Oh Reader,

to do listDo you ever wish you could do it all? I start most of my Time Management training workshops by reminding people that “Doing it all” is not the goal of my training. In my professional area It’s not really possible for someone to do everything, the best we can plan for is to do the most important things. So the skills I share include how to prioritise as much as how to manage time.

This is so relevant at the moment.

The UK and its four nations are in lockdown again, staying at home, working from home and for many of us, schooling at home. When this happened in March 2020 it was every bit as challenging but maybe sweetened with a twist of novelty. As the weeks unfolded perhaps it also felt as if, in this unprecedented situation we or our employers, could be more flexible about expectations for work or output.

Entering lockdown second or even third time round, we know full well the challenges and many of us feel more pressured than ever. We fear work cannot be put on hold and there’s an enormous pressure to get everything done.

If we want to “do it all”, where do we start?

I admit that I’m working my way through these challenges in the same way as so many of you and feeling daunted at the prospect of the next few months. For what it’s worth, here’s my take on trying to do it all in lockdown.

Based on talking with hundreds or people in many parts of the UK, Ireland and way beyond these shores – what I am feeling is widely experienced across the globe. I know each of us is different, our situations unique and yet we are all in the same storm struggling with similar, seemingly impossible demands. We are not alone. This is important to acknowledge as, when we’re feeling stressed it’s easy to think we’re the only one that’s messing things up.

So how do we chart our course? I teach several different tools for prioritisation – I have some in the Resources for Resilience section on my website – but today I want to explore how we think about a single decision that we might be faced with…

As I weigh up the pros and cons of doing or leaving any specific or even group of activities, I often apply some simple tools – today I’ll explore something I first encountered in Suzy Welch’s book 10-10-10 and the magical power of time blocking.

Let’s start with 10-10-10: Ask yourself, if you do – or don’t do this, how will you feel in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years?

So how might this pan out?

Right now I’m trying to develop my business, update my workshops, write blogs and social media posts. I’m occasionally doing an online workout, trying to maintain some level of physical fitness. I’m caring for my sister, who cannot be left alone, who wants nothing that might be healthy, productive or educational. She wants to watch “The Search for Spock”, again.

As I nurse my options should I let my sister sit in front of the TV and watch this Star Trek movie one more time or work harder to engage her in something healthy or educational – how would I answer those three questions?

In 10 minutes? My short term feelings include frustration, disappointment and a touch of anger maybe and, yes, they are shared equally between frustration/anger/disappointment with her and with myself. My sister of course will be delighted to watch the film and angered if I ask her/make her do anything else.

In 10 months? Hopefully by October this year we’ll have more freedom, vaccination will be well underway and maybe even a smattering of normal educational activities will mean my sister can be slowly moving into the community once more. Her physical fitness levels will be reduced compared to March 2020 but better than today as summer will allow us more scope to be active. We’ll be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

In 10 years time? I hope we’ll both be laughing and reminiscing that we knew the Star Trek movie script off by heart.

Now I know that none of the above is “the truth” and I can’t predict the future. I could hypothesise that my sister will have a stroke as a result of her inactivity and won’t be here in 10 days, let alone 10 years. And yes, that is possible but I think that is doom-mongering. Her physical activity is much reduced but not that bad… I think my earlier scenario is at least realistic.

So, my decision? Put up with the short term frustration knowing that things will get better. I cut myself a little slack, put Star Trek on TV and get out my laptop as I sit beside her.

How might this translate to you?

Are you working towards a fixed term project, a business goal or even a longer term vision? Are you simultaneously wondering whether you can home-school a child, keep your home clean or cook a meal from scratch? The consequences of not clearing up, ordering a take-away meal or neglecting to answer an email are unlikely to be life-changing in 10 years time.

How about the choice between spending time home-schooling your child or letting them watch Horrible Histories for a couple of hours while you do some focussed work? 10-10-10?

I know it’s not all or nothing. We need to find a middle way. Expecting to do a full day’s work as usual while providing 6 hours of home schooling is unreasonable for most parents, even for most teachers and maybe time-blocking will be another tool we can use.

So to time blocking: much exhaustion and so much guilt is a real consequence of us always thinking with should be doing something other than the task we are engaged in – we are working yet feel we should be exercising or caring for the kids. We are with the kids and feeling resentful that we haven’t finished our work for the day yet. We are out for our permitted exercise walk and the rush home is spurred by the guilt of not working and wasting time walking round the block – this always wanting to be somewhere else doing something else doesn’t work!

Time blocking is about choosing to focus our attention on one task for a finite time – 15 minutes – 45 minutes – 2 hours. But during that time our attention is focussed. We do not engage with distraction and if we are distracted, as soon as we notice we choose to return to our chosen focus. It’s like a muscle and like most muscles it take a little time to develop strength but it does happen and often more quickly than we fear.

For most of us it is more effective to focus work for even a short time than to sit distracted, having our brains flit between multiple tasks and responsibilities so choose to build that muscle. When you are with the children, exercising or even resting, remind yourself that this is your priority, this is your choice, you will be here in this place and enjoy it guilt free, Anything else also has it’s timeslot and it’s turn will come.

If you apply this principle and build this muscle for work rest and play you’ll find a better sense of focus, satisfaction and achievement that will bring you a greater sense of peace and purpose too.

If you want to explore other tools do look at the Resources for Resilience section on my website too,

So have a practice and do let me know how it goes for you!