Two years ago I was over scheduled and stressed out. I made a New Year’s resolution to improve my time management, and over the year learned quite a few helpful things that I would like to share with you, because I imagine most people in the therapeutic riding industry feel or have felt this way as well! However, the more I learned about time management, the more I realized there’s actually two sides of the coin: how you view your time, and how you schedule your time. So Part 1 is about the first side of the coin: Perspective, and within the next few days I’ll post Part 2, Time Management Techniques.
Time Management, Part 1: Perspective
Before you can improve your time management you need to understand why you are so busy. Part of it is you, but part of it is the world we live in.
Why We Are So Busy
The book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte blew my mind. I called it “seeing through the facade,” because it revealed so many cultural reasons I got busy and how bogus those pressures are. The following are some historical, cultural, and personal reasons why we are so busy today, from her book and Bill Hybels’ book “Simplify“.
The Industrial Revolution
- Indoor electricity lets us work longer and later into the night.
- Technology allows speed of communication and bringing work home. Therefore we are expected to be available all the time.
- Technology allows instant information at our fingertips. Therefore we are overstimulated, constantly switching roles, and constantly making decisions.
- Technology allows us to be in control (vs. farmers who can’t control the weather and back in the day didn’t even have technological forecasting). Therefore we feel increased pressure to do something to control everything.
- U.S. work laws do not put good hour limits on work, particularly on salary workers.
- In the U.S. work is taking the place of religion – now our jobs answer the questions of “who am I” and “what’s my purpose”.
- The workplace accepts and rewards us for productivity, so being busy/productive makes us feel important and valued.
- Busyness has become the norm and expectation. We compete about who’s busier, who’s got more to do. If someone isn’t busy, we look down on them.
- Extroversion dominates. U.S. culture values the personality, the motivator, the inspiring leader. Management theories emphasize group work, selling yourself, being a team. For the introvert, this makes it harder to function in the workplace. (If you’re an introvert, check out “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain)
- Business values spill over into home life: everything is done for a reason such as productivity or efficiency, not for its own sake (such as play), and productivity at home makes us feel important and valued.
- Business values even spill over into leisure: recreational activities have been shortened to fit into breaks between work (on weekends and evenings), leisure has turned into work (competitive sports, organized activities, leisure activities provide jobs, etc.), and leisure is one more thing to fit into our schedules.
- People Pleasing & Poor Boundaries – You say yes to too many people because you want them to like you. You want their praise, and fear their disapproval or anger.
- Self Inflation – You think everything depends on you. If you don’t do it, no one will.
- Lack of Trust – You don’t trust others to do it instead of you. You don’t want to give up control.
- Power – You want to be in control.
- Greed – You want more stuff, which you get with more money, which means working more.
- Perfectionism – You can’t make a mistake. You overwork yourself to meet the high standard of perfection you set for yourself.
- Genuine Good Intentions – You genuinely love people and want to help them, so you say yes to too many things.
- Moral Laziness – You choose busyness to avoid making harder decisions. Busyness becomes an escape, a convenient opt-out, from making difficult decisions you will be responsible for. It’s an excuse.
- Chronic Overscheduling – What the book “Simplify” by Bill Hybels calls “The Runaway Calendar.” You let certain things (work, meetings, appointments) take priority over others (usually the less tangible, such as relationships and who you are becoming).
- ADHD – You’re habitually disorganized, always running late, procrastinate, impulsive, bored easily, distracted easily, yet sometimes get so wrapped up in a project you can’t stop (to name a few – more at ADDitude magazine) – all of which prohibits you from managing your time well. (Is this you? ADDitude magazine has some great time management tips specific to those with ADHD or anything like it!)
I’m sure there are more, but let’s move on!
Current research is telling us that the ways in which people work best, according to their biology and natural rhythms, is actually the opposite of U.S. work culture. Below I’m listing the main points that I found most applicable. The evidence and studies themselves are discussed in the book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte.
- Humans are designed to alternate between spending and recovering energy. We see this in breathing, brain waves, waking/sleeping, digesting, sleep cycles, high/low alertness, and more. Breaks and sleep are when the brain consolidates information and makes connections. We weren’t built to sustain focus on work for long periods of time, like the fictional “ideal worker” who powers through.
- Humans alternate between high and low alertness. We have natural 90 minute oscillations. Taking a break every 30-90 minutes improves your focus.
- You can only put out what you put in. You need rejuvenation, to refill your stores of energy, or you’ll burn out.
- Constant stress hinders productivity. It impairs self-soothing and self-control. It increases the risk of addiction and self-destructive behavior. It leads to depression, anxiety, inflammation, and decreased productivity.
- Great productivity is not driven by longer work hours. It is driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
- Work does not cause happiness. Instead, happiness causes success and achievement in your work.
- You have a certain number of most productive hours. Studies show that productivity maxes out for mental labor jobs at 6 hours, and for physical labor jobs at 8 hours. After that you get dull and make mistakes and are less productive.
- Interruptions decrease productivity. It takes 10-20 times the amount of time the interruption took to return to the previous task.
- Multitasking decreases productivity. Two tasks cannot be done at the same time 100%. The brain can only hold 7 things at one. Humans were made to focus on one thing at a time.
- You cannot live in the overworked realm forever. Something will break – your health, marriage, kids, emotional well-being…
- Other parts of the world don’t work this way. As opposed to U.S. work culture, other parts of the world has limits on work hours, more vacation time, longer maternity leave, etc. However, other other parts of the world have even less regulation. Basically, the U.S. way is not necessarily the one way or the right way.
- Leisure increases productivity and is necessary. Historically, inventions and progress came from idle thought and leisure. Leisure refreshes you so you can be more productive and joyful in the workplace.
- Our best work comes from “flow.” Schulte says “flow” is having a sense of timelessness and being absorbed in the moment with what you’re working on, and that often our best work happens in this place.
- Play fosters happiness and creation. Play is imaginative unstructured free time. It enables humans to improvise, imagine, learn, problem solve, create, reconnect with themselves and others, see possibilities, and be happy.
All this offers some interesting application in that maybe before you learn to manage your time better, you need to think about what you spend your time on and how you view work. Here are some potential application points of the above.
- Leave the U.S. work culture. Schulte points out the most radical response is to leave the workforce completely. Start your own business, or take a job at a company with more progressive perspectives on workplace culture. She shares stories of software companies that let mothers bring their babies to work and take turns holding them, a work space that is designed with no private offices but with areas for quiet work and areas for open sharing, groups are given only a few tasks to work on every week so they can focus better (no multitasking) and it’s easier to take time off (because others are working on it too), and when at home checking email or making work calls is looked down upon.
- Change the culture at your work. Employees can do little things like not compete about who’s busiest, not expect others to be in constant communication especially at home or on weekends, not encourage emailing during off hours, encourage leisure and vacations by being happy for others to take breaks instead of stressed about covering for them, and so on. Managers can do big things like change the rules about how many work hours are allowed, how often you give people breaks, how many tasks you give employees to focus on, and set the tone for expectations about what you praise people for or look down on. For example, my work requires that all emails be answered with 24 hours during weekdays and on the weekend by afternoon Monday, so there is always time to do your communication at work and you’re not expected to respond on weekends.
- Change your perspective. Prioritize self care and leisure. Make your purpose something outside of work, not work itself. Value and applaud balance in one’s life instead of looking down on people who aren’t busy. Stop letting business values spill over into your home life – don’t expect your family to be always working. Stop letting business values spill over into your free time – don’t let leisure become just one more task to do.
- Question expectations. So many of the U.S. work culture expectations are unrealistic. Maybe when you feel like you’re doing something wrong, the expectation are what’s wrong. Question them. It’s okay to disagree. When others judge you, it’s often because they want something else from you (probably unreasonably) so ask them “What do you need?”
- Take responsibility. Don’t say “I don’t have enough time” because the truth is you didn’t make enough time; instead be honest and say “This isn’t a priority for me right now.” It’s your responsibility to make a schedule that you can do well, to set boundaries, and to fill your energy reserves – no one else can do this for you (if anything, everyone else will just keep asking for more!). It’s up to you to protect and restore your energy levels. Consciously choosing your priorities (such as leisure, or family time) is the first step to having it.
- Address personal issues. See the whole list of Personal Reasons above and create an action for the ones that affect you. For example, stop caring what others think about you and instead be guided by your own priorities. Stop taking control all the time and try to trust others to get things done. And so on.
- Simplify. Maybe you need to cut out some commitments. You can’t do everything. Focus on the few things you been called to and created to do. Bill Hybels in the book “Simplify” says your schedule is less about what you need to do and more about who you want to become. You may need to walk away from tons of less important opportunities to focus on the few really important ones.
- Prioritize what’s most important. I think it’s God. If I spend 15 minutes every morning thinking and praying and reading the Bible, I regain perspective and a better attitude on everything. For some people it’s meditating or whatever else they do. Every day take time to reconnect, be mindful, and quiet.
- Play. Let yourself. Give yourself permission. You need play. Remember what you loved doing as a kid and star there. Inject play throughout the day, even just a few minutes. Bring a playful mindset to work. Don’t make play time into work. Yes, your horse needs schooling, but mentally for both of you some play time is beneficial. I’ve decided that 1 out of every 2-3 times I ride my horse it needs to be fun trail ride time or play chase in the arena time.
- Embrace vacations. They have magical restorative powers. Take them.
- Find role models. People who balance life and work well. People who work hard and love their family and make time to refresh.
- Let go of the past. Holding on can keep us from moving forward, make us get stuck in a rut of overbusyness. We life in seasons, and each season teaches us something. Be fully in your season, learn from it, mourn its passing, then move on.
So that was a lot, but I hope you found it helpful. For me this felt like a breakthrough! I gave myself permission to cut things out and say no and not stress out about others’ unreasonable expectations.
Next is Part 2: Tips & Techniques for time management techniques and how you actually schedule your time!
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!