“I need more time!” How often have you said that to yourself? Its frequently how I feel. So much to do and apparently so little time to do what needs to be done. And yet when I have found myself with more time available, I’ve also found myself too exhausted or distracted to make significant headway with the different projects that I have told myself are important to me. When that happens it is easy to feel guilty or be too hard on oneself. Maybe part of the reason for this is because it is more then than just a time issue.
Part of the problem comes because we don’t grasp that we have overloaded ourselves in a number of different ways. Talking about needing more time is way too simplistic.
Here are some examples. I am guilty of all of them on one occasion or another:
Too much activity.
It is now way too easy to squeeze in more and more activities into the finite 168 hours we have in a week. It is so easy to be continually on the go and then when we do stop to quickly get out our smart phones to then focus on the next urgent or important thing. We lose the art of slowing down to stop, breathe deeply and lift our heads above the morass of details.
Too much choice.
No matter where you look we are surrounded by choice in every area of life – from what breakfast cereal to eat in the morning to the vast galaxy of entertainment and productivity applications on our smart phones. This becomes important because our brains struggle to tell the difference between a small decision and a major one. We still expend energy to make a choice. Without respite the quality of our decisions deteriorates over time. Just as our muscles fatigue from an excessive period of exercise, so our minds fatigue from an excessive period of decision making. (For more on this see Why Making A Decision Can Be So Hard).
Too many commitments.
This is where personality and temperament can derail and distract us. As a recovering people pleaser, it is too easy for me to say yes to too many requests of my time and energy. One helpful perspective that has become a useful reminder for me is a quote I heard that “Every yes needs to be defended by a thousand No’s.” The urgent or what is right in front of me becomes more pressing than the important. (See Time Management 3).There are also some relationships that can be emotionally filling and others that drain and suck the life out of us. (See What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down?)
And I haven’t even mentioned the dangers of too many expectations, too much hurry and distraction when it comes to technology!
So when we think about margin we need to think about at least 4 areas where we expend energy and resources, only one of which is time:
Emotional energy: when we lack this we find ourselves feeling unduly stressed, alone and exhausted. (For more on this see Podcast #003: Stress; Podcast #004: Combatting Depression and Podcast #027: Beating Burnout). That is why just having more time is not enough.
Physical energy: when I neglect this I can become prone to comfort eating, being under active and generally sleep deprived. (See What Is The Single Most Important Thing I Can Do To Improve My Physical Health? and Podcast #030: Do You Need More Sleep?)
Time: As we have become more and more adept at doing tasks faster and faster we have often unthinkingly crammed more and more into our schedules. (See Podcast #024: Making Sense of Time). We need the space and margin to be confident that what I am doing is the best use of my time right now.
Finances: The easy availability of credit and a growing ‘consume now pay later’ culture has led to more and more people living beyond their financial resources and means. Living beyond our means is a common feature of our modern culture.
Bringing this all tougher I am reminded of David Allen’s maxim, “Not being aware of all you have to do is much like having a credit card for which you don’t know the limit.”
One of the first steps in gaining margin is having a clear understanding of what all my priorities are and what actually are all the things I am committed to doing and achieving today, this week, this month, this year or the next 5-10 years or even at some point in my life time.
That takes thinking, but as David Allen says, “You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might.”
Where do you feel you need more margin in your life?