How Time Management Saved My Life

Almost six years ago on a beautiful spring day in April, I checked myself into the hospital, certain I was having a heart attack. I was stressed, maxed, exhausted, and BEHIND. And I was hounded by my time management failure:

  • Failure to keep up with the endless emails, tasks, reports, and deadlines that would proliferate after I fell asleep with my computer on my lap at midnight.
  • Failure to advocate for myself when the workload became unsustainable, as 8 projects became 10, and 10 became 14.
  • Failure to protect ANY of my time in support of my mental and physical well-being. Eating, sleeping, exercise, and “downtime” were a luxury I told myself I couldn’t afford.
  • Failure to be a nice person, a kind wife, a patient mother, or a functioning adult.

At the time I was an educational consultant, working in urban schools to help them make sustainable change. It was important work, and I really wanted to do it well.

Perfectly, even.

But despite my genuine commitment, I found myself trapped on the productivity Merry-Go-Round of Doom; endlessly cycling between burnout and procrastination. As the pace picked up in the spring, I would work until I dropped: not eating, not resting, not exercising, and certainly not enjoying my life.

When the pace pulled back in the summer, I found that I couldn’t do anything beyond the bare minimum. I would set goals designed to get me ahead of the curve but just stared at the wall instead.

Though I was not having a heart attack (panic attack, the doctor said), I definitely had a wake-up call.

Was I living the life I wanted to live? Was I spending my time on things I cared about? Or was I mindlessly doing what I was told; guided by things like guilt, worry, and obligation instead of passion, intention, and commitment?

It was that last one.

In that moment, I realized that if I was going to have a life worth living, things were going to have to change. I started by obsessively researching traditional time management tools, building expertise in systems like “Getting Things Done,” Kanban, Pomodoro, and time blocking. I learned some very effective tactics, many of which I still use today. I became more and more efficient, moving through tasks, meeting deadlines, and beginning to carve out bits and pieces of time for my mental and physical health.

And yet…though I was doing a much better job of cycling through to-dos at work, I was getting no closer to what really mattered to me.

And while we are on the subject…what did matter to me?

Just to be clear, this experience is not uniquely mine. This is most of us. Whether we are running a business, building a practice, climbing the corporate ladder, or creating a family life that feels authentic and nurturing:

The vast majority of us spend our lives on autopilot, doing what we’ve always done and getting the results we’ve always gotten.

Despite all of the work I had done to maximize my time, this piece just wasn’t changing. This is when I realized that ordinary time management is severely limited because it is premised on three false assumptions:

  1. You remember what you want.
  2. It helps to do more.
  3. You are making choices about how you spend your time from a neutral, objective place.

The Aligned Time Journal assumes that all three of these are false.

Let’s revisit each of them:

  • To remember what you want, you need to keep it top of mind. You probably regularly lose sight of what you want. There are moments of clarity, for sure: in a surge of enthusiasm, you set a goal, make some plans…and then get swept up into the tangled mess of other people’s expectations, habit, prior commitments, and duty. Weeks, and sometimes months go by and you make no progress on your goals. This is a phenomenon I call “goalnesia” because it feels entirely out of your control, like selective amnesia. 
time management techniques
  • When you wake back up to the goal that you set, you are confused and frustrated, wondering “Why didn’t I do anything? What’s wrong with me?!” The Aligned Time Journal combats goalnesia directly by reminding you every quarter, every week, and every single day about what you want. As you keep it top of mind, you can begin to make progress.
  • You must do less. The key to doing more of what matters is doing much, much less of the things that don’t matter. Let’s call those tasks that come from outside expectations, habit, and duty “The Rest of It.” The Aligned Time Journal supports you as you build a habit of saying “no”, backing out, and resisting the pull of “The Rest of It,” thereby creating space for what matters. With that space created, you can pursue the goals that matter to you with fewer distractions and more energy.
  • You have to stop operating from fear. Most people experience a lot of fear about time management and goal setting. Fear, for its part, makes people act erratically about their goals, causing feelings of frustration and shame. I know that someone is fighting through fear to accomplish their goals if they are exhibiting the symptoms of hurry, worry, or guilt.
  • Hurry. Are you desperate to “get this goal over with” so you can finally relax and feel good about yourself?
  • Worry. Are you obsessed with the question of whether you are “the kind of person” who can do what you want to do? What if you just don’t have what it takes and everyone finds out that you’re a total fraud?!?
  • Guilt. Do you feel guilty about pursuing your goals, certain that you are leaving people behind or acting selfishly?

I made a ton of progress using ordinary time management methods to become more efficient, develop systems and supports for progress, and get organized. And I’ve brought that full skillset to the Aligned Time Journal.

But it wasn’t until I started using the Aligned Time Journal to align my time to my priorities, say no to a ton of commitments, and handle my own beliefs about what I “had” to do, who I was “supposed” to be, and what I “should” prioritize that my life really turned around. 

how to improve time management
  • I stopped being a workaholic, but I accomplished just as much.
  • I stopped agreeing to everything and became an even more valuable collaborator and a better team player.
  • I met my commitments AND made progress on what mattered to me.
  • Maybe most importantly, I was kinder to myself, a more patient mother, and a nicer human being.

The Aligned Time Journal will help you do the same thing. It will change the way you approach goal setting by aligning your time to your goals and letting go of “The Rest of It.” Every quarter, week, and day you’ll be reminded of your goals, supported to say “no,” and encouraged to let go of your fear.

Everything you want is on the other side of that fear.

If it speaks to you, I hope that the Aligned Time Journal can be a part of that journey for you.

time management skills definition

We’re having a party! I hope you’ll join us for the launch party via zoom on February 9th at 11 a.m.

This is a session of the Build Your Practice Series, but it’s for ANYONE who wants to celebrate the launch of the Aligned Time Journal, coach, therapist or podiatrist. All are welcome!

I hope you’ll join me! All ticket proceeds go to support the Art Therapy Project.

About the Author Amanda

Amanda Crowell, PhD is a cognitive psychologist obsessed with how people make change. She is best known for translating cutting edge research into practical strategies that can be used right away.

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