So Much Ambition, So Little Time

Does time always feel like it’s escaping you? You can achieve your ambitions, but you must be selective.
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

The list of things we must do is never-ending; work, kids, homeschooling, managing the household, keeping in touch with friends and family; the list goes on and on.

Everyone has the same amount of time, so how do some people achieve so much when others struggle?

When you have limited time, there are only two things you can do:

  1. Reduce the things you need to do by having someone else do it for you. E.g., find childcare or a housekeeper, role-share at work, or take a hiatus from your friends and family (only joking on this one, although sometimes, it can feel like that’s what’s needed just to get some time to do what we want to do for us!)
  2. Choose not to do the things you want to do. When there are no options for support — like during Covid_19 lockdown when seeing other people is impossible — you don’t have much choice but to reduce what you need to do to the essentials.

Let’s look at option number 2.

Using snippets of time wisely

Just because you have little to no time for yourself doesn’t mean your ambition gets any less. But there are always snippets of time somewhere. Using those snippets wisely is the difference between keeping the fire of your ambition burning and the frustration of feeling like it’s being damped or extinguished. To decide how to use those snippets of time, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who am I doing this for? If the answer isn’t you, is it worth it? Will you regret losing this small piece of ‘me time?’
  • Would you sacrifice other things you enjoy to do this one thing?
  • Are you doing this because you think you should, or because you really want to?
  • Is someone encouraging you to do this because they think it will be ‘good for you?’
  • Whatever you would like to do, has someone told you, ‘it will go nowhere?’

There will always be guilt for whatever you choose not to do — spend quality time with the kids, call your parents, clean the fridge. The trick to continuing on your journey, however slow that might be, is whether you decide the thing you feel guilty for is worth the sacrifice. That’s what the questions above should help you figure out.

A little reminder…

Whatever those things are that you think aren’t enough, they are enough. They are the things that truly matter to you, and they are things that will take you where you want to go living the life that makes you happy.

Seeing obstacles as gifts

When obstacles stand in the way of achieving what I want to achieve, I like to see them as tests as to how committed I am to achieving that goal. If the obstacle stops me, I start to question how much I want what I say I want.

When you only have snippets of time to do the things you want to do, you’re forever facing obstacles. So, do those obstacles stop you in your tracks? Or do they give you even more fire in your belly to take the mini steps you have to take to achieve your goals?

I also see the things that slow me down as learning opportunities:

  • What is this scenario giving you that you can take to making your path richer?
  • What are you learning that makes what you will then do different from everyone else?

One small step at a time

There’s an idea in psychology, called Gestalt theory, that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Try relating this theory to the mini-steps you need to take to achieve your goals. Consider all of the time and pivots you take along the journey to achieving those goals because of the many obstacles you must navigate.

Inevitably, your outcome will be greater and richer than it might have been had you not overcome obstacles along the way.

When you have snippets of time but no motivation

You might find, in those snippets of time, all you want to do is a big fat nothing.

If you’re trying to figure out what to do in the 10-minute break you have between your young child going for a nap and your preschooler asking you for the 15th snack of the day, and all you want to do is put your feet up, do it. Then allow yourself to be ok with doing that.

Giving yourself what you need is another key to meeting all of your ambitions and using your time wisely. By making decisions on what you need at that moment while knowing you have something in the background that matters to you that you will pick up when you feel able, you’re feeding yourself energy. That energy is both physical — from taking a load off your feet, and mental, by telling your mind and body that you recognize what it needs at that moment.

Doing that will free you up to feel more able to do something more productive when you feel you’ve met your immediate needs. If you never meet your needs, you’re always going to feel mad and angry that you never feel heard, and, ultimately, whatever you do from your to-do list will end up being subpar.

When you suddenly have oodles of time but no motivation

On the flip side, you might find you have oodles of time that you feel you should be filling with all the things you want or need to do.

First off, don’t.

Beating yourself up for not doing the things you think you should be doing, even if you really want to do them, will achieve nothing but make you feel worse about yourself and, likely mean you’ll do even less.

There’s something holding you back from doing the things you want to do; you just have to figure out what that is. That’s when coaches, journaling, self-reflection, etc., come into their own. Finding out what truly matters to you and why, is how you can find your way to doing what you want to do however much time you have to do it.

When you have zero time

If, for example, you’re trying to do an 8-hour workday and be a stay at home parent, you can’t. It’s as simple as that. So don’t push yourself to do something impossible.

Try setting yourself a plan that you’ll do 4 hours in the day while the kids are around, and then you’ll do another 2 in the morning or evening. I can guarantee, with focused working, you can fit an 8 hour day into a 6 hour day and, doing 6 hours of solid work a day is enough for anyone.

Do the things that have the most significant impact and leave the others or delegate them. You can only do what you can do — you’re human.

When the chaos of lockdown and Covid uncertainty is over, you will, once again, have time. For now, if you get snippets of time, use them as I suggest above. If you don’t, or all you want to do is veg, do it. Your time will come again. If you can, try to reflect on what you would like to achieve after the Covid chaos but, if you can’t, be kind to yourself and know your time will come. No one can take your dreams away from you.

When your motivation has taken leave alltogether

There’s a difference between feeling like you’re having a bad day and you can’t achieve any of your goals and feeling like you’re having a bad time every day.

If you feel you can’t cope and you can’t see any joy or hope in your future, that’s when you may need some more help from a professional psychologist or therapist. I, for one, am a huge advocate for therapy. There’s strength in recognizing you need more help, and it can mean the difference between being who you want to be for all the people’s needs you meet and for yourself.

Lastly, right now, it’s natural to feel off-balance; this is a crazy time and one of a lot of isolation for many and intense closeness for many others. Be kind to yourself, but figure out where you are and what you need to get where you want to be.

It’s up to you to make it happen but, there’s no rush

You are the master of your day and the choices you make throughout that day. You are also the master of how you speak to yourself about the choices you make.

You never have to stop doing what you want to do, but you have to be more selective when time is thin on the ground. Your time will come again but, for now, consider what you absolutely don’t want to give up and what is reasonably achievable with the small chunks of time you have.

The rest? Leave it. It’s not going anywhere. No one will steal your ideas or plans. Even if it looks like they have, no one can do anything like you can. Rest assured, if you want something enough, your time will come. In the meantime, take those mini steps towards what truly matters to you.

For more insights into how to create a career you love, follow @letslovetowork on all your favorite social media channels, and look out for the ‘Let’s Love to Work’ book coming soon…

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Let’s Love to Work

Let’s Love to Work

Organizational Psychologist, Career Coach, and Author. Helping you love to work. www.letslovetowork.com.