Too much to do, too little time: How to get off the Hamster Wheel

When I asked you what you were struggling with last week, the most commonly named problem was all about not having enough time and the wish to be more productive. 

First off I want to thank each and every one of you that have answered my question and shared a part of your life with me. I feel humbled and so excited to have all you amazing people in our community.

Today we’re going to address the problem of time management. Ever feel like there is never enough time? This is something a lot of us struggle with, myself included.

I’m going to tell you a personal story and share the lessons I learned from saying no to one of the biggest opportunities in my life.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

Our relationship to time

Let’s kick this off with a quote that talks about our relationship to time:

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” … We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of… Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we did, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…” -Lynne Twist in “The Soul Of Money”

Boom.

This quote adequately sums up how many of us relate to time. We feel like we’re in a rat race with a never-ending to-do list. No matter what we do, it never seems to be enough because there’s always the next day and the next item that we need to get done.

Does that sound familiar? I know I’ve been struggling with this in the past. To be honest, I am still struggling with this.

Let me tell you a little story to about how I was trapped in the “never enough time” mindset and what I did to escape it.

My personal story about what’s been going on between Mr. Time & me

A couple weeks ago my college semester was about to end and I had an incredible amount of work to do. On top of that, I was working hard on the blog and at my job.

That’s when I was offered a scholarship at an online coaching school in exchange for me working as their coaching assistant. I was super excited! I had been thinking about the best way of improving my skills as a coach, and attending a coaching school had been one of my favorite options. This opportunity seemed perfect because it would help me to grow as a coach without going into debt to pay for education.

I was confident that I would be able to fit the coaching school and the added coaching job into my already crammed schedule. I thought all I had to do was work harder or smarter. I would be able to handle it and if not… well, I could not let this opportunity pass me by. I would make it possible, no matter what it would cost me.

What I didn’t put into account was that I was already feeling more and more exhausted. I was tired, unable to focus and generally felt rushed and unable to relax on most days.

But I didn’t want to see it. I denied how I felt because I thought that I had no choice but to push through it and make things work. I needed this education.

So I tried to push myself even harder and told myself that it was not a big deal. But truth is that it was. I was burning myself out.

The bitter truth: Sometimes you can’t do it all now

Even though I resisted this realization with every cell of my body, I had to accept that I had too many projects going on. I had to cut back and do less.

Now I don’t know about you, but even though doing less sounded so appealing, I felt like there was no way for me to do so.  It scared the bejesus out of me. Everything on my list seemed important. How could I possibly do less when I felt like I needed to do more

It took me weeks to accept that I had to indeed do less, simply because I couldn’t do it all. It wasn’t because I was lazy, ineffective or unproductive, it just wasn’t possible.

So I made one of the hardest decisions I’ve made in my life: I let go of the coaching school. My gut was telling me that it wasn’t right for me. Even though I tried to convince myself and listed every possible reason that I needed to grab the opportunity, I had to see that it wouldn’t serve me in the end. It was not just my crammed schedule that spoke against it, most of all it was that little voice that kept telling me that I needed to focus my attention on other things. I had been ignoring this voice for quite some time, but when I allowed it to speak up, it became so loud that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. And I’m glad I couldn’t.

A few weeks have passed since I made the call to turn down the opportunity. How do I feel about it now? I don’t regret it. When I made the decision it immediately felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Today I’m going to share the golden nuggets and survival lessons that I learned from making this decision so you don’t have to burn yourself out like I did. You don’t only get Iris-proven strategies and ideas, there’s also a lot of wisdom I learned from my mentors, coaches, and supporters that I reached out to search for help. 

How to get off the hamster wheel: 5 Things you can do right now

Listen to yourself. The first step to change is always to acknowledge what’s here now. Allow yourself to listen to your emotions and feelings and see if they’re telling you that you need a change. Don’t ignore your feelings like I did, it will only make you get sick (mentally and maybe even physically).  You need to know that you’re not okay in order to know that you need to change and what you need to change. And remember, It’s okay not to be okay.

Understand your mindset. Most people don’t like to hear it, but your mind has more control over how you feel and how you perceive your reality than you realize. When you’re in the “never-enough” mindset and believe that there is not enough time in the day guess what, that’s exactly what you’ll experience.

So take the time to understand your own relationship with time and your beliefs about it. See if some of them are working against you rather than for you. Common misconceptions about time (that I had as well) include thinking that there’s never enough time in the day or the belief that we will achieve happiness and calmness only when we have achieved a certain goal and must power through it now. Those are perfect examples of beliefs that are not serving you well at all.

Then when you’re ready, it might be time to…

Reframe it. When you discover a belief that is not serving you, it’s best to replace it with a new, more empowering belief. The easiest way to do that is to find a mantra that will help you shift from a feeling of scarcity to a feeling of ‘enough’. I know mantras freak some people out. Relax. It doesn’t have to be woo woo. It can be as easy as telling yourself “No matter how much I get done today, it’s enough.” That one is especially good if you tend to tie your self-worth to how busy you are, like me.

When we develop a mindset that says that there is enough time and that we are enough everything feels lighter. It’s as if a giant weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We’re able to see more clearly. We can fully engage in the task at hand and now that what we’re doing is enough. We don’t have to worry about all the other things we should be doing right now.

We can breathe.

Suddenly we realize that we could indeed…

Do less. This is the part that freaks almost every one out. “But Iris, I can’t do less! I’m already behind on my tasks!” I hear ya. It was the same for me. Do you think I was ready to let go of the coaching school just like that? I resisted it in every possible way. I found excuses on why I needed to keep it and how it would all work out.

But no. Sometimes you need to do less.

And guess what? Contrary to our first reaction, doing less actually helps us be more productive. How? It eases our mind and takes away a lot of the stress and pressure an overwhelming to-do list likes to trigger. We’re better able to focus and fully engage in the task at hand, rather than worrying about all the things we need to get done.

Of course, you can’t just cut back on everything. There are certain areas where you need to…

Do more. We often feel burnt out because we’re doing too much of the wrong things and not putting enough emphasis on the right things. What are the right things you ask? Everything that helps you unplug, recharge and enjoy the journey. In a word: Self-care. Again, contrary to what we might think, spending more time replenishing our energy reservoirs often helps us get more done. When we spend less time working and add in small rituals of self-care, it helps with our concentration, focus and the energy we have available to perform each day.

What I need you to do now 

If you feel trapped in an endless cycle of doing every day feels like a struggle. There’s no time to breathe, to sip some tea, or to read a good book.

I encourage you to look up from your messy to-do list and ask yourself whether or not it makes you feel good. And if you feel like you need it, pick one strategy from the list above and apply today. See if you can be courageous and listen to yourself, take time to understand why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling and then do less of the things that drain your energy and more of those that replenish it.

What my experience with the coaching school opportunity taught me is that in the end, is that it’s not so much about the time we have available. It’s more about how we balance the time we spend working and the time we spend taking care of ourselves, and the mindset we bring to the things we do.

Iris

Author: Iris

Iris' coaching helps women simplify their daily lives so feel focused and at ease. Her work is inspired by minimalism, habit work, and the psychological knowledge she gained during her BA in Psychology. Her laser-sharp listening skills coupled with her warmth make sure you feel seen as you decipher overwhelm and turn it into clarity. Clients report her sessions leave them feeling inspired, appreciated and "realistically invincible".

  • Hey Iris,

    Nice post today. I think you hit on some great points for all of us to remember. The “Do Less” point is a key one for me. In my world, it isn’t so much about Doing Less but more about “Doing Better”. It is a real key for me. Do Better… at the end of an interaction, project or creative process I have to mentally distance myself from it and ask the question “Could I do better”. I always find it interesting to reflect back and see where this question takes me and more often then not I go back and add value to the experience.

    Great stuff today..

    Best,
    Alan

    • Interesting technique, Alan. Thanks for sharing!

      What you said reminded me of something I read on a minimalist blog recently “More is not better… better is better.” That can definitely be applied to how much we do. It’s not better to do more, it’s better to focus on doing good work.

  • Thank you, Iris, for a great post! I`ve found some important points in this message. “Listen to yourself”, “Understand your mindset” and “Do less” in particular. Good work! Keep going! I`m waiting for your next post!

    • Glad to hear the post resonated with you so much, Anna. Now let’s get practical. What’s one thing from the post that you would love to experiment with in your life? :)

  • Enjoyed the post. I think time management is a well dodgy term – my preferred alternative is Time Choices. This is about deciding about being true to yourself including saying no to many of the “opportuntities” that can divert you. I also think that one of the hardest people to say no to is yourself!

  • Love that you took this experience and made it something so inspiring. What a great quote as well– I’m going to pay attention to what I think about when I wake up and see what it’s like!

  • Iris, glad you were able to drop the coaching school and not dig yourself deeper in the burning out hole. It’s a terribly hard thing to do but saying no is a must.

    Reframing our thoughts on time is a good idea because we can be causing our own grief with how we view time.

    • Yes, I think it’s mostly about the mindset we have towards time. I can do the same amount of things in a day and feel super stressed or completely relaxed. It depends on whether or not I think I have enough time, and that I will get done everything that I need to get done that day.

  • Dear Iris,

    I am so glad I found your lovely site today. It resonates with me on many levels! Not only do we share the same name and approximate age, but you seem to be living the great life that I’m figuring out how to create for myself, which is very inspiring!
    Many of the things you say feel like home-coming to me, and it is refreshing and comforting to hear them from a fellow college student. I’ve just gone through a similar process to the one you describe above (although it was about my taking a university course too many, on top of involvement in student organisations and trying to figure out a possible business) and the key for me was: I can’t do everything all at once. There are very many things that I (would) like to do, but if I want to get anywhere at all, I need to be picky and only choose to take on those things that I really really love and am passionate about! {Because those are the things that tend to align with my intentions, make my heart sing, and cost less effort to start.} Also, my happiness and well-being are more important than my achievements. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, including myself!
    This was a big one for me as I’ve always strived to do the best and most that I could; and I expect I will have to re-learn it again in the future, although it’s starting to seep into my actions. I let go of the worry and the uni course just yesterday and I feel so much calmer, relaxed, refreshed and on top of it all! Not to mention that I now suddenly have lots of extra time on my hands, previously spent worrying! ;)
    I’m going to subscribe to you and look forward to hearing about new adventures :)

    • Hi Iris,

      first off: I get ridiculously excited when I meet someone with the same name. So glad you made it here :)

      It seems like we’ve both learned very similar lessons: Do less of the things that don’t serve you, do more of what you’re passionate about, learn to let go.

      So cool to see how we’re going through similar things.

      And let me tell you, it’s only been a year since I started working towards my dreams, so know that you too can do it. I wholeheartedly believe in you & your talent.

  • Really enjoyed this post! I can so relate to what you’re saying. I think the best advice to me is to Reframe how I think about time and I like the mantra idea…I’m enough, I’ve done enough…Enough is enough :) Thanks and have a great day.

    • Glad to hear the post resonates with you, Nancy. Reframing how I think about time is one of the most powerful ways I’ve found to make peace with my to-do list. :)

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