The Ever Elusive Time Part I

Time is this amorphous entity. On one end of the spectrum there never seems to be enough time and on the other end of the spectrum, it does not pass fast enough.

Everything I have ever read on time management addresses the idea that when we are planning, setting up schedules, we do not set aside enough time for the project. We easily underestimate how long something will take us to accomplish. I have heard of doubling and even tripling the time you think it is going to take you!

Of course, as soon as a project takes us longer then the time allotted, we are then off that carefully arranged schedule, the rest of the day is off. It is easy to see how this can contribute to people feeling overwhelmed and not in control of their lives.

Part of this struggle of setting up time frames for projects is that we desperately do not want something to take too long. We are determined that it can be accomplished with the ideal amount of time. We are reluctant to sacrifice more of our valuable time to this or that project.

My husband and I set out to paint the blocks along the basement wall and we both thought that working together it would be a few hours, eight hours later we were almost done! It appeared so straightforward and simple, but it still somehow was quite time-consuming.

It is obvious that there are a plethora of reasons how time can get away from us, more than just the ones I’ve listed. The elusiveness of disappearing time bothers people more than when time feels like it is dragging by.

My solution to the struggles with time is simple: a timer. Start timing how long repeating tasks take you. It will give you a concrete measurement for how you are spending your time.

Something as simple, yet pleasing, as making the bed can take as little as two minutes, with elaborate pillows. When doing your dishes, whether by hand or by loading the dishwasher, as long as you do not have a huge pile, can take less than 15 minutes.

Laundry, which takes time with the sporadic attention it requires, is not as time consuming as it seems if you look at just the specific time needed for your effort. The majority of the time with laundry is taken by the machines. How long do you actually spend sorting, filling the machines, folding, and putting away the laundry? If you knew that it takes no longer than 30 minutes altogether of your time, would you be less reluctant to start a load? Granted you need to be around to move the laundry, but if you don’t want to take time away from your children or away from your favorite TV show, the time required is minor and can no longer be a reason to put it off.

Get a real sense of time, how long things take you, and from that knowledge, you can make educated choices about how you want to use your valuable time. Without an actual timer, you too easily judge things by how it feels time-wise, but not based on factual data.

What about filing? If you dislike filing papers, would you rather spend 30 minutes doing it once a month or half a day sorting and organizing them so you can then file them? It is your choice, but think about the time and how you feel about the task. If you knew that it was only 30 minutes once a month, it lessens the weight of it, making it a minimal effort and takes it off your mind. On the other hand, maybe you would prefer taking half a day less frequently. Of course, it also matters whether or not you find yourself searching through piles to find a paper you need, which if you filed monthly would be simple to locate.

This is one side of the time puzzle. Next week I will discuss the other side of things.

In the meantime, are you going to use your timer to find out precisely how long things take you?

Love Doing? Or Love Having Done?

I heard a story of Ray Bradbury giving a lecture.  He starts with asking the audience how many of them want to have written a book and virtually everyone there raises their hand.  Then Bradbury asks how many of them want to write.  Only a few hands lift this time.

I think of this story often, considering whether I enjoy the process of doing something or if I prefer the result of having done the work.  As a professional organizer, I do enjoy most of the processes of organizing.  Not many people I have worked with actually enjoy the process, but rather can appreciate the final product of having organized. 

Then once you have the final product – the organized space – many people don’t want to think about how messy it was before they cleaned it up.  Isn’t it easier just to forget about how bad it had gotten?  After all, thinking about it could make you feel bad about yourself.

The challenge I present to you is to try to appreciate the hard work you did put in.  I found that when I started to acknowledge the difference of the work I did, I actually felt more motivated to tackle some of those other areas that I was procrastinating!  This also applies to many people I have worked with.

Try to soak up the effects of your hard work.  You probably did not enjoy the process of it, but you can appreciate the results of it.  The effect of having spaces cleared of clutter, knowing where many things belong (if not all of them just yet), and wanting to keep up the level of organization will help you keep the momentum up to continue organizing, even when you just want to call it quits.

We all struggle with degrees of procrastination, avoiding things that are unpleasant to us in some way.  What is most important in the long run is what action we decide to take to deal with these counter-productive patterns.  There are many ways to challenge these tendencies, some of which I discussed last week, and I’ll share more in the future.

Finding ways to give yourself credit for the work you have done is a great way to invigorate yourself to jump into other area that needs attention. Become your own personal cheering squad!  Rah! Rah! It looks fabulous and feels awesome to have it done and off the list.

For me the best feeling is a quiet, contentment that fills me up; and I re-discover that feeling every time I go into one of those spaces that has been “re-done.”  The emotional response applies to areas that I looked forward to just as much as the areas that I had dreaded working on.  The difference was that I felt relieved and contented for a longer period.

We are a pleasure seeking society, and in wanting to experience that sense of quiet accomplishment, I found additional motivation to improve other areas.  It is a double win, I would get things done that I wanted off my list and could feel satisfaction for a while at my efforts.

What are you going to do to help yourself accomplish the dreaded tasks?

P.S. I mention the story of Ray Bradbury and although I searched to verify it as more than an urban legend, could not find any information one way or the other.  If you happen to have any information about the truth or falsity of this story, I would greatly appreciate any of it.

I Don’t Wanna!

I was thinking the other day about how there are certain things that I just repeatedly procrastinate doing.  When clients talk to me of those same struggles, I recommend that they find a way to reward themselves for accomplishing the dreaded task.  Therefore, I had to ask myself why it was not working for me since I use that approach for myself as well.

Was it that the reward was not enough of an incentive to tackle the task?  Would it be more helpful instead to inflict a punishment for not doing those things?  According to modern psychology’s view on rewards versus punishment, rewards have been found to be more effective in the long run.

As I continued to ponder this dilemma, my thoughts kept returning to the idea that it all comes down to discipline.  If we do not discipline ourselves to accomplish those very things we dislike doing, they will not get done.  Whether you employ giving yourself a small reward for your finished tasks or take away a reward for not being able to check off some of your chores, the essential element is whether you have any discipline.

So how do you apply discipline to overcome procrastination?  First, let’s define discipline.  Bobby Knight, the famous Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach, has a definition that I’ve always respected: “Discipline is… 1. Do what has to be done; 2. When it has to be done; 3. As well as it can be done; and 4. Do it that way every time.”

We can all probably claim varying degrees of successful discipline in our lives, and the places we falter in our discipline need improvement.  At least when it connects with tasks that do need our attention, we need to have the ability to utilize our discipline to get things done.

When we cannot, it is like tantrum that a child throws because he/she does not want to do that.  Wah!  I DON’T WANNA!  Wah!  It is not fun, so I don’t want to do that.  It is boring, so I won’t do that.  To some extent, it is our inner child saying it is my way or no way.  The lack of our own discipline is our inner child rebelling against doing something that they do not want to do.

How would you treat a child facing the same situation?  How would you convince that child to do those tasks?  How did your parents handle your resistances and what would you do the same or differently?  You know better than anyone does how you can be motivated to accomplish things.  

There is another approach, if there is someone that you can turn to and count on.  As with other things in life, some people suggest having an “accountability partner,” someone who you know is keeping track of your progress and you can likewise monitor their progress with their own struggles. 

We need to recognize that we are behaving as adult size children.  We are resisting the logical and necessary tasks due to a stubbornness and counter-productive mentality.  No Mom or Dad is going to step and do it for us.  We have become adults and have all these responsibilities to take care of, so we need to face the situation and do those things we do not want to do.  Unfortunately the longer we put off doing those things, the bigger burden they become.  It magnifies how onerous those tasks feel and reinforces our detesting them in the first place.

What happens when you do not employ self-discipline on important tasks?