Last year, I helped a client (let’s call her Laura, not her real name) build a routine in her weeks through my Time Management Coaching Programme. Laura’s life was a juggling act, trying to meet the demands of a very demanding job and of a family with 2 young children whose education and well-being were primordial to her, managing her household, dedicating time to spirituality while trying to build the habit of exercising regularly. Her workload, together with the very high standards she was imposing on herself in every area of her life without realising it, allowed her only 5 hours of sleep a night.
Our first session was centred around building a weekly schedule for Laura and her two children, giving a regular slot to what she and her children needed and wanted to do. Her schedule provided immediate relief as far as the evening routine for her and her children was concerned. During the two weeks that followed our session, she tested her new schedule and learned about her preferences when it came to managing her time, when she was more efficient, how long she could focus on specific tasks etc.
We were planning to integrate her learnings into her schedule when she was allocated a large project at work that would span a 6-week period. When we spoke, Laura was under a lot of stress, feeling almost paralysed, having no idea how she would make it work, at work and at home. It was clear that the project would challenge the routines we were in the midst of implementing, so we diverted our attention to things that would help her go through this intense period.
Our second session covered the following concepts:
#1. Redefine life balance
We often assume that life balance means that all areas of our lives need to be in balance every single day. At least, that’s what I believed when I left the corporate world many years ago to set up my own business while looking after my toddler. What I experienced was that there were days when I had to focus on work and others when my son needed to be the priority. What I realised was that over a period of time, all the areas of my life were balancing each other, and that was what truly mattered. Removing the guilt of not having a balanced life days in and days out allowed me to focus on what was critically vying for my attention at that point. That certainly was a turning point for me.
As you’ll read in Laura’s testimonial below, accepting that her priorities would have to change for the next 6 weeks was a big a-ha moment for her. Our discussion helped her let go of the guilt for not being as present as she would have liked for her children during those next 6 weeks and made her very resolute to block time for her children over their upcoming holiday.
#2. Break the project into manageable tasks
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when a big project falls into our hands, and we start to realise all the work associated with it. It’s tempting to throw ourselves at the work that needs to be done, but with the stress, we often end up moving from one task to another, without necessarily giving importance to the tasks that really deserve our attention.
In such a situation, it always pays off to sit down and plan, even when deadlines are tight. As I asked Laura to tell me what the project would entail, I started writing down a list of tasks. I then asked her to estimate how long each task would take her to execute, and then to look at her schedule and consider whether she could afford to spend that amount of time on each task considering her deadline, and if not, to come up with a more doable estimate. We talked about strategies to let go of her perfectionism and embrace the good enough, especially during that period.
#3. Block the time for the project in your schedule
A task that’s linked to a when in your schedule is more likely to get done.
As per my suggestion, Laura blocked various timeslots in her diary to dedicate to the various tasks of her project. I asked her to treat these times as an appointment with herself and as she would of any commitments to other people, and not compromise on it.
#4. Monitor your progress
One critical aspect of staying on top of a project is to closely monitor its progress so you can adjust along the way and achieve your deadline.
Most people tend to plan their day first thing in the morning. It’s better than not planning it at all for sure, but I find that sometimes it’s already too late. The pressure of the day might already have come down on you, and you might make rushed decisions.
I advised Laura to block 15 minutes at the end of her days to review what was on her plate the next day. That way, she would be more detached and feel less stressed to make the right decisions and would hit the ground running the next morning.
#5. Practise the 4Ds to streamline your workload
No matter how well we plan our days, we all face those days when we have too much to do or when an unexpected event throws our plans off – whether it’s a boss or client having an urgent request or a child being down with high fever and who needs to be taken to the doctor.
It was not breaking news, yet Laura needed to be reminded that time is finite and that she would have to constantly make choices about how she would use it. I shared Julie Morgenstern’s 4Ds concept with her to give her a comprehensive framework to examine her options by questioning each item on her to-do list:
- Can I delete it?
- Can I delay it?
- Can I delegate it?
- Can I diminish it?
so she could build days with a realistic workload.
#6. Cut down distractions and negative thoughts that make you lose focus
It’s important to create an environment where you can stay focused on the task at hand, even more so when you’re working on a large project with a tight deadline.
Distractions can come from various places.
Physical distractions – Agree with your colleagues and family members that if the door of the room where you work is closed, then you shouldn’t be interrupted. Wear headphones if you work in an open space for a noise-cancelling effect.
Digital distractions – Switching off phone notifications and emails while working on your project will drastically increase your productivity. If you still feel compelled to check your phone, put some physical distance between you and the device to make it more difficult for you to reach for it out of impulse.
Negative thoughts – If, like Laura, you suffer from imposter syndrome, try to silence your negative thoughts by practising ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy). For example, if you think “I’m stupid”, rephrase the thought by saying “I’m having the thought I’m stupid”, and then “I notice I’m having the thought that I’m stupid”. This does help put some distance between you and the thought and make it less believable.
As expected, those 6 weeks in Laura’s life were quite intense but here is what she had to say afterwards: “The trip was as expected. A nice challenge and we made a wow impression… which was what I was looking for. I have to admit the tips you shared have been helpful and the chat with you helped me to not feel guilty for prioritising work over kids for a short while.”
Do you need to put routine into your schedule? Do you feel overwhelmed by a big project that has just fallen on you? Check my time management coaching programme or let’s have a chat. I’d love to help you feel more in control.