A Week of Soul Searching: How to Empirically Determine How Much Time You Spend on Others

When I am feeling overwhelmed by tasks and activities lists start making appearances in our household. Between what to do and what not to do, there’s a sprinkle of the I don’t want to do and have to do items too. I reached out to a clinical psychologist, who is also a friend, and made a comment that the angst of everyday life was burdening my thought processes and emotional centers and she suggested that I wrote down everything I did in the day, during a one week period, to figure out what was worth the effort and what was worth delegating or eliminating all together. Because my husband and family plans take a lot of my free time the goal is to find out if the time for them vs time for me ratio was skewed in their favor. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Step 1: Making a list and checking it twice.

The time I spend on others can be quantified and qualified. Empirically speaking you can create a chart and write down what you did, for how much time, for whom, if you enjoyed it and if it wad necessary/worth it. Declutering your life includes finding the time for the things you must do and love, leaving enough time for the rest to be done at a comfortable pace. Procrastination is only a good thing when unwanted tasks magically disappear or are picked up by others who value them more. If you know what your limitations and strengths are you can delegate or give up tasks rather than use the “out of sight or some one else takes care of it” method.

Step 2: Recording information effectively and culling unnecessary commentary.

What I mean by this is that, similar to how a photographer handles their work, you must take snapshots of your day and document what you truly feel about the events taking place. This is the equivalent of #nofilter. Don’t write what you think you should write or censor how you truly feel. At the end of the one week exercise you will read through the unedited thoughts and find the data to mine and investigate further. Jumping the gun or playing it up for your therapist or advisor is not going to help you find the answers you seek. Write with an open mind.

Step 3: Document, document, document.

Use pictures, words, spreadsheets, lists or whatever makes you comfortable but record the data real time. Don’t wait four hours to document what you did and felt. As your lenses (anxiety, fear, rage, happiness) change throughout the day you can muddy up the results by inserting additional bias into the mix. Live the moment and present it as it was felt, heard and seen. The more sincere you are to yourself, the more you will learn and get out of the soul searching process.

Step 4: Discuss the list with your trusted advisors.

Many people make the mistake of running rhe exercise through others especially those taking up a lot of time on their lists. Although it is good to have charts and counts of what you are doing for others please remember you are doing this voluntarily. The intent of this exercise isn’t to keep score or have proof of what others do to you. This is about what you are doing to yourself in spite of others. Take heed. The focus is on you, not on the world around you.

Step 5: Finding the strength to make changes and enlist allies.

No one is in this struggle we call life alone. It takes a village, a couple of great friends, the support of family members and a few healthy hobbies to enact change. Once you evaluate your observations as objectively as possible you can make decisions and clear plans. A week is a quick snapshot in time and for most it will represent their routine. For others, a month of data can provide a better picture. If you had already been keeping a daily planner, you can visually see the representation of how you spend your time but you will be missing how you felt about it. The exercise is about how you feel, not about what you have accomplished. Being busy is not necessarily a sign of hapiness, fulfilment or success. Keep an open mind and follow recommendations to change your perspective and reality. Ask for help to achieve your goals. This is the moment to prepare yourself mentally for the hard and difficult conversations, if any are required.

Step 6: Communicate changes and observations to those close to you or influence your day.

This part is daunting for me because I have to point out the good and the bad. If someone is taking too much time out of my schedule, making me ineffective, I have to root out the behavior. On the contrary, I need to keep up the good work and good vibes and this may require that I actively manage time and learn to ask people to respect my new boundaries or even existing ones. This is the time you push back on those that are taking more of your time than the benefits they are handing you back as payment. We must take care of ourselves first and forget about the rest. Everyone learns differently and applies the lessons uniquely. Don’t fuss over how they will change to manage your needs and requirements. Focus on what you need to do to continue to be healthy emotionally and physically.

By the end of the week you should have enough information about your time to make the necessary adjustments. Some people may find they spend too much time or effort on others which can be alienating to your needs and to having a healthy social life. Others may find they dont spend enough time on things and thoughts that add value to their human condition. No man is an island but your progress and choices are yours alone and should not depend on the availability and will of others. Support is one thing, having them do it for you is another. Cut ties to the items and people that don’t serve a purpose and of things that weigh you down. Always remember to acknowledge progress and to be proud of your efforts. Recognize those who are assiting your growth. These are the people you want to continue to engage professionally and personally to get to a better you. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Make sure that it is not a train.

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