Teaching is a great way to learn.
Now that I’ve finally launched a time management course, something has become very clear in the research, creation, and execution of the course.
The good news is time management is really only about two things:
1) Setting Boundaries
2) Asking for Help
The bad news is most people aren’t very good at these skills. However, they are skills. And this is great. Because it means we can get better at them.
In this post, I’m going to clarify exactly where most people run into roadblocks and offer some suggestions for improving these foundational skillsets.
Most people tend to struggle with setting boundaries.
We say yes to things that we don’t really want to do out of obligation or a desire to be “liked.” Or maybe we’re excited about a given commitment in the moment, only to later realize we have other priorities or we weren’t being realistic. We then feel resentful and half-hearted about it.
We may even be mad at the person we’ve made the commitment to. Sometimes we flake out. We can even irrationally justify our flaking as being assertive. (“You know what? FUCK THIS. It’s Tuesday night. I deserve some ME TIME!”) Meanwhile, if we had just respectfully said no in the first place, we wouldn’t have been in the position where we felt so constrained we wanted to lash out.
To be clear, “setting boundaries” doesn’t mean saying no to everyone all the time or being totally selfish. It simply means making appropriate commitments based on your personal values and priorities and with a realistic respect for the limits of your time and energy.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
Since there are two common and distinct roadblocks here, we need to unpack two different strategies.
- If you don’t really want to make a commitment and are doing so out of obligation, consider how you’d advise a friend.
To get clarity on how to proceed, ask yourself this:
“What would I tell a friend to do if they were feeling the same way I am now?”
For most people who struggle with boundaries, it’s easier to be compassionate with others than it is with ourselves. If you knew you were asking someone for a favor that was really going to put them out, wouldn’t you want them to firmly and politely pass? Before you automatically say “yes,” take a moment to sit with your resistance and give yourself the advice you’d give to a dear friend in the same situation.
So often our desire to be a superhero for everyone in our life is the very thing that prevents us for being a superhero for anyone in our life. By depersonalizing it, you’re likely to make a better decision.
- If you have a habit of enthusiastically overcommitting, ask yourself what else you’re going to say no to.
Sometimes you genuinely want to say yes to whatever’s being asked of you. And this can lead to wrestling match with “planning fallacy.”
Planning fallacy refers to a consistent “bug” in your brain’s processing center that leads most people to believe they can do more than they actually can. We usually assume all plans will go perfectly and rarely leave room for a margin of error. And unfortunately in life, the one thing we can count on is most things take longer and require more energy than we think they’re going to.
In order to avoid making commitments that you can’t keep or that will ultimately make you miserable, take a moment and consider the request. Since there are only so many hours in the day, ask yourself this:
“If I say yes to this commitment, what’s a comparable commitment I’m prepared to turn down or back out of of?”
If you’re not in a situation to make more time elsewhere in your schedule, you’ll have to consider the value of the opportunities before you. If you’re not able or unwilling to free up time elsewhere, it’s time to pass.
PRO TIP: Saying no is a skill many people struggle with. If you have a hard time doing it, PRACTICE IT. Seriously.
You can start by creating a standard email template for why you can’t do something you’re being asked to do. Since most requests come over email, you can actually use the standard template and individualize it. This will help save time and emotional energy if you’re someone that finds it very hard to say on.
ASKING FOR HELP
In addition to being careful about what we commit ourselves to, another way to expand our capacity is to ask for help.
This presents a few potential problems.
First of all, if we take pride in our identity as an over-functioning, over-achiever, asking someone to help can create cognitive dissonance. Why would we need help when we can “do it all?” Isn’t asking for help an admission of weakness?
Furthermore, even if we DO ask for help, successfully managing and delegating a task is a skillset most people struggle with at first.
It requires being crystal clear about expectations, creating deadlines, risking uncomfortable conversations if things aren’t getting done, understanding how to escalate accountability conversations, being willing to take ownership of your own part in the conflict, etc.
PLUS it will almost always take much longer at first to train someone else than to do it yourself.
It sure seems easier to just do it yourself!
But ultimately, this is problematic if you want to play a big game with your life. Because none of us can do it all on our own. And if we don’t know how to ask for help in an effective way, we’ll majorly limit what we can accomplish with our life pursuits.
And successfully “asking for help” isn’t about being lazy and getting other people to do your work for you. It’s about creating win-win scenarios with other people so you both benefit from accomplishing certain tasks and projects in pursuit of a worthy mission or goal.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
When you find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed and not sure how to create more capacity, ask yourself this:
“If I could wave a magic wand and create the world’s most perfectly competent assistant who knew how to do things exactly as I wanted them, what could I conceivably pass on?”
Many of us don’t even consider what we could handoff to someone else because we mentally give up before we even try. We start imagining what that process would require and decide to just do it ourselves.
The only path to creating maximum impact in your life is learning to identify what it is you uniquely contribute to the world, and what you can delegate. To start this process, you’ve got allow yourself to imagine what you’d be able to handoff in a perfect world. This can be as simple as making a list of all your weekly activities and considering which ones are theoretically delegatable.
Once you’ve identified a list, your next step is identify who can help you and how to successfully delegate it.
Identifying who will of course depend your personal and professional situation. For work tasks, this could be anyway from a colleague, to your boss, to hiring a virtual assistant. Remember, if you will truly be able to make a bigger impact by sharing the load, not only is it ok to ask others for help, you’re letting your team down if you don’t ask for help. You’re not doing anyone any favors by hurting your team’s total output by trying to be the hero.
Admittedly, learning the how of successful delegating is something that takes lots of practice.
Happily, this second step was covered recently in a Business for Unicorns post by Michael Keeler. Check it out HERE.
It can’t be emphasized enough. Both setting boundaries and asking for help are learnable skills.
There are techniques you can learn. You can become better at them over time by practicing and implementing the strategies laid out here.
Would love to hear if you have other ways to successfully set boundaries or ask for help. Leave a comment below!