Many people wonder how it is that they end up doing too much, even when their dearest wish is to have time for themselves. There is no easy answer to this, because everyone is different. But here are a few ideas as to why we might end up with full calendars, and what we might do to clear ourselves a more relaxed life.
I will structure this article as a list of four reasons why time-compression may happen, and in each case I will offer an exercise which you may wish to try, in order to counteract that reason.
REASON 1: YOU FIND IT EASIER TO ACCEPT THAN REFUSE
In your interactions with others, do you find yourself saying yes more than you are comfortable with? If so, you may have developed conversational habits in which you are always making up the deficit in other people’s lives. This can happen if, in childhood, you were used to compensating for a parent’s or sibling’s lack of ability to help themselves. If those around you in childhood lacked empathy, and required you to do their thing in preference to yours, then you may have developed a quickness to help, a helpfulness that potentially disadvantages you.
EXERCISE 1: PRACTICING DEFERRAL
If this is you, then it’s going to be hard to transform yourself overnight. But you can begin by learning to defer activities. For instance, if you have too much on your plate, you can choose some activities, and postpone them. It’s easier to postpone than cancel, and it buys you time. The pattern of conversation can be something like: ‘Something’s come up and I’m not able to do x on Thursday, but I’m happy to work out another Thursday that I can manage.’ If you hate letting people down, using this two-part way of clearing your time can work well.
REASON 2: YOU ARE RUNNING FROM SOMETHING
When you are alone and things are quiet, do you find yourself filling up the time by phoning people, getting on to social media, or inventing tasks that you suddenly ‘must’ do? If so, you may have an underlying fear of, or boredom with, quiet time alone. This is a tough one, because it is largely unconscious. You will have ten reasons why you need to do these things, and you will swear blind that you would love to sit in peace if only you had the time. But ‘miraculously’ you get further and further away from peace. You will say you are courageous, but the fact is, the evidence points to you having a phobia of simply chilling without doing anything.
EXERCISE 2: THE ONE HOUR CHALLENGE
Try yourself out. Find the next hour you have available, and clear it of everything. Agree with yourself that you will not do anything, anything at all. Be completely unresponsive to the phone, to any urgent jobs, to everyone and everything. See how you go. Meditate on the experience while you are having it. Notice how many excuses you come up with to ‘do’ something. Notice how it feels to just sit. The idea is to learn, hour by hour, what you are really like to yourself when nothing is happening. You may notice some strange things about yourself.
REASON 3: YOU NEED TO BE NEEDED
Some people unconsciously arrange their lives so that they are constantly in demand. It is as though their personal value depends on other people wanting them, so they fill their days up with appointments whose purpose is to give them a place in the world. This might be because they were valued when young for being available to others, and for participating in ‘official’ activities, but not valued when they were not available, and not participating.
EXERCISE 3: MAKE YOURSELF REDUNDANT
This is a weird exercise, but sometimes works. What you need to do, is to argue yourself out of any idea that you are necessary to others. For instance, start looking for others to perform the functions you feel that you perform. If you feel a duty to parents, encourage your siblings to take some of the strain. If you have too many business clients, start work on passing them on to others, or taking on an assistant to take the load from you. What you are aiming at, is to convince yourself that you are not really that important, that people can do without you. Humiliating, but helpful if you want to clear time. It may even be that your partner, and close friends, can cope without you. Terrible, but true.
REASON 4: YOU ARE RUBBISH AT ORGANISING YOUR LIFE
It happens. You may be unable to organise your diary with sufficient gaps. Maybe you grew up with a calendar that was full, as organised by others, and you never developed that ability to ‘design’ your own time.
EXERCISE 4: Become your own ‘TIME DESIGNER’
I want you to go through your week’s diary, and treat it like a work of art. Notice where it is too full, and begin to artfully clear areas, much as you would if a garden was too chock-full of plants. Be ruthless. If necessary at first, cite illness: tell others that you are under the weather, and so will have to modify your plans. in particular, try to create sacrosanct time at the same time and place each week, where you do something you like, but very little else.
A FINAL NOTE
Many of us end up taking on too much, and our calendar gets too full.
We accept things too soon; we fail to attend to ourselves; we take on too much responsibility; we fail to control our timetable.
If you are too obliging, then practice postponing things.
If you suspect you may be afraid of being alone doing nothing, then practice doing nothing for an hour, and observe yourself.
If you need to be needed by others, then practice becoming redundant, handing over responsibilities and activities to others.
If you are disorganised, then learn to become your own ‘time designer’, clearing beautiful space ruthlessly.
Of course, you will tell me reasons why this doesn’t apply to you. Of course, you are uniquely disabled when it comes to time management and self-care.
But, well, if you’ve read this far, you must be at least a BIT interested in clearing your time to be happy. Aren’t you?