chrysalis marketing article

Time For Respect

Unlike most years, I’m not going to look back on this one with a heart full of nostalgia. There’s no question that 2020 has taught us a lot, but I think we can agree it’s been a steep, hard learning curve. That being said, I am grateful for one important takeaway from this very weird year – it has changed my relationship with time. There are a lot of great blogs out there on time management and this is not one of them. This is about what comes before time management and therein lies my pandemic-born epiphany. You can’t manage your time until you respect your time.

Like a lot of people, busyness was my measure of success. Saying I was “crazy busy” felt like a badge of honor, while admitting I was in a slump felt like the opposite. Are you an old school paper planner person? Then you probably understand when I say there wasn’t much that made my heart happier than flipping to a new week and seeing a full slate of tasks waiting for me to accomplish and cross off. And then along came COVID-19.

When we went into lockdown in the spring things got real quiet, real fast. Within two weeks my business dropped by 50%. I had some work to do, and eventually everything came back, for which I am incredibly grateful. But, I’m not an essential worker and I don’t manufacture toilet paper so for a few months I was not busy. At all. Clients were scrambling to regroup, friends and family were taking care of their own, travel was no longer an option – much of what occupied my time evaporated and left me feeling strangely unmoored. Maybe you felt that way, too. With a whole lot of time on my hands I decided to take a hard look at how I had been spending it. And it wasn’t pretty.

Before I start a new project, I tell my client how much time it will take me to complete the work and I stick to it, from a billing standpoint anyway. But as I thought back on recent projects, I realized I often spent significantly more time doing the work than I had quoted. Not because I underestimated the projects themselves, but because dragging them out until they were due filled my days to overflowing, which made me feel busier. I would never consider charging for all that extra time; clients expected their projects would take X number of hours and I always made good on that promise. So why couldn’t I extend the same courtesy to myself? Because I valued the illusion of busyness over my time. 

If you own a business, like I do, you know there are operations to take care of. I decided to take a look at how I spent my time on those, starting with my least favorite; invoicing. I dislike numbers so much and the whole process just takes forever. Or does it? I did a little experiment and estimated how long it would take to complete one month’s billing. With that number in mind, I set a timer and hammered out all my invoices. You know what? It took me exactly a quarter of the time I thought it would. The task I regularly built up as total drudgery took me less time than it takes to go for a run. So, I used my new-found time to go for that run and did some hard thinking along the way.

How else was I intentionally dragging things out? On the flip side, what else was a bigger time burden in my head than it was in reality? How would my schedule, my business, my life, change if I was intentional about respecting my time? A whole lot, as it turns out. I finally launched my website – and no, I’m not going to tell you how long I had put it off because I was “too busy”. I found time to pursue personal passions that feed my soul. Client work now gets finished in the time budgeted, which means there’s a lot less opportunity to indulge in the time suck that is perfectionism (more on that in my next blog). 

What’s the difference? When I start a task, I think about how much time it will really take and I respect that limit. Such a simple little shift but it has increased my productivity, creativity and happiness. The reality is that time was there all along – 24 hours each day, rain or shine. I just didn’t notice because I was too busy being busy.

Having nothing but time forced me to ask, “Who are we if we aren’t busy?” We are, of course, a lot of things: sons and daughters, friends, volunteers, weekend warriors, business owners, caretakers. When we respect our time for the valuable currency it is, we can let go of our need for busyness, embrace efficiency and experience our whole selves to the fullest. We make choices that create pockets of rest because free time is not a sign of stagnation. It is, even in small doses, fresh air for the brain. The best part? Respecting our time creates a time surplus and we get to choose how we spend it. I’m using the New Year to figure that part out. I might step up business development or start a side hustle. Perhaps I’ll volunteer more or start playing the harmonica. And maybe I’ll even let some lines on my trusty paper planner stay blissfully blank. Thanks, 2020.

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