THE BLOG
09/10/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Effective Time Management Without a Calendar

I've spent an embarrassing amount on calendaring systems over the years. And still, no system could extinguish my hair-on-fire approach to deadlines and oversized workloads. Those were my younger years. As I matured though, I stopped running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Instead, I internalized the stress and anxiety of multiple and conflicting deadlines and obligations. Yay, for progress.

This would be amusing except for that fact that I attribute my ways of coping with time and stress (read: not coping) to being diagnosed with a nasty autoimmune condition in 2009. I'm not saying you'll get sick if you don't stop your crazy-busy ways. What I am saying is with 75 to 90 percent of all doctor's visits are related to stress. You do the math.

"Time management" has been my Achilles heel. It's also the weak link for most people I meet. Today I want to help you clear your time scarcity, and (gasp) have it all without burning out.

Time is a conversation

When I received that unfortunate diagnosis a few years ago, I knew that of all the things I needed to change, my relationship to time was at the top of the list. If you're a high-achiever like me, you've spent some time learning how to better manage your time. Some gurus will give you a system with a fancy planner. Some will tell you to create a "not-to-do" list. Still others will tell you to stop managing your time and start managing your energy.

They are all correct. But they all miss the point.

The thing about time management systems is they work great for the people who create them. But adopting someone else's system is like using someone else's gumbo recipe. It's always going to taste better with your own touch.

I eventually created my own system that worked for me and my new self-care first life. The system worked brilliantly to keep me balanced, relaxed and productive. I even accomplished more.

Then I decided that becoming my own boss was the way out of my time conflict. (Ok, for those of you rolling on the floor laughing at my delusion, you can get up now). Life, of course, got more complicated. Each initiative and project added another layer of complexity to my life. Systems adjustments ensued and I got the job done, but often with a crazy busyness I wanted to avoid.

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to deepen my relationship with others and myself by enrolling in a gratitude masterful living leadership program. This was an opportunity to take my life (and others) from great to excellent. I almost didn't enroll in the training because of the time commitment.

Wait -- here I had an opportunity to create an excellent life and become a more effective leader and I was going to skip it because of the time commitment? That's when I realized that while time management got me (and you) from good to great, no time management system would get me (or you) to excellent.

Excellence required a new conversation with time.

Bending time

We are all strapped for time. Or so we think. In reality, we are strapped by our thinking about time. Our thoughts create our reality (i.e., "I don't have enough time"). In fact, our thoughts are not our reality (i.e., we always have time for what's important). The reality, as Einstein proved, is time is relative. It's our thinking that expands or contracts time.

I recognize I may blowing your mind right now. You may even think I'm smoking something. Bear with me. Have you ever noticed how when you have 15 minutes to do something that usually takes you 30 minutes you get it done? Change your thinking and you change your reality. Live with urgency, not panic, and you can do anything.

As I have gone full force in this leadership training -- while also conducting research on well-being and company growth and running my business and being a good wife and taking care of myself -- I have learned the mantra that has changed my time conversation upside down. I get to have it all.

We get to have it all

Having it all is a divisive idea, especially amongst women. Whole books have been written making the case for having it all or not having it all. Many navigate the debate by saying you can have it all, but not at the same time. Honestly, that's a cop out. Change your relationship with time and you do get to have it all.

As I was struggling with this concept the other day, my coach suggested I look up wu wei. Wu wei is a Taoist concept meaning non-action or non-doing. For those type-A personalities like myself, this seems blasphemous. But hear me out, because this works every time.

Non-action or non-doing does not mean sitting around doing nothing. Non-action is really about effortless action. The example often given is a tree grows without trying to grow. Stated differently, a tree grows without effort.

When we try to have it all, as in being crazy-busy, hair-on-fire, rising blood-pressure trying, we are wasting both physical and mental energy. We are in effort and we are not leading. We get less done.

So how does non-action work?

Stop trying or doing and start being

I'll admit I'm relatively new to working with this concept (I've known it for years but without practice its been useless), but here is what I've discovered thus far. When you find yourself trying to do something, you are thinking about all that needs to get done or what didn't get done. Here are some sample conversations:

"I don't have enough time."
"I can't possibly get it all done."
"I wish I had more time."
"I have so much to do."
"I have too much to do."

When we are having this conversation about time, we are not present which means we aren't taking action (with or without effort).

To live wu wei and excel in work and life, is to end that energy sucking conversation and just be. For example, if you need to be energized to do your work, be energized. If you need to be contemplative to start a project, be contemplative. When you aren't being as you need to be, you instead spend time and energy being something else -- worried, anxious, stressed, etc.

The result of being, living and working in wu wei is less stress, more happiness and greater productivity.

How do you need to be today to accomplish your goals? Let us know in the comments below.

For more by Laurie Erdman, click here.

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