A great source of stress for many people is the way they manage their time. By better managing your daily time you can help ease the mind and relax the body. To help understand typical mistakes people make when managing their time and how someone can reduce stress by better managing their time, I have interviewed psychologist Tara May, Ph.D.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“As a licensed Clinical Psychologist, I work in private practice treating men and women who struggle with inhibition in love and productivity. I help them to develop the confidence and tools to get their needs met, overcome their personal obstacles, and achieve greater satisfaction in love, work and play.”
“I received my Ph.D. from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco in 1998. My clinical training was completed at the California Pacific Medical Center where I treated adults in both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric treatment settings. My post-doctoral training was completed at the Chronic Pain Program at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco where I helped those struggling with chronic pain learn to manage their pain skillfully and without pain medications.”
“For several years, I taught clinical psychology graduate students how to synthesize psychological testing results into a cohesive and useful psychological report. For nearly a decade, I worked with those recovering from stroke and traumatic brain injury. I helped those individuals and their families cope with the profound changes resulting from brain injury and provided cognitive rehabilitation services.”
For fun, I chase my 2-year-old around the zoo and let him use both the couch and I as a jungle gym. Spending time with my husband and friends, reading, and photography are important to my own mental health.”
What are typical mistakes people making when managing their time?
“Mistake # 1: I just need more time.
People often think they need to find ways to stretch out their days. That’s why so many people work later and later, lose their recreational activities, miss out on time with their families, wake up too early and go to bed too late, stop exercising, reach for junk food, and feel stressed, overwhelmed and overburdened.”
“Rather than assuming that more time is the answer, take a closer look at how you spend the hours in your day.”
“Mistake # 2: All time is created equal.
People schedule tasks and activities without regard for when they function best. Many of us have been forced into this our whole lives (think school). If you’ve never been a morning person, you probably didn’t enjoy having to be at school at 8:30 in the morning ready to learn arithmetic. Use the information that you already know about yourself in your favor. If you’re a morning person, schedule the most burdensome or complex tasks for that part of the day. Schedule easier, more interesting tasks for when you know you tend to be more in a slump. Don’t forget to schedule in breaks and rewards too since they will help you stay productive and focused. Rewards can be things like a healthy snack, making a phone call, going for a walk. Be sure to pre-plan the amount of time set for those activities as well.”
“Mistake # 3: If I can’t do it all, why do any of it?
Many of us fret that if we don’t have a huge block of time to accomplish things, we should just wait until we do. That creates a cycle of avoidance and overwhelm that is very hard to manage. When we break up the task into smaller parts, it becomes more manageable psychologically and can be accomplished in easier steps.”
What type of impact do those mistakes have on their level of stress?
“When we try to “manage our time” rather than taking a close look at our behavior and how we are spending that time, we let our basic needs go and that leads people to increasing amounts of stress affecting their mental and physical health. Aches, pains, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety, irritability, depression, and fatigue can become constant companions. One needs sleep and food to maintain concentration and motivation. When you constantly feel unproductive, it erodes your self-confidence and self esteem. The more ragged we run ourselves, the less productive we become, not to mention, just plain unhappy. Just as we need productivity, we need to fit in fun and social contact and without it, we burn out quickly and get less done.”
What is some time management tips you can give readers to help reduce the stress in their life?
“First, take a good look at how you are spending your time. Since you cannot control how many hours are in a day, focus on what you can control, namely what are you doing with your minutes and hours. Some find it helpful to use a daily log similar to a food diary to determine where your time wasters are. For instance, you may discover that you are actually spending 30 minutes on Facebook rather than just “5 minutes.” Eliminate those things that tend to suck up too much time and productivity. Use a timer if necessary to help you set boundaries around how much to allot to certain activities.”
“It is important to take a look at when you are least productive so that you can schedule in easier tasks and rewards. Schedule in breaks of 10-15 minutes after 2 hours of activity.
If you know when you are most productive, you can schedule the most complex and difficult tasks during that time. For example, when I wrote my dissertation, I woke up at 7:30 am every morning and worked until 11am since I knew that it would be my most productive time. On the few occasions that I attempted to work on it at night, I quickly learned that I was prone to wasting time and taking twice as long to accomplish my writing.”
“Even if you don’t have a lot of time to get a task done or if what you have to do is something your really hate, break it down into smaller components whenever possible. Give yourself some incentive. Pre-plan a specific reward following completion of the dreaded task. If you don’t complete it because you goofed off, pre-set a consequence. For example, I used mopping the floor as a consequence to not completing my dissertation goals on a given day. I hate mopping the floor so it was good incentive for me to stay focused on my task.”
“Of course, sometimes we just assume that everything on our “to do” list is a priority. None of us is perfect and it’s time to let that sink in. For example, trying to be super mom is a good way to become a super irritable and unhappy mom. Not everything has to get done in one day or by you alone.”
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who wants to better manage his or her time and reduce stress at the same time?
“Write down your daily goals and review them to be sure they are realistic. Learn to delegate and ask for help. It really is ok to put off today what can wait until tomorrow if your time is stretched too thin. Learn to respect yourself and your time, and say NO to additional requests when feasible. Being happier in your life will make you more efficient.”
“Finally, if you’re not sleeping, eating poorly, feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal, it is extremely important to seek professional help. You don’t have to continue feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Look for licensed mental health professionals in your state or speak with your family physician.”
Thank you Dr. May for the interview on how to reduce stress by better managing your time. For more information on Dr. May check out her website on www.taramay.com.
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