Have you ever whined that you have ‘no-time’ to do so many things you want to do? That your to-do list is like Chronicles of Narnia — neverending. That you don’t know where your day goes. And this year is whooshing past faster than even the last year.
These are the symptoms of the ‘no-time’ syndrome and if you are suffering from it like me), then there is something seriously wrong.
When I finished full-time employment to devote my time to my passions I thought I will have so much time on hand that I will be able to do anything I want. Boy was I wrong!
It didn’t take me long to find out that I have even less time than when I was working fulltime. I was taking more time to do everything. Parkinson’s Law in action! So much so, that my usual tasks were not even getting done.
Then one day I stopped the mad rush and took the day off to figure out what was going on.
I realized all my frustrations can be attributed to two things — lack oof efficiency and laziness.
With the amount of time and effort I was putting towards my passions it was hard for me to accept that I was not being efficient and just plain lazy sometimes, but it was true.
If it takes you two hours to do something that could be done in half an hour it is an issue of efficiency.
If you have bought new software (Scrivener by the way) and don’t bother to learn its features then it is laziness. Learning those features might take time but in the end, they save time and you end up writing faster.
That was it. I was not prepared to have the labels of inefficient and lazy on my back forever, so I set upon finding the antidotes to the ‘no-time’ syndrome.
I have come up with seven strategies.
1. Write your tasks down and put them where you can see them.
I realized there were five tasks that I must do every day to count my day to be productive. I made a list of those.
Then there were tasks that can be divided into small-size projects (taking a week to finish) and medium-size projects (taking up to a month to finish). Since I am a compulsive list-maker, I made a list of those as well. I won’t talk about big projects here because they require different strategies.
Now the problem was unlike work I was not sitting at my desk so my tasks were not in front of me all the time. Working from home means constant interruptions which break the rhythm of productivity.
So I made a grid of my daily tasks and put it up on the pin board. Now as soon as I finish one task, I tick it off and move on to the next one.
Viola! it was that simple. I now have a system to stay on top of my daily schedule.
2. Allocate time for each task.
My next challenge was not to let the tasks expand themselves. The best way to do was to allocate time to each task.
I knew it took me only twenty minutes to write a page in my diary (I write one page a day to chronicle my life) and 40 minutes to write 750 words (which go towards my articles, stories, and novel). That adds up to one hour. So two tasks are done in one hour.
I allocated one hour each towards blog posts and walk and half an hour to draw a sketch. Two hours and my exercise, creativity, and business tasks are ticked off.
Then depending on the family and social commitments, I would carve out five hours a week for the weekly project and 7–10 hours for the monthly project But I made sure I don’t spend no more than one hour a day (15 hours altogether in a month) on either of these projects. This meant I was spending, on average, just half an hour every day on projects.
For maths buffs, it adds up to four hours a day. Four hours of work and then I have the rest of the day for myself.
The important thing to understand here is when we have a time limit, we tend to finish the work within that time limit. Taking longer will not improve the quality of the work, rather it will bring procrastination for future projects. Finishing work within the time limit sharpens our concentration and brings exultation that comes with accomplishing a task.
3. Take breaks.
I don’t do all these tasks in one sitting. No one can. High-energy consuming tasks need to be separated with lighter and less-concentration-needing tasks.
I write my diary and 750 words as soon as I wake up and before breakfast. I have just woken up, my mind is fresh and in the creative zone and they give a great start to my day. Breakfast is a natural break. I read my emails over the cup of tea and catch up with reading articles on Medium or other magazines I subscribe to.
Then around mid-morning, I work on the blog post. If I have time I will work on a weekly or monthly project before cooking lunch.
Sketching is an afternoon activity. Straight after lunch. I am in a relaxed mode and my fingers love moving lazily on the paper while I listen to a podcast. It usually leaves me enough time to work on projects.
The walk around five pm. It is an indication that the tasks are over and I have the evening for myself and my family.
What makes the schedule work so well is the natural breaks. I know I have to get up for breakfast hence I have to finish the diary writing and 750 words. I know mid-morning is the only time to work on the blog post, so I make sure it gets done.
Some things still don’t get done for whatever reason. Walk gets interrupted because someone dropped in for dinner, or I had to duck to shops to buy something urgently. But that is fine. Life happens. But my schedule keeps me on track most of the days.
4. Manage distractions.
Emails, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Pinterest, online window-shopping, and TV are all chewing up our time. I made a pact with myself not to check them when I am working on my tasks.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t check them. I am on social media while having breakfast, cooking lunch/dinner or at night while watching TV. I just make sure I stay away from them when working on a task. I don’t watch TV during the day and even at night if I don’t like what is on. I switch it off (or mute it) and read or surf the net.
5. Improve skills.
If it is taking you two hours to do a task that can be done in half an hour, it is possible you don’t have the right skills to do it. Invest time and effort to learn those skills and keep improving them with continuous practice.
I used to take seven hours to write an article. I have spent three months learning how to write articles in a reasonable time. Now I am able to write an article in less than three hours. More importantly, I have learned how to spread it over several days. I don’t spend more than an hour each day on article writing. Three months I spent on learning was well worth it because of the time it has saved me in the long run.
6. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
Trying to accomplish too many things in a day is a recipe for disappointment. I used to fall into this trap all the time. My enthusiasm would want me to start a new project as soon as I conceived it. The result was many unfinished projects and me burning out.
I have now started pacing myself. Any idea has to pass the test of time. It goes into a queue of either weekly or monthly projects. At the start of each month, I pick a project from the list. I will only start it if I am still feeling passionate about it and stick with it for the whole month. The same goes for weekly projects.
7. Outsource whatever is not magic.
After spending years and years doing tasks that can be easily outsourced, I have learned to let go of them. Imagine 33 years of house cleaning every weekend. What if you can use that time writing books or painting or making movies or becoming a therapist or whatever else you wanted to be.
There is no magic in washing dishes or vacuum cleaning or mopping the floor. So I have outsourced them. I have outsourced my garden too. Now I only do the things that have magic. What is magic? For me, the magic is in writing articles. Drawing cartoons. Plotting a novel.
We’ve covered quite a bit, let’s summarise:
‘No-time’ syndrome is because of two reasons only — lack of efficiency and laziness. If it is taking you double or triple the time to do something it is an issue of efficiency. If you haven’t learned the features or skills that can help reduce the time to do something it is laziness.
Seven strategies I have used to beat the ‘No-time’ syndrome are:
- Write your tasks in a grid form and put them where you can see them easily. Cross them out when you complete each task.
- Allocate time for each task and make sure to finish it within the allocated time. Taking longer will not improve the quality of the work, rather it will bring procrastination for future projects.
- Make sure to separate the high-energy-needing tasks with lighter tasks and breaks, preferably natural breaks such as breakfast and lunch.
- No social media while doing tasks in the allocated time. Leave it during breaks or for the evening when you are relaxing.
- Get better so that you can do the tasks in less time. Improve your skills. Learn what you have to learn to reduce time it takes to finish a task.
- Don’t overcommit. Manage your passions. You can’t do everything you want to do straight away. Make ideas pass the time test.
- Outsources whatever is not magic. Save your energies to do what is magic for you.
That is what I am doing by writing this article and letting my fellow writers beat the ‘No-time’ syndrome.