With the blurred boundaries between home and work, it’s no surprise that many of us are suffering from what experts call time famine: the feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it. The keyword here is feeling: there are still 168 hours each week, but because of our time management (or better yet, mismanagement) it feels like we have fewer.
Add to the equation social media, where it seems like everyone is living their best lives — successfully #WFH, baking sourdough bread, exercising, and learning a foreign language — and you can easily find yourself starving for more hours in the day.
As CEO of Jotform, I’ve found myself wearing more hats than usual — between playing part-time teacher for my children, performing my usual duties, and ensuring my team has everything they need to work remotely. It’s been challenging, to say the least. Here, five time-famine fighting strategies that have helped me to manage my schedule more effectively.
1. Learn to say ‘No’
I get it. When a friend wants your input on their side hustle or your boss asks you to spearhead a new committee, you want to be the person that always says ‘yes.’ That’s what successful people do, right?
There’s a reason for the phrase “spreading yourself too thin” — because when we try to accomplish too much, we end up doing nothing exceptional and a bunch of things mediocre. Plus, we start to feel up to our eyeballs in assignments and it’s simply unsustainable.
According to Greg McKeown, author of the New York Times bestseller “Essentialism,” what distinguishes successful from very successful people is their ability to say “no.”
Writes McKeown, “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials.”
Look at your schedule and consider which tasks and activities are truly fulfilling or furthering your goals, and which are nonessential. If you have back-to-back Zoom happy hours and they’re becoming more burdensome than enjoyable, then skip one. If a friend’s side project is taking precious time from your own, then commit to fewer hours to helping. Remember: it’s ok to set your boundaries and politely decline sometimes.
2. Reframe your goals so that they’re not competing
Let’s say you have an assignment deadline and a team meeting. If you see these tasks as competing for your time, you might start panicking that you don’t have time for both. According to studies published in the Journal of Marketing Research, when people feel that their goals are conflicting, they get anxious and time feels more scarce.
The solution, however, might be simpler than you think. The same researchers also found that merely imagining that our tasks are not in conflict gives us a sense of having more time.
Try listing your tasks in order of priority or figuring out ways to satisfy two goals at once. For example, if I want to exercise but also spend time with my daughter, maybe I’ll skip the treadmill and go bike riding with my daughter instead.
3. If you’re having trouble choosing a priority, just start somewhere
When I first launched my company, Jotform, I obsessed over doing everything correctly. Faced with a long to-do list, I’d become paralyzed by anxiety — was I was prioritizing the right thing?
With time, I learned to just start somewhere. Today, I like to call myself a “recovered perfectionist.”
Not knowing where to begin is one of the most common reasons people get “stuck” and end up wasting precious time. That’s why New York Times contributor and time-management coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders recommends just starting somewhere — anywhere. Instead of worrying that you’ll regret your decision, Saunders says to adopt the following, more forgiving mindset:
“I can’t always know for sure what should be the priority. However, I can make a reasonable decision to pursue something that I know is among my most important activities.”
4. Treat yourself to time-saving products and services
It’s not just convenient to occasionally outsource tasks like house cleaning, lawn mowing, and childcare — it might even make you happier.
Research on over 6,000 adults across all income levels from the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands, found that spending money to buy yourself more time is associated with greater life satisfaction.
Explained one of the researchers:
“The way that people are spending money, and in this case, spending money to buy themselves free time, has a similar positive association with happiness as how much money people make.”
But interestingly enough, the researchers also found that most people were reluctant to spend money to save time. “[E]ven in our sample of over 800 millionaires in the Netherlands, almost half of them report spending no money to pay others to do tasks for them.”
Instead of feeling guilty, try to see these expenditures as freeing yourself up for more rewarding activities. That, or enabling you to knock additional items off your to-do list and giving yourself the gift of more time.
5. Schedule moments for disconnection
In his masterful poem “Burnt Norton,” T.S. Eliot writes of “the still point of the turning world.” Whether through meditation or a peaceful walk, we should all try to find that still point at least once per day and bring a slower, more contemplative mindset into our fast-paced lives.
Some people take this idea to the extreme. In South Korea, for example, (the most overworked nation in Asia, as reported by Quartz), “some South Koreans are willing to live in monastic cells no more than 53 square feet for a week. They relinquish their cell phones, wear blue uniforms, receive food through an open slot, and agree to being locked into their cell…”
It might be something to try one day.
But even if you can’t commit yourself to a monastic cell, short bouts of disconnection can have a powerful effect on our perception of time. Remember: it’s about the feeling of have not enough of it.