Ah, Thanksgiving weekend. A time when both regular diets and Time Diets traditionally go out the window as we gorge ourselves on pumpkin pie and spend the rest of our time napping, shopping, or watching football. The best part of this holiday weekend is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with suspending your Time Diet for a few days. After all, for many of us those 4 days are one big giant “dessert” in our schedule that we’ve looked forward to since August. The problem is when your enjoyment is interrupted because you start feeling guilty about not doing work. Don’t fall into this trap! Feeling guilty about not doing work when you are on vacation accomplishes nothing. You neither get work done nor enjoy your time off.
Think about it like this: At Thanksgiving dinner, many people eat more food than they would ever think of eating at a normal meal. Feeling guilty about it the next day does nothing. You can’t exactly put back what you ate and what is the point of indulging once a year if your guilty conscience won’t let you enjoy it? Instead, if you decide you are going to allow yourself to indulge at this holiday meal, then just do it and be done with it. The same is true for your Time Diet. Remember, good time management skills only come when you are in control of what you do. If you decide to take these 4 days off, great! Do it and don’t look back. Everyone deserves a break once in a while and if you decide you can afford it now, don’t feel guilty for taking one. I have a ton of reading that I need to do for next week and I was going to take it with me on our Thanksgiving vacation but I forgot it at home. I’m glad I did because it turns out I didn’t feel like working at all and knowing my reading was sitting up in my suitcase would have made me feel guilty for sitting with my feet up by the fire.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with the ones you love. The holiday season can be a busy time but you want to make sure to keep your stress level in check so you can actually enjoy it. Make sure to check back every week for more tips on maintaining your Time Diet in this famously hectic time!
Whenever people talk about time management, it doesn’t take long until the “to-do list” is mentioned in the conversation. While I think it is essential to write down important deadlines and keep track of the things you plan to accomplish during the day, I don’t really like the name “to-do list.” I think it encourages the notion that we don’t have control over our own time and that some magical deadline god is forcing us to do things. A “to-do list” sounds too much like a “have to-do list” to me.
In reality, everything we do during the day is our choice. I spent part of today writing a paper that I have due in December. Did I particularly want to spend my time that way today? No, and in fact it would be very easy for me to complain that I had to spend the day working and it was so horrible. But, the only reason I had to work on that paper today is because I’m choosing to be in grad school right now. Not only am I choosing to be in grad school, but I’m choosing to want to do well in my classes. I didn’t have to work on my paper today. I chose to. Did that make me any more excited to spend part of my weekend working? No, but if you view your daily tasks as choices rather than mandates it shifts the control from your work to you and control is a powerful thing.
Because the work we do is a choice, I advocate calling it a “choose-to list” instead of a “to-do list”. Calling it a “choose-to list” serves as a constant reminder that the things on it have value because you chose to put them there. If the things on your list don’t seem to have much value, then why are they there? Having a “choose-to list” causes you to constantly reassess whether the things you are doing are really worth your time. If they aren’t, get rid of them. If they are, then stop complaining, put your head down, and start grazing.
At some point, we all need to take a break from our work. Not only do we need a reward for a job well-done, but you reach a point where you simply can’t focus on your work anymore! When you’re deciding when to take your break, it’s usually better to take accomplishment-based breaks instead of time-based ones. A time-based break is when you tell yourself that you’ll work for a certain amount of time before stopping. A common time-based break philosophy is to work for 50 minutes of an hour and then take the other 10 minutes off. The problem with this philosophy is that it doesn’t really reward work, it only rewards the passage of time. If you’re working on a paper and you promise yourself a break after 50 minutes, once 50 minutes have ticked by you’ve technically earned that break, whether you’ve written 3 pages or 3 sentences.
Think about it- no one would go on a diet like that. People go on a diet with a goal in mind. “I’m going to lose 10 pounds!” “I’m going to gain 5 pounds of muscle!” Few people go on a diet and say, “I’m going to eat healthy for 5 days and then stop.” Accomplishment-based breaks reward the work you’ve done rather than the passage of time. Rather than saying you’ll give yourself a break from your paper after 50 minutes, say you’ll give yourself a break after the first 2 pages. This way, you’re rewarding the completion of a task. After all, your end goal is not for time to pass, it’s for your stuff to get done!!
Last Friday, I went to see my author friend speak at a book signing. When someone asked her how she got her writing done, she revealed her secret. She wrote 5 pages every day. No matter what. They didn’t have to be fantastic, she could always go back and revise them, but every day 5 more pages had to be completed that weren’t completed before. This plan is brilliant in its simplicity. I imagine that some days those 5 pages took very little time at all and some days they seemed to take forever. What struck me about her plan is that she had a daily accomplishment goal rather than a daily time goal. I had really expected her to say something like, “I work on my book for 2 hours when I get up in the morning or something like that.” Her accomplishment-based goal inspired me. We can all break up our big tasks into smaller chunks and create mini goals for ourselves throughout the day. It’s far better than watching the minutes on the clock tick by until our designated stop time.
Sometimes I think the phrase “time management” can be a little bit of a misnomer. I mean sure, there are plenty of times when we have too much to do and truly need to figure out how to prioritize our workload and squeeze twice the work into half the time. But then there are times when, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we know we have the time available to us to finish our work but we just don’t want to! This becomes less about “time management” and more about “motivation management.”
Have you ever seen people on a diet tape a picture of what they want to look like on their refrigerator so they see it every time they go to get food? Why do you suppose they do that? To stay motivated! When you’re on your Time Diet, you need to stay motivated to do the things you don’t want to do. Whenever you sense the dread coming on from a task you don’t want to do, rather than just putting off the task and prolonging that feeling, imagine how good you’ll feel when it’s over with. Visualization is a powerful motivator. Visualize yourself crawling into bed at night not worrying about finishing that thing you don’t want to do. Visualize how relaxed and proud you’ll be that you no longer have to worry about it.
Also, never discount the power of the “picture on the refrigerator” example. Write out your long-term goals and put them somewhere visible that you will see them frequently. Why are you working so hard? Do you want straight As in school? A better job? A cleaner house? Write it down! Frame it on your wall! It’s easy to become un-motivated when you’re staring down a bunch of things you don’t want to do without the constant reminder of why you’re doing them.
I found myself in a “busy battle” with someone the other day. It started innocently enough. We were both venting to each other about how crazy the last few weeks had been. I was talking about how much I had to do for grad school and she was talking about how difficult it is being a new mom. Then we went into how stressful both of our jobs had been this year and how sometimes it’s difficult to stay constantly motivated. Then, what started as venting turned into a “busy battle.” A “busy battle” is when two people go back and forth trying to “one up” the other with how much he or she has to do. “Oh yeah? You think your job is stressful? Well you should hear about mine.” “You haven’t slept in 2 days? Well I haven’t slept in 3 days.” “You have a 40 pages or reading to do? Well I have 60.”
The problem with a busy battle is that nobody wins. The battle will continue until one person just gives up or the topic of conversation changes. Then both people are left feeling more stressed out than they were before, and often feeling inadequate because they just heard a whole litany of things that their friend is involved with that they aren’t. Busy battles only perpetuate the myth that being busier somehow makes you more important and that you should keep as busy as possible to maintain your martyr status. Venting to your friends is fine, but when it becomes a constant battle for your friends’ sympathy, it just isn’t worth it. You should do things in life because they are important to you, not because it makes you look busier or better than the person next to you.
The next time you catch yourself in a busy battle, stop and think: What am I trying to do here? Am I honestly commiserating with a friend? Or am I just trying to “out-do” the person I’m chatting with? You don’t need the extra stress in your life of trying to keep up with other people. Just relax and take care of your own to-do list without worrying if it is longer or shorter than everyone else’s.