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Quit Smoking Time: 7 Time Management Traps

Quit Smoking Time: 7 Time Management Traps

When I was a teenager, my dad was a smoker.

I don’t know when or why exactly, but it started to irk me. Suddenly I could smell it everywhere, there was just no hiding from it. And every time I would get mad at him, and he would just smile and say that yes he would stop… at some point.

But I had this fear that his habit was stealing time that one day he would have needed to spend with his family. I remember reading everything I could put my hands on to get him to stop but was left with only headaches and contradictory advice (maybe I didn’t know where to look, or maybe it was the 90s and I could not just Google it). Thank god the day came when he stopped by himself, just like that, but I still remember that frustration.

Fast forward a few years and I am a working millennial. Getting back home from work, I often feel too tired to do anything but the most familiar stuff. TV. Youtube. Facebook. Just a minute, of course. Just long enough to finish binging my contacts’ shared videos of moonwalking bears eating ice cream in slow motion (if it’s not a real thing yet, you know it’s bound to happen.) Then I will stop… at some point.

The day I realized I was thinking in terms of “at some point”, I heard my dad’s words echoing from the past. That’s when it really hit me:

I had an issue with the way I was thinking about my time.

It was not a matter of sharing a social time cigarette once in a while anymore. I had become a fully accomplished time smoker. And it was time to quit.

Quitting meant I had to become an active manager of my time. Easier said than done, though, as trying to rationalize my time management and productivity quickly made me feel the same frustration I experienced when trying to convince my dad to quit smoking.
Indeed, despite a large amount of documentation available on those subjects, we are still unable to agree on the validity of the techniques we keep hearing about. Worse, when we start looking for answers, sometimes it feels like we haven’t even been asking the right questions, even though we are pretty clear about what we are trying to achieve.

So I did what I understand to be a good thing to stop an addiction: I shared.

Opening myself to others about the issue made me realize that not only was I not alone in this boat, but that it’s actually a huge ship full of people!

Then just like someone wanting to quit smoking a few decades ago, I had to go through tons of hearsay, some blog articles, and too few research papers to try and carve some truth out of them. After much discussion, myth-busting and tea, in no particular order, I found six traps we easily fall into when it comes to managing our time.

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Trap 1. Time management equals professional time management

When it comes to work, I have always been very conscientious and organized: I like to plan ahead and stay on top of things as much as possible. You could say that at work, I rarely smoke time.

But as a friend, there was a time when I was not super available (read “super not available”). To be honest, I just didn’t put enough effort into reconciling the things I wanted to do with the people I wanted to see and had to sacrifice one or the other (or both!) on a regular basis.

The thing is, the idea that time management is purely a professional activity is simply not true. It would be like saying that you have quit smoking because you don’t smoke at the office, even if you still do outside work (it could be a step along the way to quitting, though.)

So instead of thinking we should “manage time but only at the office”, we need to constantly be our own time managers.

Time does not stop flying the moment you leave the workplace.

If anything, I’m sure it’s quite the opposite.

So why do we keep associating the act of conscious time management with our professional environment?

One reason is probably that the not-too-old thing that created the need to track time scalably was the industrial revolution when people started to be thrown at highly scheduled tasks for maximum efficiency.
Another one is the matter of perception, namely the rational ignorance effect, which refers to the act of “refraining from acquiring knowledge when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide” (Wikipedia). Indeed, when it comes to getting information about our time (see further down), most of the tools at our disposition are tedious to use, making the cost of tracking time very high, so that consciously managing time is often experienced as a constraint. And, by definition, we want to avoid constraints in our free time.

If I’m hammering this point home, it’s because it took me a few years to get it, and I learned it the hard way (goodbye my friends!)

Trap 2. Time management equals keeping busy

Back in my super-not-available days, I was keeping myself always busy. This was a time when, among other things, I was working to educate myself on new topics, trying to mentally prepare my uncertain future projects of an even more uncertain future. And regularly (read “all of the time”) I was refusing to go for an evening out to meet or see again people that life had put on one my potential paths because I sincerely thought I could not afford to take a break if I wanted things to go through.

It is not just a matter of maybe-missed personal or professional opportunities. It also could have helped with my self-education!

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This is one of the lessons reported by Dr. Samantha Boardman and studied by Gino & al:

Taking a break from the always-doing-something rhythm will increase your productivity.

It can be talking to a friend to “clear your mind”, or taking the time to reflect on what you have worked on and what you will work on.

And because I have an intuition this might work on more than… well, work, I now always take the time to reflect on the day, typically when walking back home after work or right before going to bed.

Trap 3. I don’t need to measure my time to manage it

John is the old manager we all wish we had. He understands what we work on, having been there himself, but also the human aspects of the team dynamic, as well as the need to protect the team from external constraints so that they can work at peace and efficiently. However, when IT offered to integrate a tool that would reduce the time his team spends on either software A or on the phone with clients, John did not have the facts to make an educated decision: neither him nor anyone in his team had ever thought of measuring the time spent on said software or on the phone.

The first explanation I can see for that kind of situation is the illusion that we have a complete understanding of the things we use and the activities we engage in (for example I can drive a car so I might believe I know how it works, while I actually only know how to use it). And because everything we do is rooted in time, we get the impression that we fully grasp it. Yet in this case, when push came to shove, the team really had no idea. Another time-related example is described in a study reported by The Atlantic: people fail to estimate correctly the time they spend working (and the more they work, the worse it gets!)

I have an intuition this might be linked to a second point, which is that where time is concerned:

We actually remember things that emotionally impact us.

So that when it comes to taking a time-related decision – that is any decision at all – and we dig in our memories for lessons about what to do or not to do, our process may be heavily skewed by our emotions.

There is another subject with issues similar to time, but that people approach in a more mature fashion: money.

Just replace the word “time” with “money”, so that the task at hand is actually “money management”. Now imagine yourself trying to explain to someone, anyone really, that you don’t know what money is spent where. Sure, you can argue that you are not completely clueless and have a rough idea about where it went, but you don’t know. At best, you are guesstimating. Unfortunately, we are really bad at estimating – the internet is chock-full of references about it, be it regarding time or people’s skills.

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So if you can measure and avoid the guesstimation, just do it.

Trap 4. There is nothing like pen and paper to follow my time

Well, yes and no. But mostly no, though, according to most of the people tracking their time that I get to meet (a number that grows at an amazing speed!).

The issue of pen and paper is that it’s all manual, meaning that both the tracking part and the summary of your time usage are left entirely to you, which makes the whole process:

  • tedious: starting every activity by writing its name on a paper is not sustainable. It is bound to make you hate the whole process
  • imprecise: because it is tedious to write everything down, you are probably not going to keep track of the two minutes spent on Facebook or Candy Crush on the train.

That’s why most people who are aware of the benefits of time tracking already have a set of tools that does at least some things automatically: it can be a spreadsheet (which does sums pretty easily for the connoisseur) or a computer or phone activity tracker, or even an all-in solution (I work on and use this one!)

Trap 5. Time management is only about me

In a previous life, I remember working with someone from the sales department who came one morning to my desk with something that needed to be done urgently. Unfortunately for that person and her grand plans, I already had my hands full of things that also “just could not wait”.

What my ex-co-worker had forgotten for a second is that “we are not alone”, in the sense that most of what we do and/or plan depends more or less directly on other people. People who don’t necessary have the same goals as ours or would not go the same way about them.

Put another way:

Time management often has a social component that is hard to ignore.

So that if you plan something that might involve other people, you should be careful to somehow involve them in the process of planning.

Trap 6. The plan will come together

You know that time, maybe even “those times” – I know I am in that case – in your life when you had a meeting or exam or something else important enough to require you to be at a certain place, at a certain time. And you checked Google Maps. And Maps said it should take 30 minutes to get there. And you thought “Oh great I will leave 30 minutes before said time then”. And you didn’t quite make it. Maybe it was a late train, or there was too much traffic.

Well, right when you thought “30 minutes will be enough”, you had a plan-will-come-together moment.

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As you probably and correctly surmised, a plan-will-come-together moment is simply when you mistake a plan, i.e a potential way things could happen, for reality. A reality that has yet to happen, and may never do. And this is a classic.

Typical obstacles include, but are most definitely not limited to, weather or other “natural” unexpected bad turn of events, other people (see the previous point), zombie apocalypse or even bad planning.

To resist the plan-will-come-together moments, a simple exercise I first read about in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast, and Slow is to not put a plan in motion immediately after its conception, typically at the end of a meeting. Rather, have the people involved take a blank sheet with one goal:

Think about everything that could go wrong with the plan.

Those few minutes will help a lot in understanding the uncertainty inherently associated with planning.

Trap 7. The plan is the only thing that matters

I know I said “six traps”. But you have stuck with me this far, and I am starting to like you. So I will leave you with a seventh one. As a freebie.

Those six pitfalls may seem obvious once you spell them out, but the biggest trap of time management is even more obvious: don’t forget why you track and manage your time! Do you want to know yourself better? Do you want to reduce the time you spend watching bad TV shows (so you can focus on the good ones, or on reading the books that inspired them, or any book at all really, or blogs)?

Time management is a huge project, and if you lose track of how and why you started it, then you will lose motivation, clarity and sometimes any benefit at all.

But it is also a beautiful project, a way to build the self we want to be. Because as Laura Vanderkam wonderfully puts it

“[it]is not about figuring out how much time we waste. It is about making sure we are not telling ourselves stories about our lives that are not actually true.”

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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