Time Out of Mind
Time urgency can be controlled, once you're aware of it. Here are the key steps to restoring your rational self:
- Reframe the panic. This is the most important factor in beating time urgency: Understand that it's not the clock or the deadline that's causing the stress but what you're telling yourself about the stress. University of Pennsylvania's Martin Seligman identified this as your "explanatory style"--and the story you get with time urgency is a distortion, a false emergency that your body responds to as if your life is in danger. You have to replace the bogus story with the real one: It's not life and death. Create a phrase you can say aloud to counter the caveman brain when time urgency goes off.
- Focus on the content, not the clock. Immerse yourself in the experience at hand, not in the stampede to the next item on the list.
- Do speed checks. Look for the signs when you're racing. Do you get a churning stomach? A pounding heart? Are you talking a mile a minute? When the symptoms go off, catch yourself. Take a deep breath and slow down. Unclench the muscles and release command of the universe.
- Cut clock-checking by 75 percent. Watching the clock wastes time and jacks up panic. Take off your watch, if you have to. Put a Post-It note over the clock on the computer monitor.
- Accept delayed gratification. Time urgency is aggravated by the need for instant results and zero tolerance for anything in the way of that. Stay calm in the face of delays and setbacks.
- Take time to get more time. Spend 15 minutes each morning to prioritize and organize your most important tasks. Obsessing about all the things you haven't handled is a prime driver of time urgency, but getting them down on paper lets you take back control. Prioritizing and list-making tells your brain you're handling things.
- Talk slower and eat slower. Time urgency doesn't just stop at your office door. It's with you all day and night. Every time you slow down to eat or speak, you're helping to reinforce new non-time urgent behavior.
- Be realistic. Time urgency breeds overoptimistic deadlines. You think you can get more done in a time frame than you can, because you pick the time you want it to be completed, not a realistic deadline. Start by adding 20 percent more time to every task.
- Still the mind. The engine of time urgency is a racing mind. Meditation or yoga can retrain your brain to retain focus amid anarchy. --J.R.