Deal with your current reality first – then add in the aspirational changes

October 16, 2023

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When we aim to get a handle on our time and task management, we sometimes inadvertently try to do two big things at once:

  1. Create a new system; and
  2. At the same time, inject aspiration into how we use our time in a way that departs from our current reality.

It makes total sense but can have some big pitfalls. Let’s talk about why we need to address our current reality before working in aspirational goals so we can set ourselves up to actually get the reality – current and future – that we want.

To take my free 5-day program, the Reset and Refresh, click here: https://kellynolan.com/reset-refresh.


Episode 25. Deal With Your Current Reality Before You Change It Up

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey, hey! So today I’m gonna talk about something that actually took me a number of years to figure out, and my hope is that as I explain it, this makes sense to you. But sometimes the things that we know somewhere in our brains, it helps to clarify it so that we can figure out our path forward. What it is is when I think a lot of us think, “I want to get organized,” whether it’s the start of a new year, a new academic year, whatever it might be, whenever the time hits, you’re like, “I’m gonna get organized. I’m gonna figure out this time and task management thing. I’m gonna get my life organized,” there seems to be two things going on.

One is, “I’m going to create my system,” and whatever that might be. System always sounds fancy, but it can be whatever you want it to be. When I use a system I think of The Bright Method. But you might think of something else. And then there’s a second component going on that’s more aspirational like, “Because of this system, I’m going to use my time in a totally different way,” and there’s a little bit of that New Year’s resolution thing going on there too of life will be better. That makes sense, right? I mean, the point of getting organized is not just to have your time be organized. It’s to have these great ripple effects coming out. Often, we think of our life changing, the aspirational side of it.

The reason I think this is really important to pick up on is that I believe you need to do things in order. The first is that you need to figure out your system to help you manage your current reality. Then we move into where you would like that reality to go. From where you are not to where you want to be, what does that look like and how do we get there in a realistic way? I think we need to parse those two things so that we’re not trying to do them all together. I think it’s too much to try and kind of figure out and gain clarity around our current reality and how we’re gonna manage it and, at the very same time, try and change that reality into something else.

So today I want to talk a little bit more about what I mean by this. What does this look like from a practical standpoint, how do you know if you’re doing this, and then also why we really should focus on helping us manage our current reality and then making changes towards where we want to go, only after we have that system in place.

Calendar Showering and Getting Ready – 2:46

So the example I use most often within The Bright Method programs, and I’m sure I’ve used it on this podcast before and on Instagram, but a great example is one of the invisible to-dos I want you to calendar when you use The Bright Method is showering and getting ready. Whether you do that in the mornings or the evenings, whenever you do it, you need to calendar the time that that takes. Often, those are the types of things that we want to take less time than they do. The invisible to-dos, we don’t even calendar them typically, so when we do, I totally get it. We want there to be less time taken up by those invisible to-dos.

So you might be looking at this and being like, “Well, I mean, it probably takes me 45 minutes to shower and get ready. I really wish it would take me 30 minutes, so I’m gonna calendar 30 minutes.” So, in this example, you can see that, one, you’re using a new system by calendaring that invisible to-do and also you are a little bit injecting some aspiration into that because you’re like, “I don’t really want to spend 45 minutes doing this, so I’m just gonna calendar 30 minutes.”

On a larger scale, you also might be like, “While I’m calendaring all this stuff, let me just throw in three workouts a week. I’m not working at all right now, but I’m gonna throw in three workouts a week.” So that’s just another probably larger example of how you’re both adopting a new system but then also living a little bit aspirationally in that you’re departing from what you’re currently doing as part of the system you’re building out. Again, I totally understand the desire for this. I understand the human push to do this. I also understand that, again, when we’re trying to get on top of our time and our tasks, part of that is motivated by, “I want to make time for me. I want to make time for working out,” or other fun things you want to do. I completely understand it, but I think we need to understand that we’re not just calendaring our reality when we do that. We’re injecting aspiration and changing what we calendar.

Why is that an issue? Why should we focus on just calendaring our reality and getting control of that first before we start injecting the aspirational side of things? So there are three reasons I can see sitting here today.

One: Awareness of Reality to Understand Problems – 5:07

The first is we need to have an awareness of our reality to understand the actual problems in our life when it comes to time management so that we can get creative and come up with solutions to solve for them.

So, for example, if you just go to the simple morning routine that I was talking about (the showering and getting ready), I want you to imagine that you’re probably, totally understandably, injecting a little bit of that aspiration for every part of your morning. So if it’s getting breakfast ready, you might be injecting a bit of let me say that this only takes me 15 minutes, when in reality, it’s more like 20/25 each morning. Every little component of your morning you might be tightening up. This is even different than we are just naturally really bad at estimating how long things take and tend to underestimate, but in addition, you’re kind of knowingly tightening it up, saying, “In this new morning routine, I’m plotting out — the new me is going to do all these things a lot faster than the current me does.”

The problem with that is that everything looks like it’ll fit in, let’s say, an hour. But in reality, your current reality, it takes you an hour and a half to do all of those things, but you’ve only calendared an hour. The problem is that you’re not then issue-spotting the actual problems because you’re like, “If I have an hour to do this morning thing before I have to walk out the door, I’m gonna calendar all these aspirational things so they should fit in this hour.” Then when they don’t, because they actually take an hour and a half in your reality, you blame either yourself because you’re like, “Well, if I was just faster,” or all these types of things, even though your calendaring isn’t reflecting reality. It’s just aspirational. It’s not your fault other than that you didn’t allow for enough time. But you living through that morning, it’s not your fault. Those are just things that take you longer than we’re allotted for.

So you either go through each and every single day beating yourself up for not doing an hour and a half of work in an hour, or you blame the system. You’re like, “This system doesn’t work. I’ve calendared everything. It’s not working. It doesn’t fit, so I’m not gonna use the system anymore,” and you miss out on the benefits that it could provide for you.

If instead we say, “Showering and getting ready takes me 45 minutes. This other activity takes me half an hour, not 20 minutes. This other one takes me 15 minutes and is not just a 2-minute thing I can do on the go,” then I start seeing, “Oh, I’ve got an hour and a half of activity here that I’m trying to do in an hour, and now I’m gonna problem solve that. It’s not me. It’s not the system. I’m going to problem solve the activities I’ve decided to do in this period of time.

Of course, one option in there is to get up earlier, and that’s kind of the default productivity morning advice. But instead, you also could even get more creative. Now that you can see it visually and you can play with it, you can say, “Do I even need to do all these things? Could I do some of them at night the night before? Do I want to do some of them but less frequently? Maybe I only wash my hair twice a week, and the rest of the week if I want to take a shower, I’m using a shower cap,” and that will take off some time on that morning in a realistic way, not just a let-me-do-it-faster type of way.

What I want you to see is that by calendaring the actual reality of your day, that helps you issue spot the actual problems that are cropping up for why your mornings might be frantic, why your evenings might be frantic, and that allows you to solve the right problem, that it’s not just you, if you only went faster, or that it’s not just the system. We can problem solve the actual issues and use our creativity on that front.

So that’s why I think when you’re learning a new system, again, whether it’s The Bright Method or something else, start with your current reality so that you can solve for it, so that you can make adjustments that actually solve the problems going on in your life and you don’t miss where the choke points are because you’re just calendaring everything in a more aspirational way.

Two: Understanding Where We Want to Go – 9:09

The second major reason I really think we need to address our current reality before we try and shift into the aspirational side of things is that, at least for me, I did not have the mental capacity to even understand where I really wanted to go when I was super overwhelmed. I’m not saying that’s everybody. But if you are like me, that’s where I was. By using a system that helps me manage my current reality, that allows me to — well, at least using The Bright Method where you get to alleviate a lot of the mental load, so you’re really lightening up your mind by putting so much in your calendar so that you can see it. It’s outside of your head now. You can see it more visually. That gives you brain space to both issue-spot the issues that you see in your calendar but also even just generally having the brain space to think, “Okay, now I see what my reality is, and am I okay with this?” Because you might be. Just by getting it all out of your head and understanding your capacity and understanding your workload better, you really might feel better, and that might be all you needed.

But for other people, if you are kind of knowing you want something else out of life and you want to go for the more aspirational side of things, and I’m talking big and small things, sometimes you really need the breathing space that getting the logistical stuff all out of your head gives you that breathing space. And so, then you’re more freed up to think about, “Where do I want to take this? What would I like this calendar to look like, big or small things, and what does that look like?” But until you have that breathing space and that brain capacity to have those conversations, at least past me was not able to do that. I was like, “I can’t even think about that because I’m so bogged in through how am I gonna get through this week.”

And so, that’s, I think, the beauty of using a system to help you understand how you’re gonna get through the week in a much less stressful way, in a way with much more confidence of managing your boundaries and all of that so that you have the breathing space to be like, “Okay, let me actually think about what would I like my life to look like in a more aspirational way, in a way that just aligns, that’s not quite so frantic.” I think sometimes when we’re so overwhelmed, we have those thoughts about what we want life to look like, just kind of drastic. We swing the pendulum to the other end a little too far, where if we can just slow down and get a little more breathing space in our current life, then we make more informed decisions of what we want our life to look like aspirationally.

Three: Planning for the Future – 11:38

The third reason I think we really need to gain control of our current reality before we move into the aspiration is because once we understand our reality and can tinker with it in the ways that we talked about in point one, and once we have the breathing space of where do we want to take this, as we talked about in point two, then we can decide, “Okay, how do I want my life to feel in a year or three years or five years or six months?” whatever runway you want to look at, whatever you want it to be, and you can start thinking about what needs to be true for that to happen and what is realistic given what’s on my plate for me to do to get there. It might be slower than you might want, but at least you set yourself up realistically if you’re using a system that already helps you with your current reality.

This is a little bit different, but what I see often with New Year’s resolutions, and we all fall victim to this, is that we think of New Year’s resolutions, and everyone comes up with five major goals that they want to do. If you actually break those goals down into what you would need to do every day or every week to accomplish them, it quickly becomes clear that you’re way overloading yourself when you put those things next to everything else you actually have on your plate already.

When you use a system that helps you better understand your capacity and your workload, and then you’re looking ahead aspirationally about where you want to go, then you pick things that you can actually build out in your calendar in a realistic way, and you see when you’re not being realistic. If you’re like, “I want to do this in the next six months,” but you plot out what that would have to look like to accomplish, and you see it doesn’t fit with your schedule, then you readjust your expectations and your timelines to say, “Actually, let me do that in 18 months, and I can do this more slowly over time in a way that would actually work.”

And while, again, as with everything I teach, that can be a more frontend frustration to have that longer runway, you’re setting yourself up to actually accomplish a goal even if it takes you 18 months, than to try for 6 months, burn yourself out, it was never realistic anyway, you give up, and you never accomplish it.

Recap – 13:46

So just to recap where we are, I really, really believe that when you are trying to get a handle on your time management, focus on using and establishing a system to help you with your current reality. If you can focus on your current reality versus also simultaneously trying to inject a whole lot of aspirational scheduling in your life, that will help you actually issue-spot the problems that are going on in your life and solve for those. It will also help you, over time, give you that breathing space so that you actually can make decisions on where you want to go with more clarity and in a way that feels more aligned to you. Third, it helps you actually do that in a realistic way. It helps you set expectations in a realistic way so you can say, “Okay, I actually want to go here. I want my life to feel a certain way in a year. These things would have to be true for that to happen. Let me back these out into my calendar and make sure that’s realistic. Ooh, that wasn’t realistic. Let’s aim for 18 months, and this is what this could look like.”

The issue I see is that a lot of time management strategies out there or even planners I read, there’s a level of aspiration built in from the get-go. They’ll be like, “What do you view your purpose as?” or “What would you like your vision to be for your life?” or “What goals do you want to accomplish in the next quarter,” from the outset, that’s one of the first things you answer. And as I mentioned, at least for me, when I was feeling overwhelmed, that type of stuff was not where my head was at. I needed help with what was going on right now this week in front of me, and by trying to think long term in those ways, I just wasn’t ready for it yet. I needed to gain control of my current life before I could think that long term.

And so, it’s not a knock on the strategy in that ultimately I hope to be able to do that and I believe that you can do that, but we’ve got to deal with the current reality before we can start thinking long term. More to the point, we need to deal with the current reality before we start adding to it. I think that’s what’s really hard for me when I look at a lot of time management stuff out there that starts with, “What’s your life purpose,” or “What’s the vision,” or that kind of stuff because, essentially, we’re talking about adding more to the plate or rearranging what’s on your plate at the very least without the clarity of knowing what’s on there to begin with. That, to me, is very cart before the horse, and I also just don’t think it’s as realistic because, again, maybe I’m just injecting my own stuff on here, but when I was feeling overwhelmed, I mean, it was not where my brain was at.

I was not capable of doing that both from an interest standpoint, like I’m not interested in thinking about my life’s purpose when I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna get through this week or this month, but also I just didn’t have the brain space and the clarity of my life and the lack of stress to have that ability to have that conversation without wanting to burn the whole place down, if that makes sense. And so, I think that’s what’s really important here, at least for some people out there like me, that you can do yourself a lot of favors by finding a system that will help you, first, deal with the reality before we inject all the aspiration into it.

So I just wanted to share that in case that resonates with you, in case you’ve caught yourself or now you can catch yourself having done that in the past. It’s very common. A lot of people teach time management in that way. I think it’s just important to be able to understand when, if you struggled with these things before, if these types of approaches have tripped you up before, that might be why. It’s okay. It makes you very normal, and there are different ways that we can go about this.

The Bright Method – 17:45

And so, if you’re out there looking for a new system, really try and find something that serves you for your current reality, that helps you get on top of your current reality, and then helps you start dreaming about where you want to go and helps you do that in a realistic, methodical, incremental way that actually gets you there versus maybe starting cart before the horse with where you want to go but not giving you even a clear way to navigate your current life, much less how you’re gonna get there.

And if you’re interested in learning more about The Bright Method in that capacity, check out my free five-day program. It’s completely free. You can go to www.kellynolan.com/refresh, and I’ll put it in the show notes as well, and you can jump in and see if this works for you, if this helps give you that clarity and understanding of how you’re gonna manage your current reality day-to-day life, and then we can start thinking more long term about how you want your life to feel over the next year or so and how you’re gonna get there, what has to be true, and how we build that in, all that kind of stuff. I am all for planning and getting towards the life you want; I just think we need to get a handle on our reality before we do that first.

I’ll see you in the next episode, and I’ll talk to you soon!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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  1. Bex says:

    I was listening to this podcast today and it really resonated with me. I am the person who feels like, why can’t I get my routines right, and this episode highlighted that I am trying to correct too much, without thinking through the baby steps needed to actually get from reality to ideal routines. Thank you for explaining this so clearly and thoughtfully.

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