Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Have You Got the Time? Time Management Techniques from the Experts
One of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is that for the last 14 months or so, time has been very strange. We lost track of what day of the week it was, and eventually many of the weeks and months started to blend together into 10 months of April, 2020.
As therapists many of us have had full schedules—after all, so many people need so much support that it has been hard to turn anybody down. Now many of us are suffering from burnout and are realizing how important it is to be proactive about how we spend our time.
For guidance on how to spend my time in a way that is most likely to increase my happiness, I listened to Dan Harris’ 10% Happier podcast from Jan 25, 2021, where he interviews Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and author of the book, Time Smart. Here’s what I learned:
Do a Time Audit
In order to be mindful about how you are going to spend your time in the future, you need to first know how you already spend time in the present! One good way to do this is to do a “time audit”. Tuesday has been shown to be the most typical day to monitor, so at the end of the day on Tuesday just write down the main activities from your morning, afternoon, and evening. If you want a broader perspective, do this every Tuesday for a month.
Now make a grid with the most meaningful activities on the x axis and the most pleasurable activities on the y axis. The activities that are both meaningful and pleasurable will go in the top right quadrant, and the least meaningful activities will go in the bottom left quadrant.
Funding Time and Finding Time
The first thing to do is to look at all the things that fall into the lower left quadrant—least pleasurable and least meaningful. Can you delegate or outsource any of them? These are the things that should be first on your list to eliminate if you can.
Next look to see where you are spending time mindlessly, without really choosing that activity. Generally this is the category for things like social media and checking your email. Set aside specific times for these activities so that you are consciously choosing to do them, not just responding to notifications. You can plan to check your email just 2 or 3 specific times a day. And when you do, decide how much time you are willing to spend and set an alarm. Be proactive, not reactive!
Social media and messaging systems like email and Slack create what is called “time confetti, little chunks of time that distract you from the task at hand, and make you feel “time-poor” by creating “goal-conflict”—an uncomfortable state of being where you think you should be doing something other than what you are actually doing.
Research shows that 80% of Americans feel “time-poor”. It’s an easy trap to fall into!
How Has the Pandemic Affected the Way We Spend Our Time at Work?
The pandemic has left us underwhelmed with our options for leisure, and even though we thought we’d have all this extra time due to working from home, the average American is actually spending 49 minutes more per day on work!
How can we change this?
Have good boundaries!
Whillans stresses the need to build breaks, boundaries, and transitions into our workday. One thing I’ve done with my therapy practice is to leave longer breaks between clients so I can write notes, regroup, and maybe even have a quick chat with a friend. I know that some therapists are able to see clients back-to-back, but I don’t have that kind of energy, and I get cranky when I don’t have time in between to clear my head. Part of feeling “time-abundant,” instead of “time-poor,” is to know your own rhythms and respect what feels right to you!
Look for casual interactionsAnother thing we miss when we are not in the office is those little interactions with random people. Bridgette, the receptionist at my office, is such a lovely person! It’s only after going back into the office last week that I realized how much I missed seeing her warm smile when I passed by her desk. Research shows that these informal interactions at work with people we know only casually actually bring as much happiness in an average day as a conversation with a close friend or colleague. If you are not going into the office yet, make sure to greet the mail carrier, go for a walk and chat briefly with a neighbor, or get a cup of coffee and say hi to your neighborhood barista!
Take a vacation!We know that during the pandemic virtually no one was taking a vacation, but did you know that even before the pandemic literally 75% of Americans didn’t take all of their vacation days? Don’t let this be you!! People who take vacations are happier and more engaged at work. And if it’s a struggle for you to get time away, know that research shows that the most relaxing vacations are ones that aren’t very long—only 3-5 days.
In ConclusionStudies show that people in countries that stress the importance of time with friends and family over work and making money, are happier and mentally healthier during events like recessions and pandemics. You, too, can improve your own mental health by becoming more aware of and more proactive about how you spend your time. Make sure you spend the majority of your time and energy on that important upper right quadrant—activities that are both meaningful and pleasurable. People who feel “time-abundant” are not only happier, but they also have better relationships, and are at less risk for cardiovascular disease. Taking charge of your time is good for both your mental andyour physical health, so get started right away!
Amy McManus, LMFT, helps anxious young adults build healthy new relationships with themselves and others after a breakup. Amy’s blog, “Life Hacks,” offers practical tips for thriving in today’s crazy plugged-in world. Learn more about Amy from her website www.thrivetherapyla.com.
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