Thekla Richter is my very first guest for my series called “Expert Tips & Tools.” She is a coach that specializes in time management and the byline on her site is: “Tame your time, claim your life.” Sounds good to me and I know it probably resonates for many people. I’m happy to have her here today to talk with us about taming our time.
Me: Hi Thekla, could you tell us about what you do as a coach?
Thekla: Hi Anne, thanks for inviting me here.
As a coach, I help people who are feeling overwhelmed with all the stuff they want to get done or who are feeling great already but still want to seriously maximize their productivity.
We usually focus on aligning efforts with priorities, breaking projects down into actionable steps, improving organizational systems and workflow, and working to address limiting beliefs that hold people back from being more productive.
Me: It seems like we all want more time. How do you approach this impossibility?
Thekla: Things to do are like clutter, in that they tend to expand and fill up the space available — no matter how large or small that space is.
People who are ambitious, creative and passionate tend to fill their lives to the brim and then some. Having more time would not in fact make any of us feel less busy because we’d just try to do even more!
So instead of wishing for more time, we need to take a fresh look at the time we already have and make strong, wise, mindful choices about how we use it.
Me: Is there such a thing as “work/life balance”? If so, how does one create it?
Thekla: I don’t like to say work/life balance because it implies that work is not part of life— an embedded assumption that I think says a lot about the mainstream corporate world it comes from. So I say life balance instead, because you’re not balancing work versus life, but balancing all the different aspects of your life including work… and finding sustainable ways to do that.
Creating healthful life balance requires thoughtfully making space for all our important roles: caring for our bodies and minds, expressing creativity, spending time with friends and family, nurturing your spirituality if that’s important to you, and of course work.
You have to pay attention and do things differently if you start to sense that something’s out of whack.
It’s not realistic to think that we’ll always spend the same amount of time and energy on each aspect of life.
Perfection doesn’t exist in the real world and balance is dynamic, not static. So life balance is a process, not a state you achieve.
It’s about taking care of your basic core needs and cultivating diversity within your life. Each aspect of life feeds all the other pieces.
It’s really not so much a balance as a synergy, a complex web of interdependencies, much like the way each of the plants and animals and even the bacteria in the soil all need one another in an ecosystem.
If one piece is threatened, then the whole system can be destroyed… or the system might radically correct itself in a dramatic way that isn’t always much fun to live through.
But if one piece changes gently or goes through a natural ebb and flow, then the other components can gracefully rearrange themselves to accommodate that.
That’s ideally how life balance works, with the parts working in harmony and supporting one another rather than competing for resources.
And when the balance shifts then the system shifts too and the dance goes on, always changing but staying in equilibrium.
Me: What is one of the most common obstacles people have in getting a handle on their time management?
Thekla: The hardest thing for most people is giving up the idea that you can do it all and do it all now.
I’m all about becoming more efficient and dreaming big dreams, and you can definitely accomplish a whole lot, often far more than you’re doing now. But you also have to be realistic about the bounds of space and time.
You have to be willing to let some things go and to say no a lot.
Trying to do everything can lead to a kind of pretense of progress where you’re very busy and overworked but not actually accomplishing much.
Doing less and making careful choices about what’s on your plate can paradoxically mean accomplishing more.
Me: I talk to a lot of people who have problems with their procrastination. Do you have any quick tips or tools for someone that has this issue?
Thekla: Procrastination is too huge an issue to delve into here in any depth, but I think the first step is working to understand the root of the behavior.
Sometimes procrastination is a bad habit, sometimes it’s the manifestation of deep-rooted fears causing avoidant behavior, and sometimes it’s a symptom of a mismatch between what we “should” want and what we really want.
I’d suggest starting out by reading a good book on the subject, like Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit.
Me: We all know that feeling of being completely overwhelmed at one time or another. Do you have any suggestions for how to manage that awful feeling?
Thekla: Take slow deep breaths. Focus on the one single thing that you need to do next, and do it, and then do the next thing.
Take 5-10 minute breaks throughout the day and at least one 30-minutes-plus break, even if it feels like you don’t have time for that—make time, it’ll save more time than it uses. Listen to relaxing or uplifting music. Keep your mental self-talk positive, and remember that this too shall pass.
Also, take thirty seconds to check in with your body—do you need to eat, drink water, stretch, or even go to the bathroom? It’s amazing how stress can make you ignore a basic physical need that could be quickly fixed. That kind of neglect then creates more stress and more distance from your body so it’s a downward spiral.
If this feeling of overwhelm is happening a lot or for a long time, you need to address the cause and not just the symptom.
Hit the pause button somehow, get support and reassess what needs to change to bring your life into better overall balance.
Me: What is the biggest mistake most people make with getting things done?
Thekla: Being reactive instead of proactive—letting preventable crises, other people’s demands and your incoming stream of information and stuff determine too much of what you do.
Me: You have a young baby now. How has that affected your own time management?
Thekla: The basic ways I manage my time have stayed the same with my son; the tools and principles involved are pretty universal and they still apply.
The biggest thing that’s changed is that I have WAY less time available for things other than caring for my one-year-old, so I have to prioritize fiercely and be very selective about what I take on. I’m a full-time caregiver for my son right now while my husband works outside the home, plus I work part-time as a coach—that’s a lot sometimes!
I have to remember to keep my standards realistic because taking care of my son is something I’m choosing to do because it matters to me. It’s hard work but it’s easy to discount it and forget that everything we do together is productive, too.
I’m also pretty sleep-deprived which makes my memory worse, so I have to rely more on my calendars, lists and routines so I don’t forget to take care of things. I hate that because I’ve always had a really good memory and it’s weird not to be able to rely on it as much.
The whole experience has forced me to further hone my time management skills and to really admire all the productive parents I know!
Me: Where can people find you?
I’m also about to launch an experiment in the next month or so with having an anti-procrastination accountability chat on Twitter– stay tuned on my blog, newsletter or Twitter for details!
Me: Oh, that sounds exciting! Thank you so much for talking with me today.
Thekla: Thank you for having me, Anne!