Learning to Manage Yourself and Not Your Time

It's time to shift your perspective on your to-do list.

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If you have difficulty with time management, it might be time to shift your perspective. Maybe it’s your habits and approach to your overflowing plate that need some reigning in – not the clock.

At the Professional Businesswomen of California’s 25th Anniversary Conference in San Francisco, business communication expert and motivational speaker Colette Carlson taught a standing-room-only crowd how to stress less by focusing on you management rather than time management.

Carlson maintains that to reduce stress, it’s essential to keep stress from happening in the first place. Here are some of her best tips on how to make that ideal vision more likely:

Manage expectations of what you can do in one day. One of the problems with the concept of time management is that it often involves trying to accomplish an unrealistic number of tasks. When you try to manage your time to do more than is physically possible, the result is disappointment and frustration.

To avoid this, Carlson suggests getting better at understanding how much you can really get done in a single day – and how much you can’t. “Everything takes twice as long as you think it will, but we don’t budget for that, so we end up stressing because we try to put too much into our day,” she says. “You’re never going to get it all done. It doesn’t matter how much you delegate-organize-prioritize-simplify – it is coming at us way too fast. There’s simply more information than we can absorb.”

Her strategy? Make a “Not-To-Do List.” Jot down all the projects that you would like to get done, but that you don’t currently have time for. “Every time these projects come up, they weigh you down,” she says. “Clean the garage” is one of the items on her Not-To-Do List.

Carlson adds that tasks currently identified as Not-To-Do’s may someday make your To-Do List – but it’s important to remind yourself that right now in your life, other values, goals and priorities are taking precedence.

Manage expectations of yourself. It’s not just that you may be expecting to get too many things done each day. You may also be throwing off your schedule with unrealistically high expectations about what you should do. Whether it’s about how often you go to the gym, what kind of food you eat or how clean your house is, expecting perfection can derail your larger goals. “You’re putting an expectation on yourself that shows you’re caught up in an expectation of what you think you should be,” Carlson says.

To avoid this, Carlson recommends steering clear of all-or-nothing thinking that can keep you from taking small steps. For example, if you don’t have time for an hourlong workout at the gym on your lunch break, don’t forgo the 10-minute walk that’s doable during or after work. “It’s ridiculous sometimes what we do when it comes to that perfectionism,” Carlson says. “And yet often, it’s handed down. But we have to stop it. It doesn’t serve us, and it just adds to our stress.”

Manage your boundaries. Another area that may keep you overloaded is an inability to say “no” to incoming requests. Carlson notes that women often suffer from this problem due to fear of losing others’ approval – even others whom they don’t respect. “Women have boundary issues, not work-life issues,” she says.

To improve your boundaries, Carlson recommends getting better at speaking your truth. “One of the things I had to do was learn to let go of what other people wanted me to do, and do what works best for me and my family.” While some may feel guilt from saying no, learning to shift your perspective can help. Instead of seeing “no” as selfish, Carlson suggests seeing it as “self-ISH,” where the “ISH” stands for “I Stay Healthy, I Stay Happy.”

Stop multi-tasking, start multi-asking. When overwhelmed by projects, you may have a tendency to simply dig in your heels and try to accomplish more and more – on your own. This type of solo multi-tasking can wear you down and keep you perpetually behind the eight ball. “We need to ask for what we need to be done,” Carlson explains. “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a really healthy way to stay strong.” Sometimes it seems easier to pretend to have it all together than to ask for the help you need to actually get things together. Yet as Carlson says, “Perfectionism will keep you busy the rest of your life. It’s not about perfection; it’s about connection.”

Robin Madell has spent more than two decades as a corporate writer, journalist and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology and public-interest issues. She serves as a copywriter, speechwriter and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. Madell has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, winning 20 awards for editorial excellence. She served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in New York and San Francisco. Madell is the author of “Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30” and co-author of “The Strong Principles: Career Success.” You can reach her at robin.madell@gmail.com.