Time stress is common, but it can be reduced more easily than you think.
[ music ] . Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. I'd like to talk about time stress today. Do you feel like you suffer from it? If you don't have enough time to consider the question; you just want me to get to the point , ah , that might be a clue! A college student once shared a concept with me of three stages of life. And I realize they're based on a certain amount of privilege, but they do seem to apply to a lot of people. So let me see if these fit for you. Early in life, you probably had energy and time, but no money. Maybe some part time jobs, but certainly not any kind of real income. Then in the middle of life, most people's careers have started to take off. They're making money. They still have lots of energy, but no time. You might have a partner, maybe a child. Maybe you have aging parents who need some extra attention. These can be incredible demands on your time. Time, in fact, can feel more precious than anything else. Lots of people in the middle of their lives say, "I'd give up some money if I just had a little more time." My wife and I, whenever we had opportunities, went part time in our jobs just so we'd have more time with our daughter, and then more time to travel. And finally late in life, if you've planned and saved and have good fortune, you still have some money. And although you might not have as much time left in terms of years, you have plenty of time now in terms of your perception. You can sleep in or take naps or let somebody go in front of you in line at the store, because you're really not in a hurry. But what most people at this stage don't have, unfortunately, is energy. Many people late in life, even if they can afford to travel, are just too tired. In other words, as Oprah once said, you can have it all. Just not all at once. So when we'd talk about these stages in class, insightful students noticed that instead of bemoaning the fact that we're always missing something, we could just be grateful for what we do have, when we have it, because the odds are, we're not going to have it all at the same time. Many students referred to me for anxiety, especially about time stress, had hopes of getting better time management skills. They were taking a full course load, were volunteering, often had a part time job, were active in student organizations. They had pressures from home. They often had a relationship or two that was kind of energy-draining. And all of this while they were studying for MCATs or GREs or LSATs. And my solution for them was actually rarely about efficiency. Here's what I did not say to them. "Okay, here's what you can do: during your weekly phone call with your mom, you can work out the agenda of your next student org meeting with your vice president on a Google doc. Then on another device, you could be watching the presentations from that course you're trying to ace." They'd be like, "Yeah, I already do that." Here's a better idea. It's to focus on priorities, not on greater efficiency. For example, have you heard the story about the glass jar and the rocks? Imagine you're a teacher who has a large glass jar. And you bring it in front of your students and you fill it with some big rocks and ask if it's full . And most everybody will say, "Yeah." Then you take out a pitcher of gravel and you fill in all the spaces between the rocks and ask if it's full. Most are gonna say, "Yeah, definitely now." But some might start to get a little skeptical. Then you bring out a pitcher of sand and you fill in all the spaces between the gravel and you ask the question again. Then a pitcher of water filling in all the spaces between the grains of sand, and ask the question. And you get the idea. And when asked for the moral of the story, what most people will say is, "Well, no matter how busy you are, if you're really efficient, you can always squeeze in one more thing (I just need to learn better time management skills)." The more helpful takeaway is, "If we don't put the big rocks in first, we're never going to get them in." So my question is, "What are those big rocks for you?" Those high priority values? Maybe it's self care, or a close friendship, or a spiritual practice, maybe an exercise class. Whatever they are, if we don't devote attention to them, I think time stress becomes much worse. To use a concept from Steven R. Covey, you're doing things that feel "urgent" but they're not that "important." And so whatever those big things are for you, I strongly recommend that you regularly spend some time on them, and you'll feel better about what you do accomplish each day. This next suggestion can be painful, but sometimes we have to simplify. We have to let go of something. It could be we're letting go of some objects that don't "spark joy" as Marie Kondo suggests. Or it could be letting go of behaviors. So it's not just a matter of being more efficient with our time, but it's admitting when we've actually taken on too much. Lily Tomlin once said, "For fast acting relief from stress, try slowing down." I've used that when I was just way too busy and I would try to squeeze in one more accomplishment into the day, and I'd always wind up making some kind of stupid mistake that then took even more time to correct. I try to just slow down and use kind of an abundance philosophy mindset that I have more than enough time. And this mindset creates a lot of small moments that help me catch my breath and reset my perspective a bit. For instance, maybe you're drinking a cup of coffee or tea at your desk. Just try drinking it instead of doing two or three other things at the same time. Act like you have time to do this, and the act itself will kind of prove your point. Before I learned this one, I had some epic coffee spills over important documents or once into an open file cabinet that took a lot more time to clean up and these all , they seem to happen to me when I'd have a full mug of coffee, but eventually I learned. I've always loved helping people, but I used to go too far and I would sacrifice my own mental health in the process. For example, I'd obsess about saying no to a request to provide a workshop or to chair a committee. I'd worry about how disappointing this might be for the other person who was requesting it, but I was usually surprised at how great I felt whenever I'd set a limit and say "No." And this practice allowed me to be more helpful to clients with similar issues, because I couldn't in good conscience ask them to do this if I was unable to for myself. Before electronic calendars, I met a famous author and speaker who at the start of each year would lightly write in pencil the word "no" over every week of his Day Timer. And that way, when he'd get requests for workshops and he'd check the date, the first thing he would see was his word "no." He'd still say yes fairly often, but this practice helped him remember that he permission to decline requests. And so do you. It's hard to face certain facts about time, but there are a finite number of hours left in your day and years left in your life. But there's also an infinite number of moments if you can slow things down, and perspectives if you can keep an open mind, to help reduce time stress. And I hope you've learned one or two today that you'll test out for yourself. Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [ music ].