How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS)

not enough timeIf you’ve read Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Workweek, you can just jump to the end of this post. For everyone else, I invite you to take a closer look at your relationship with time. Especially those of you who are too busy to spend, oh, I don’t know, 5 or so minutes reading this.

Somehow, “I’m busy” has become the new “I’m fine” in response to being asked how you are. I get it thought — I know you actually ARE busy, but stay with me here.

Whenever I’m working with new clients, they’ll typically tell me they don’t have time to sit down for a satiating, nutrient-dense breakfast, so they just grab a “quick toast and coffee.” Or they have too much going on and can’t get to bed on time. It’s not just a once-in-a-while-thing either. It’s day after day after day.

Sound like your life? If so, let me ask you this: why do some people seem to effortlessly crush their to-do lists and others find theirs growing out of control?

Seriously, There’s Not Enough Time

I never like to say “We all have the same 24 hours in the day,” because that logic is fundamentally flawed, and can come off sounding privileged. In truth, all of us are filling our 24 hours in different ways depending on our jobs, lives, families, hobbies, obligations, and unique life goings-on.

Sometimes I choose to be busy during my 24 hours because I have lots of things that are important to me — family, friends, my clients, my home life, my role at the Primal Health Coach Institute. And *usually* I like that because I enjoy my work and I like being productive.

I’m choosing to be busy because it leaves me feeling fulfilled. The problem arises when it leaves you feeling like a victim, like you can’t keep up, or like you just want to bury your head in the sand.

Lack of Time = Lack of Priorities

It all comes down to priorities. If better health or a leaner waistline was really important to you, you’d make it a priority. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you unknowingly put other, less important priorities in their place (everything from stewing over a mean comment on social media to worrying how you’re going to get it all done).1

Whenever you catch yourself having an I-don’t-have-enough-time moment, remember that what you’re spending your time on is a choice — and you always have options. This is the perfect time to take a step back and ask yourself these four questions:

  • What’s important here?
  • What’s not important?
  • Am I wasting time on things that aren’t important?
  • What else could I be doing with my time?

Go ahead and do this exercise with me for a sec. Get out a piece of paper (or the notes section on your phone) and jot down your daily schedule. What time do you typically get up? When do you go to bed? How much time do you spend at work? On social media? With your family? Daydreaming? Running errands? Working on your health?

Looking at your list, what are the three things you spend the most time on?

Like it or not, those three things are your priorities. How you spend your day reflects what you believe to be the most important. If that’s not sitting well with you — or you feel like you have an equal amount of priorities (even though that’s not actually possible), you’re in a good place to start making change.

Because when you learn to eliminate your non-priorities, you free up time to focus on what does matter to you.

How Do You Eliminate Non-Priorities?

It starts by taking things off the table that aren’t important or urgent. Research shows that having too many options can lead you to waste time attending to details that don’t matter or avoid a task altogether. In this experiment, a Columbia University professor set up a booth selling jams at a local farmers market. Every few hours she alternated between offering 24 jams and 6 jams. She found that 60% of the customers visited the booth when there was the larger assortment, however more people actually made purchases when there were fewer options.2

Not only that, when faced with tasks of mixed urgency and importance, participants in this study prioritized to-dos that were time-sensitive over ones that were less urgent but had a greater reward3 Researchers found that the effect was even more prominent in people who describe themselves as busy, adding that they were more likely to select an urgent task with a lower reward because they were fixated on the clock and “getting it done”.

But how do you determine what’s urgent and important? Enter the Eisenhower Matrix, named for the 34th U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. It’s a prioritization framework (used by everyone from athletes to CEOs) that helps you eliminate time wasters in your life.

And in case you need proof that Eisenhower knew what he was talking about, during his two terms in office, he signed into law the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War, he ended the Korean War, oh and he created NASA.

Eisenhower recognized that having a solid grasp of time management means you’ve got to do things that are important andurgent — and eliminate all the rest.

  • Important tasks get you closer to your goal, whether it’s wearing a smaller pant size or not feeling ravenous all day.
  • Urgent tasks are ones that demand your immediate attention, like a deadline or showing up on time for an appointment.

Once you’ve got that straight, you can overcome the tendency to focus on the unimportant tasks and instead, do what’s essential to your success, whatever that looks like for you.

Let’s Put the Matrix into Action

Using the questions below, you’ll be able to get a good handle on your priorities, evaluating which are urgent, which are important, and which can be delegated to someone else — or ditched altogether.

1. Does it have consequences for not taking immediate action and does it align with your goals?

ACTION STEP: DO IT. This is a task that’s both urgent and important, which means it’s a priority. And getting it done first will take a lot of pressure off your plate. Examples are:

  • Completing a project for work
  • Deep breathing when you’re stressed
  • Responding to certain emails

2. Does it bring you closer to your goals, but doesn’t have a clear deadline?

ACTION STEP: SCHEDULE IT. This is a task that’s important, but not urgent. Since it’s easy to procrastinate here, scheduling time to attend to it is your best bet. Examples are:

  • Working out
  • General self-care
  • Spending time with your family

3. Does it need to get done within a certain timeframe, but doesn’t require your specific skill set?

ACTION STEP: DELEGATE IT. This is a task that’s urgent, but not important — at least not important for you to do, specifically. Sure, it needs to get done, but you could probably pass off this task off to someone else, which frees up your time. Examples are:

  • Making sure the kids are ready for school
  • Shopping for groceries for the week
  • Meal prepping

4. Does it not have a deadline or get you closer to your goals?

ACTION STEP: DELETE IT. This is a task that’s not important or urgent. And it’s a huge time suck! It’s the kind of “task” that makes you wonder where all your time went. Using a browser blocker like Freedom can help a ton. Examples are:

  • Scrolling your social media feed
  • Playing online games
  • Worrying, obsessing, and stressing out about things that don’t matter

Bonus Tip: Figure out what time of day you’re the most focused. When do you tend to get a lot accomplished? Are you a morning person? A night owl? Knowing when you’re the most productive can help you get stuff done with less effort.

Now tell me what you think. Have you tried these strategies? What’s worked for you?

TAGS:  goals

About the Author

Erin Power is the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients regain a loving and trusting relationship with their bodies—while restoring their metabolic health, so they can lose fat and gain energy—via her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you have a passion for health and wellness and a desire to help people like Erin does every day for her clients, consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. Learn the 3 simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in 6 months or less in this special info session hosted by PHCI co-founder Mark Sisson.

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11 thoughts on “How to Deal with the Pressure of Never Having Enough Time (and Why It’s Total BS)”

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  1. You’ll pardon me for saying, but I don’t know that this was written with a full understanding of the average person – not someone who sets their own hours and derives fulfilment from their work.

    The person who has a soul-sucking 9-5 job and who gets home after a long commute to a list of chores that, by 7-8 pm, leaves them too physically and mentally exhausted to get off the couch.

    You can’t prioritize your way out of that. It’s just what life is. It’s what pays the bills.

    Now, are there maybe bits of time here or there that could be put to better use? Maybe choosing to read a book over social media, or picking up a satisfying craft? Or setting boundaries with work so that you have more free time? Or talking to your partner to divide up tasks to make things more manageable?

    Sure. But you can’t tell me all it takes is prioritizing to make that life suddenly a joy ride. Though it does start with intention – and hopefully this article will provide the inspiration for that.

    1. Yes, everyone can use their time more mindfully, but not everyone can afford to purchase more time by delegating/outsourcing things like lawn care, cleaning, shopping, etc.

    2. I’m wondering about the nuance too—like why do we jump on that online game when it’s not goal-oriented—what’s the psychology? What do we really need that we’re not getting that has us procrastinating? Tiredness, as you said, Emma, is real—and I think sometimes I “check out” from all the concerns (2020, right?!), knowing it’s not my goal-oriented ideal…so I’m asking myself, what do I really need?

    3. I agree. For many if not most people, a full time job isn’t an option. That’s because things like buying food and putting a roof over one’s head are necessities for most of us, not options.

      As you’ve pointed out, after we’ve put in our daily 8 or 10 hours to pay the piper, we are too exhausted for anything more fulfilling than an hour of TV before hitting the sack. Come the weekend, it’s no better. It’s entirely possible to be so far behind in household and family priorities that there is very little “me” time left over, even on days off.

      I lived that life. I was a single parent with two young kids. Who was I going to delegate to? I managed, but just barely. Even with a good-paying job it was damned difficult for a few years. Consolation is knowing it will get better as the kids get older.

      At the bottom of it, sometimes the only “non-priority” is yourself. You can’t just abdicate your responsibilities in favor of something more enjoyable.

      Kudos to Erin for trying, but this article was written from a rather naive standpoint.

    4. My thanks to each of you for sharing your own experiences. It sounds like we are on the same page.

      Though I readily admit I have not experienced the full brunt of having to take care of a family on top of a demanding job – I can only sympathize with the burden I imagine that puts on a person. At least, as Skeezix notes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, once kids are older.

      Anyhow, I do think it’s important to prioritize yourself, as much as personal circumstances allow, and try to find respite or joy in the little things – whatever it is that feeds the mind and spirit for you. That’s what I find improves my well-being.

    5. LOL yes if you come home and sit on the couch, then of course you’ll never move up in life.

      You have to really want success, and I mean REALLY want it in order to move up.

      Most people don’t have the will so they stay in their 9-5 rut forever.

      Your loss. And, only yourself to blame as well.

      1. Your comment speaks of immaturity, Jeff. It’s mostly about circumstances, priorities, and ethics–not a lack of will. And really, REALLY wanting something isn’t nearly enough to make it materialize. For many of us, it also means making sacrifices that can adversely affect others. Sure, there are plenty of self-serving men and women who would throw their families under the bus in order to chase after their definition of “success.” But most of us aren’t all like that.

  2. “I’m sorry 2 year old. This is not scheduled family time. Please save your tantrum request for attention till 4pm.” Also, where is the wet nurse so that I can sleep through the night and be healthy? Damn newborn.

  3. I feel compelled to say “nice article” Erin! The comments sure took some unusual turns and I feel bad that people can slam on anything…even someone taking their time trying to help others.
    Your time was well spent and I appreciate it. We can each try to use it for our unique situation (or not).
    Thank you.

  4. Someone once told me “You give time to what you believe is important”. I try to remember and put those words into action, but it is not always possible. As someone who has a near-zero support system, I do it all. No one to “delegate” to.
    At 62, I’m grateful to be healthy, strong, and working during these challenging times. Even still, I find it very difficult to fit everything in.