop from one thing to the next, and there’s still not enough time to do everything.”
When creating a schedule, I would usually underestimate how much time to schedule for each activity, and I would feel frustrated when I ran out of time. The solution is not to increase the amount of time for each activity (which is what I did at first). The solution is to constrain and focus on creating “results.” The reason I couldn’t complete an activity in the allotted time was that I would schedule time to “work on” it, instead of creating a “result.” There’s a big difference.
Working on something is not the same as creating results.
I would “work on” the new pricing structure, instead of “creating” the new pricing structure. When I was working on something, I would research, compare, go down rabbit holes, etc. When it took longer than planned, I just kept going because my perfectionist brain justified it as just wanting to do a really good job at whatever it was. This meant I only finished a fraction of the activities scheduled on my calendar. I sacrificed a lot of good results in the pursuit of a few perfect ones (which really were never perfect anyway).
The other problem with the way I scheduled time is I set no personal boundary on how much I could work – I just worked all the time. Instead of scheduling time to create results on my calendar, I frittered away time, allowing the amount of time it took to complete something to expand like slime, spreading into every available nook and cranny of my life. This is why I didn’t have time for family and didn’t have time for the gym. Many years of my life included waking up at dawn and working until after midnight.
I blamed time for the reason I had no time.
Sounds crazy right? I did it so much that I believed it was a fact that there was just not enough time, and this made me feel simultaneously frustrated and defeated.
What was really happening is that I wasn’t honoring my commitments to myself. I honored my word when it came to commitments for other people, but not to myself. What I thought were minor transgressions added up to a major blind spot that had big ramifications. Because I couldn’t trust myself to follow through when it came to my own calendar, I resisted scheduling my time altogether. I didn’t want to make commitments to myself and break them. Without realizing it, I had created the subconscious belief that it was just better to wing it. Schedule appointments with other people, sure, but don’t schedule my own time.
I had to learn to trust myself with time.
The breakthrough came when I realized that even scheduling time on my calendar to gather my tax documents was something I did want to do. Because the price of not doing it would be trouble with the IRS! I used to tell myself I “had to” do it, and would put it off for months and then do it with a burning resentment about how much time it takes. Now I reframe the experience by thinking, “I want to gather my tax documents because I want to file my taxes.” The way I make sure it gets done is to schedule the result on my calendar. Then I can put it out of my mind because I trust myself to honor my calendar. When the time comes to do the thing I scheduled, I don’t question whether I want to do it, I just do it.
Create time with your thoughts.
- Schedule free time first.
- Decide in advance the results I want to create.
- Schedule the time to create those results on the calendar.
- Commit to completing the results within the time allotted. (The enemy of the good is the perfect.)
- Honor the calendar. When the time comes to work on a result, just do it – don’t spend time “deciding” whether to do it. I have already decided ahead of time in steps 2 and 3.
Now my free time is mine.
And it’s really free – free of worry and free of the guilt I used to have about what I’m not doing. Best of all is the way I feel about my schedule. I used to feel resentment when I thought, “This isn’t fun or spontaneous.” Now I feel motivated because I think, “I want to create this result.” Instead of thinking, “I have to”, I now think, “I want to”.
Don’t allow your primitive brain’s desire to exert the least amount of energy in the moment to override the planning you do in advance with your prefrontal cortex. You create time with your thoughts.