When was the last time you said to yourself, “There’s never enough time?” If you’re like most busy accountant moms, you’ve probably said something similar in the past 24 hours.
The funny thing is that despite having so much information, suggestions, and technology available to us and despite trying every time management technique and productivity strategy we could imagine, we still find it impossible to shake the feeling that time is slipping away. It seems that the more we focus on managing our time, the less we have of it to manage.
Time doesn’t just feel like it’s slipping away from us as moms when we look at how quickly our children are growing up. We also feel that time is not within our control as accountants, especially when we look at how much we have to get done at work.
When our to-do list never seems to get shorter, and when deadline after deadline keeps looming, it can make us feel like we must be doing something wrong. Each year it feels like there’s less and less time to do what we want to and need to do.
In researching this topic, I learned that from 1965 to 2003, the average American work week actually declined by three hours while leisure time increased. And in many places in the developed world, the workweek has gotten even shorter since then.
So if the data shows that the average workweek has declined over the past half-century, why are more and more of us feeling like there’s never enough time? One of the keys might be the fact that we live in a productivity-obsessed world, especially as an accountant.
Productivity is the measuring stick we use, and it can often feel like the whipping stick we beat ourselves with as well. As a profession, accounting is often like a high-speed conveyor belt, churning out product after product at a rapid rate of speed, especially in public accounting.
I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before, but I can’t help but think of the episode of the classic tv show “I Love Lucy” where Lucy is working at a chocolate factory, wrapping individual pieces of chocolate that pass on a conveyor belt. The faster the chocolates come out, the more she panics, eventually shoving the chocolates in her dress and her mouth in an attempt to keep up.
While that scene is very funny to watch, it’s also how a lot of accountant moms feel on a daily basis. The more we have to take care of and the faster the conveyor belt goes, the harder it is to believe that there’s enough time and the easier it is to experience time anxiety.
Most of us are living our lives in a blur, wishing to one day win the lottery, have plenty of time, and live happy lives. The issue is that studies have shown that even those with nothing but time on their hands still feel dissatisfied. So what’s the answer?
This week I’m going to discuss time anxiety and what to do when you feel like there’s never enough time.
If you feel stressed and overwhelmed when it comes to time, you might be experiencing what’s referred to as “time anxiety.” Similar to the shame you feel when you don’t believe you’ve done enough or been productive enough, time anxiety is when you feel you never have enough time to meet your goals or that you’re not maximizing the time you do have.
As accountants and moms living in a productivity-obsessed world, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with your schedule and workload from time to time, but time anxiety is more than just a momentary spike in your workday stress. It’s a heavy, often mind-racing feeling that causes you to procrastinate on important tasks.
While doing some research for this episode, I found an article that offered this quote from William Penn – “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” I think that statement perfectly sums up the issue that most accountants deal with – time is what they want the most, but what they unintentionally use the worst.
The issue is that you probably don’t realize how ineffectually you are using time; you’re most likely trying your best but still feeling like there’s never enough time. We all want to blame our time problems on work and life demands, but the more we blame things outside us, the more time anxiety we feel.
In essence, time anxiety is the terrible feeling that you never have enough time and aren’t doing enough with the time you do have. But to understand why you feel this way, you first need to understand your relationship with time.
As I mentioned before, even people with nothing but time on their hands still experience time anxiety because they have a belief that they’re not maximizing the time they do have. When people have too many discretionary hours, they feel unproductive, undermining their sense of purpose and satisfaction.
Another interesting study was done on retirees who were given a memory test 14 years before they retired and 14 years after they retired. What they discovered was that cognitive functioning decreased dramatically following retirement.
The study results explained that when people have too much discretionary time, it lessens their cognitive engagement. To the participants in the study, work was a source of feeling engaged and productive, and now that they had plenty of time, they weren’t as cognitively challenged or productive with their time.
If you think about how our relationship with time changes, as children, time usually doesn’t mean much to us. Our parents and teachers have us follow a schedule, but for the most part, we’re left to fill long, unstructured days with games and learning.
Then as we become teenagers, time starts to gain importance. We not only have school, sports, hobbies, and friends to fill our time, but we’re often told that ‘wasting time’ now will ruin our future, making time our most important and scarce resource.
As we become adults, we have college, work, families, and all other responsibilities that demand our time and attention. At this stage in our lives, time becomes something we not only have to consider but try to control as well.
Our issue with time then morphs into a sense that there’s never enough of it. Unfortunately, the more we focus on the limited time we have, the more limiting our time feels; the more it feels like there’s never enough time.
In other words, the more you worry about time, the more time feels like something you need to worry about. As I’ve shared on the podcast before, your brain has a filtering system that focuses on what you tell it to focus on, so if your daily mantra is that there’s never enough time, that’s exactly what your brain will continue to look for proof of.
So if we feel anxious when we believe we don’t have enough time and we feel anxious when we believe we have too much time, what’s the solution?
What to do when you feel like there’s never enough time
It’s important to understand that I’m not telling you to stick your head in the sand and pretend that you have plenty of time. What I am saying is that how you think about time will always have a direct effect on how you manage your time.
An accountant recently reached out to me and asked if I would mentor them regarding time management. I absolutely loved the idea of being called a Time Management Mentor because a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser, someone who provides guidance, feedback, advice, and support.
As a Time Management Mentor, my job is to teach you that your belief that there’s never enough time will directly impact how much time you have. How? Because believing there’s never enough time creates the feeling of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety.
Those feelings make it virtually impossible to create plenty of time. Those feelings lead to confusion, wondering what to do next, procrastination, inability to plan or prioritize, and looking to escape or distract yourself with something more enjoyable.
When I work with time management clients, I teach them that each feeling we have is like a long hallway with countless doors on each side of the hallway. The feeling you’re currently experiencing allows only particular doors to be open; the others are locked.
Behind each door is a possible action you could take, directly affecting how much time you have and how much you can get done. Unfortunately, behind each door in the hallway of stress, overwhelm, or anxiety is unproductive, inefficient, and time-wasting actions.
The doors to help you create a plan of action, take things off your to-do list, prioritize properly, calendar your time in an effective way, and get more done in less time are all locked in the hallways of stress, overwhelm, and anxiety. The options and actions you could take to create plenty of time are unavailable in those hallways.
So what can you do to go down a different hallway? One that doesn’t lead to the never-ending mantra, “There’s never enough time?” I suggest you begin to categorize the things you need to and want to do.
Every single one of us has things we don’t want to do but need to do. Learning to categorize the things we do will make it possible to change our relationship with time and stop feeling like there’s never enough time.
Start by categorizing the things you need to do into 3 categories:
Category 1 – Things that are fun or meaningful
Category 2 – Things you don’t have to do but enjoy doing
Category 3 – Things you have to do even if they are not enjoyable.
The issue for most of us is that we spend and waste more time in category 3 – things you have to do even if they are not enjoyable – without maximizing our time over all 3 categories. We spend so much of our time doing things that are neither enjoyable nor essential and then wonder why we feel like there’s never enough time.
I’m not saying that we become hedonistic and only do what’s enjoyable, but I am saying to pay more attention to how we spend our time and begin to be more intentional. Being more intentional requires making decisions ahead of time and planning; it requires less complaining and more planning.
If you want to feel like you do have enough time, you have to make decisions every day about your time and what you’re going to decide to think and feel about your time. Too often, we walk around saying there’s never enough time but not actually doing anything about it.
Complaining that there’s never enough time isn’t helpful or useful. Complaining about a lack of time is actually a complete waste of your time.
So my suggestion is to start to consider what time you enjoy the most. How much are you planning that time? For example, if you enjoy time to yourself, how much time are you planning for that? You need to drop the excuse that there’s never enough time and intentionally plan time for yourself first, even if that means getting up a little earlier, setting time boundaries, or saying no to others’ requests.
Even if it’s a small amount of time and you have to say no to someone or something else, to decrease time anxiety, you need to be more intentional with your time by planning your time and then sticking to the plan. What I teach my time management coaching clients is that each block of time that you calendar is non-negotiable.
The analogy I like to tell them is that each block of time is a permission slip from me for them to focus on what they’re doing in that block of time and nothing else. That means focusing only on one thing at a time and nothing else. And I do mean nothing else.
You will make many more things fall into Category 1 – things that are fun or meaningful – when you calendar your time and give yourself permission to only focus on that. There’s no more thinking about work when you’re at home or vice versa.
This might sound crazy, but this is when even the accounting work you do can fall into Category 1 because you’ll get more done in less time and feel more focused, allowing you to create more time. The truth is that the less mindful we are about how we deploy our time, the more we feel stressed and overwhelmed.
So the solution to “There’s never enough time” is deciding every single day what’s a priority, what category it falls into, how much time you’re going to spend, and then giving yourself permission to focus on that block of time only. That’s how you create plenty of time.
Do a time audit, notice how much time you’re spending in each of the 3 categories, and begin to be more intentional with your time. There is enough time when you stop complaining about time and start planning much more of your time.
When our to-do list never seems to get shorter, and when deadline after deadline keeps looming, it can make us feel like we must be doing something wrong.
If you want to feel like you do have enough time, you have to make decisions every day about your time and what you’re going to decide to think and feel about your time.