Time Management is Happiness Management

My theory is that you will never have “enough time” as long as your happiness is “on the other side of the cognitive horizon.”

This is an idea that I gleaned from Shawn Achor’s work in positive psychology, but also from my extensive research into “time management” as I desperately searched for tips and tricks to help me “manage my time” as a new business owner.

During the three years before I opened my own business I rarely prioritized anything but work. I was paying for college, beauty school, and once I decided to open my own skincare studio, I was working to pay off enough debt to open that. Once I had secured start-up funds, found a location, and had agreed upon the construction that needed to be done, many of the “time management” skills that I had been taught, and were effective in the past, simply weren’t working anymore.

I didn’t have a second to spare. I lived at work. My to-do list never ended; if anything it seemed to only grow the more things I checked off of it. I would multi-task, taking clients during the day at the spa that I rented a room from, and working on my own business plan at night, inputting retail into my new computer system, buying décor, and designing my portfolio and website. My new business required all the money and time of a start-up with the physical demands of a brick-and-mortar location, like construction and retail management. And I was just me. I couldn’t afford to hire an assistant, so my husband helped when he could. Which I am grateful for, but this put a tremendous strain on our relationship. My business was front and center, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To him, I was a demanding ship, passing in the night.

All the while, my thoughts were:  I’ll open in a few months; construction, paperwork, display, initial marketing, buying – it’s all done. I can take clients five days a week, have two days at home, and all my hard work will pay off. I’ll spend the evenings with my husband. I’ll be able to rest, and stop running on pure adrenaline and stress. I’ll have more time. I had put in many years building a strong clientele, so client acquisition wasn’t a problem. I’d just work in a new location that was my own. I’d have done it. I could relax.

I was mistaken.

When I opened, I was more frantic. The phone was ringing, and I had full books, with clients in front of me, and emailing me, and texting me, and DM-ing me. I had A DOOR to the outside world in downtown – I had nowhere to hide. I had brand reps, and licensing, and taxes, and ordering, and errands. What was I thinking? For the first six months, I won’t lie, I thought I had made a huge mistake.

I had no social life, and my relationships were suffering. I’d come home after a twelve hour day to find laundry and cleaning was spiraling out of control, so I couldn’t relax at night. I should have been happy that I was so busy and grateful that my community supports me. But I wasn’t those things. I was miserable and I needed a solution that worked, because the old-school college model of time management was failing me miserably. Which was confusing because it worked amazingly well when full-time school and part-time jobs were my priorities. I didn’t understand what was happening. That moment to relax seemed so far in the distant future that I was burning out thinking about how daunting this would be to maintain forever.

So I started searching for help. And since I didn’t have the money to hire anyone, I would have to help myself with my own time. What was I doing so wrong? I chalked some of it up to being a new business owner – of course I’m going to be busy. But it shouldn’t be like this. I need to be happy. There has to be a better way, because I know this is what I want to do with my life.

I believe that it is important to understand that there are two sides to this time coin: Actual strategy, but also a complete restructuring of how you think about success. This is not an overnight solution – I’ve been actively working on this for about three years, and passively working toward it since I decided to work for myself, and am just beginning to reap the real benefits. But it’s worth every second of work you put in, I promise you.

First, let’s talk about practical strategy. Throw out all those “tips and tricks” for time management that aren’t working for you. Ask yourself why we’re busier than ever, even though we have more tools and technology to help us than ever before. We work more than ever, but we’re still always behind. Multi-tasking and to-do lists were my outdated strategies. I was great at prioritizing a list based on urgency and importance, yet I found that using these just made me feel worse because when they didn’t prove to make my life more efficient, or to give me more time, I felt like a failure.

One of the biggest breakthroughs that I had was listening to Rory Vaden’s TED Talk on “How To Multiply Your Time.” He posits that instead of thinking about time from just a logical perspective, we need to think about time from an emotional perspective as well, because feelings like guilt and anxiety dictate how we spend our time. “There is nothing about prioritizing that creates more time.” All that prioritizing does is borrow time from one activity to spend on another, but it doesn’t actually make any of the other things on your to-do list go away – you’re in a constant state of juggling.

He then proceeds to explain his ideas about how to “multiply time.” Instead of making decisions based only on urgency and importance, we should be factoring in “significance.” Significance is about asking yourself “What can I do today, to make tomorrow better?” or “What can I do right now to make the future better?” Ultimately, the way to create more time is to “Give yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things today that give you more time tomorrow.” The emotional permission- let that sink in.

The practical solution is what he calls the “Focus Funnel.” Instead of creating a to-do list based on urgency and importance alone, you’re also focusing on significance. So basically you dump everything into the top of this funnel, and as it works it’s way down, you should be able to do one of the following things with the task.

First, can you eliminate the task? Is it even worth doing at all? “Anything that we say no to today, creates more time for us tomorrow.” You’re giving yourself permission to say no, or to ignore things that are ultimately unimportant. Instead of battling guilt when not doing certain tasks, realize that every time you say yes to something, you are automatically saying no to many other things – you are ALWAYS saying no to something. Once you realize that, eliminating certain tasks will become easier. I look at it this way – by saying yes to that late client, I am automatically saying no to dinner with my husband, no to hanging out with friends, and no to personal time. Give yourself the emotional permission to create more time.

Second, if you can’t eliminate the task, can you automate it? This is fairly self-explanatory but helped me tremendously. It’s the second tier of the funnel. If it’s important enough to make it through the top tier, then I need to try to put it on autopilot. Vaden uses automatic bill-pay as an example – it may take 2 hours to organize all your payments this way, but it will benefit you in the future by creating more time each month when you do not have to sit down to pay all the bills. I did this with many things, but the area I found it to be most useful was in running miscelaneous errands.

I did it in two ways. First, if I could eliminate the need for me to run an errand in person, I would do that – use technology to your advantage. I set up a PETCO subscription for pet supplies and food to be automatically shipped to my house once a month. Second, if the errand still required I be present, I systematically eliminated all guess-work, emotion, and stress from the activity by making it as simple as possible. I developed a schedule to go to Target only once per month on the specific day I’d planned. Instead of thinking about when I’d go to Target, trying to make time to go, frantically making a list, going once a week because I’d inevitably forget things from the last week, taking up hours of my day browsing, and spending more money than I’d intended, I now keep a working list of Target items on the refrigerator, add to it as necessary, go once per month at the pre-aranged time, and actually enjoy my hour at Target once a month. You’re getting a “return on time invested.” “Automation is to your time exactly what compounding interest is to your money…Automation takes time, and makes it into more time.”

In addition to these examples that I used to “automate” I also interpreted it in my own way: The more systems I can automate, the less thinking I have to do, and the less time I take trying to make decisions. Then ultimately I will edure less decision fatigue. My husband and I plan our monthly date nights several months in advance and write them on the calendar so we know we have scheduled time together; I plan my workout class routine at least a month ahead so I don’t have to wake up and plan my workouts that day which can be overwhelming and ultimately discouraging. I schedule hair appointments for the next several months at once to avoid last-minute conflicts; I do one house chore a day on a routine schedule to avoid anything piling up. I literally know that every Wednesday morning I clean the laundry room, every Thursday I clean the kitchen, every Friday I dust, etc. This may seem like a very restrictive schedule, but if you give it time to work, the benefits will compound, and you will multiply your time. Unless you want to remain in the hamster wheel forever, you have to actually acknowledge the areas in which you want to spend your time, and make a plan for a better future.

The bottom tier of the funnel is delegation. If it can’t be thrown out or automated, can we delegate the task? Vaden explains that any task can be delegated to someone else, but you have to give yourself the permission to have the task be done imperfectly until someone else masters it. You’re investing your time to train someone else, because it will pay off in the return you’ll get on your time. I did this in small ways that I could, like negotiating household duties with my husband, and paying my sister to clean the studio. My husband may not clean the exact way that I like him to, but that’s okay. I’m giving myself the emotional permission to create more time.

Ultimately, the conclusion is that if it drops through the bottom of the funnel and does not fall into these three categories, then it can only mean a few things. Either it must be done by you, in which case you should buckle down and get it done, or it’s really not that important right now, and it shoots back up into the top of the funnel again. It will do this over and over again until it either fits into a category, or you do what you should have done in the very beginning, and let it go – eliminate it altogether because it clearly is not that important.

Now that we’ve gone over the most practical tools that I’ve used to structure my home and work life around, I want to discuss what I think is the other big piece of this puzzle. No strategy will work to help you create more time if you believe that with achievement, happiness follows. This will be the hardest part to implement in your daily life because it requires a significant shift in thinking. Instead of living your life under the assumption that if you work harder, you will be more successful and have happiness, Achor posits, in his TED talk “The Happy Secret to Better Work” that success will follow, after we retrain our brains to be more positive and happy in the present.

Achor explains that this is because, every time we experience a success, your brain just “changes the goal post for what success looks like” pushing it further away. You got a great job? Now you need to work harder to get a better job. “And if happiness is on the other side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon, as a society.” But what we’ve discovered is that your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed. And that productivity, energy levels, and intelligence all improve the more positive you are. Therefore if we can find a way to improve our positivity in the present, you will accomplish more, your quality of work and family time will improve, and you will be even more successful.

So, how am I working on this? As I emphasized earlier, all of this is a daily effort on my own part to do little things to make my life better. It is work, and requires consistency. I personally am not happy to passively live my life and hope that it improves or becomes what I dream of – I put in the effort to make daily changes, even if they are small. They add up hugely over time.

Achor suggests several different ways to become more positive in the present. Writing down three things you are grateful for each day, meditating even for a few minutes a day, exercising, journaling, doing random acts of kindness, to name some. With consistency, these things will all improve your outlook on your world, therefore making you a more positive and successful person. Though, every person is different. For me, it’s taken a few years of trial and error to determine what things I like to do to improve my outlook, so I’ll share a few with you.

I clean the house for 30 minutes per day with intention and a schedule so I know at the end of the week, the whole house has been done. I read more. Last year my goal was one book per month. This year it’s one book a week. I schedule about 30 minutes per day on work days, and read whenever I feel like it on non-work days. I don’t respond to client texts, calls, or emails on Sundays, or after 8pm unless absolutely necessary. I take clients thirty hours per week and do office work for one hour. I spend the 45 minutes doing my hair and makeup in the morning listening to my favorite podcasts so I can learn more, or laugh more. I now blog once a week because I wanted to write on a consistent basis. I workout for about an hour, six days a week. I bake something from scratch once a week. I meal prep for about an hour every Tuesday morning. And I schedule almost every activity into my calendar so I can see where my time is going.

What’s amazing about this strategy, is that with all these things on my plate, I am so much more positive and happy, and I feel like I have SO MUCH MORE TIME. I can be a better wife, sister, friend, and business owner because I am protecting my time, and delegating it to the areas that make me the best and happiest me. I hope you can sit down, write down what you envision your best life to be, then make a plan to get there. Every tiny step forward is a step closer.

6 thoughts on “Time Management is Happiness Management”

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