High (Time) Anxiety

You’ve tried countless time management techniques and productivity strategies. Yet you still feel like you don’t have enough time – and that time is slipping away. The more you try to get better the worse it seems.

You might have time anxiety – the feeling that you never have enough time to meet your goals, or that you’re not maximizing the time you have. Time anxiety is a close cousin to productivity shame – that feeling you haven’t done enough.

Time anxiety isn’t another short-term spike in your already overloaded and stressed-out schedule. It is an emotional state that haunts you and causes procrastination on important tasks – and ultimately burnout.

You can’t just power through time anxiety.

It won’t get better by itself. Trust me on this one. To manage it you have to understand it and how it infects your thoughts.

Time anxiety shows up in a number of ways, including:

  1. Daily where you feel rushed, stressed, overwhelmed like there is not enough time in your day.
  2. Future where your brain obsesses about “what if’s” and all the things that might or might not happen.
  3. A life where you are anxious about the limited time you have to live your life – and you want to make the most before the finish line jumps out at you.

That’s a pretty daunting list. I know I’ve been in each of these places – sometimes all at once.

Here are a few strategies that have helped me get some relief from time anxiety:

Fix Your relationship with time

Lawyers have a really tough time with this because it seems our entire worth and value is tied to the billable hour. If you spend more time you are more valuable. If your billable rate is higher, you must be a better lawyer. Wrong. For most lawyers, your relationship and mindset about time is the first problem. So let’s accept some truths:

  1. Time exists, and it can’t be managed or controlled.
  2. You do control your energy, actions, and attitudes about time.
  3. Your value as a professional and a person is not time-centered.

Create a picture of time well spent

You get anxious about time when you feel like it is not well spent. But do you know what “well spent” is to you? Can you define it in advance – rather than just know it when you see it in the rearview mirror?

If you are like I was, your answer is probably “no”.

If you’d like to be in more control and cure some of that anxiety then make some time in your daily and weekly planning to visualize what “well spent” will mean when you review at the end of your day.

Get Real about your Production Capacity.

Do you believe that an eight-hour workday means you should expect eight hours of productivity?

How’s that working out for you?

When I started at a big firm we were expected to have 1,900 billable hours a year. Yeah, I know, your firm might expect a lot more. But let’s do the math. That’s 36.5 billable hours a week for 52 weeks a year. That is 7.3 hours per day in a 5 day week (or 5.2 in a 7 day week). This expectation alone sets you up for time anxiety and burnout – because our brains are just not wired for that kind of production.

Study after study shows that most people have, at best only 2.5 truly productive hours a day. So even if you are twice as better as average, you only have 5 hours a day – and that’s a stretch.

I don’t mean to increase your time anxiety. I only mean to make the point that you have to be really intentional about how you schedule your time and realistic about how much truly deep knowledge work you can expect to accomplish in a typical day – it’s probably 4 hours maximum, on a good day. So make sure you put the right tasks at the right time of day.

Don’t worry about maximizing time

This was a tough one for me. I always thought I should be making choices that gave the maximum benefit down the road. It was pretty stressful because I always felt anxious about whether I was making the right call, and whether it would limit my choices in the future. Of course, it did, but that’s not the point.

Psychologists have found that people who make choices according to a set of established, current criteria (what they call “satisficers”) make better choices with less stress and anxiety. To do that you need to be clear about the criteria that matter at the moment, and let them guide your actions.

This brings me all the way back to the importance of a healthy planning routine. But that’s a topic for another day.

You’ll have to work at curing time anxiety. And you need to be patient with yourself. Remember, you are trying to adjust a lifetime of embedded conditioning, and that takes – time.

If you’d like some help getting started just email me at doug@summit-success.com and I’ll send you a free time management self-assessment.

Doug BrownHigh (Time) Anxiety