The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
…….And space is supposed to stop it from all happening to me.
It usually happens on a Friday, a few hours before a looming deadline, the day before a holiday. The printer stops. The computer goes into update mode, or crashes altogether. People you need to talk to vanish off the face of the earth, just to spite you. All you want to do is get out of there, close the door and run away, very fast, and very far. But you can’t, because you’ve remembered that you’re a grown up, with responsibilities and people who are depending on you. And shouting at your laptop isn’t a good look.
So what can you do when time anxiety grips you? It’s about managing your state, as well as your time.
Step 1. Stop.
Stop and breathe. You’re going to need oxygen, but not for running away. You’ll need it to think straight and clearly and come up with a plan. But for the moment, just stop and recover. Stand up. Feel the weight on your feet. Relax and drop your shoulders. Move your centre of gravity down to your navel and breathe slowly, from your belly. Be present. You might need to repeat this from time to time,as we go through the next steps, if you feel that your centre of gravity has shifted upside your head.
Step 2. Gather Resources.
Gather resources, starting with yourself. Go back to the past. Think back. This is probably not the first time you’ve needed to deal with a deluge of demands, 90% of them unreasonable, unfair and poorly timed. How did you overcome? What are your strengths, that you know you can rely on in a crisis? Name them and gather them in a circle in front of you. Bring to mind a few more of those sticky situations and the resources you used. Put them in the circle in front of you. Then step into the circle and take them on board, one by one. Use a key word as an anchor to bring this state to mind when you need it in future.
Step 3. Plan
Using what you now know from Steps 1 and 2, look around you. Who else could help you, if you asked them? Ignore the voices in your head telling you it will take too much time to involve other people. Pretend you have loads of time, just for now. Even if you just bounce your ideas off someone else, you won’t be on your own.
Now put together a visual plan to get you where you need to be, broken down into timed chunks. If you have an hour, split it into 10 minute chunks. If you have longer, split it into 30 minute segments. Be clear, and write down how you’re going to use each timed segment, including a small amount of time to review each chunk. This will keep you in control.
Step 4. Do.
When you’re pressed for time, the easy thing to do is to start here, in the belief that you don’t have any time to plan. But steps 1 to 3 should only take you ten minutes in total. Your return on this investment is regaining your sense of control and agency. Your anxiety level has dropped.You’re back in the driving seat. Things aren’t just happening to you.
Step 5. Review
When it’s all over, take stock and get a wider perspective. If you could get a re-do, how would you change things? Start from further back than when the shit appeared to hit the fan. You’ll probably find that things were set up to go wrong at a much earlier stage.The warning signs often get ignored. You should review dispassionately. This isn’t beat yourself up time, it’s a genuine discovery process, so you’re being curious, not the Witchfinder-General.
In summary, you combat time anxiety by getting back in control. Of yourself, mostly.
Many people will tell you that Time Management is really about Self Management, because you can’t manage time. They’re right, if repetitive. But it’s not about a Spartan regime of discipline and self-denial. I prefer to call it Self Mastery.
If you liked this article, you might like this one: “Time Poor. You’re Probably Making Things Worse”.
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