Limited time is frustrating – How to feel more empowered

January 22, 2024

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Part of realistic and effective time management is acknowledging how limited time is, which can be frustrating. Let’s talk about some approaches to take to make us less focused on the frustration and more focused on what we do about it.

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Full Transcript

 Episode 38. From Frustrated to Empowered: Confronting Our Limited Time 

[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 want to talk about addressing the frustration that comes from confronting how limited our time is, and the frustration usually comes into play when we realize we’ve got to start saying no to some stuff that we probably want to say yes to. That is often the case when I’m working with clients in The Bright Method program.

There’s a period of time where I think, initially, there’s almost some overwhelm when we make everything that people are doing with their time visual and kind of see everything that’s in there. I’ve had clients be like, “Well, at least now I know why I’m overwhelmed.” There is just so much in there. And then we’re trying to put more in there for the work, one-off projects, the home one-off things, random tasks, all that kind of stuff, and it becomes so apparent for many people, not for everybody, but for many people of, “This is too much. There’s too much that I’ve been trying to do with this limited period of time, and I need to figure out how to get rid of some of this stuff,” and that can be frustrating because sometimes it’s stuff we really want to keep. And then, on an ongoing basis, you might want to take on more things, and it’s the realization of, “I can’t actually make it fit in my calendar,” or “It does too much to what’s in my calendar, and so, I’m gonna have to say no to this even though I want to say yes.”

I was talking recently with someone about kind of the frustration around that realization and how frustrating it can be to really be up front with yourself about how limited our time is and that you can’t do everything and how do we shift that into a more empowered place where we feel like, “I’m in control of my time. Yes, I’m having to make some tough calls, but this is how I reclaim control of my time.” So that’s what I want to talk about today.

When I was kind of thinking about this stuff, I think there are five points that I think are worth making today, and I’m sure that there will be more over time as we talk about this more.

Point One: Your Limited Time is Neutral – 2:24

The first point is just truly — it sounds so basic, and I know it sounds repetitive to what I’ve talked about before — but truly absorbing that time is limited and that your limited time is neutral. It’s just an objective fact, and we have to accept it and work to accommodate and account for it on the front end.

I say that because, obviously, I think all of us know in theory that time is limited. It becomes a lot more concrete for people as they work through The Bright Method program, but maybe you’re already there. But if you are like me, past me, before I became a lawyer and had a tough time — if you have kids, before you had kids. Before that, if you think back to college days, maybe early-twenties days, we had more time. Time wasn’t quite as limited, and there was an ability, almost, to figure it out on the backend like, “I’ll say yes to things, and then I’ll just figure it out. And I might be confronted then that time is limited, but I’ll figure it out.”

Where, I think in some ways, we’re almost lucky in a strange way that often the people listening to this are in a phase of life, whether it’s a high, important, time-consuming career. Maybe there are kids. Maybe you have an incredible hobby that takes up a lot of time, but a little bit too much time. You’re taking care of parents. Whatever it might be, our time feels incredibly limited in this phase of our life. What’s fortunate about that is that we can’t run from it. We can’t live in denial of it very easily.

I compare myself to past me in my twenties as a young attorney to current me who’s married to an ER doctor, which means he’s either not around very much or asleep because he got home at 2:00 AM or 5:00 AM or something like that. And we have two little kids, and I just have to kind of almost plan my life as if I was the only parent in the picture, and then when he’s around it’s like a cherry on top. My time feels very limited in that regard, particularly when it comes to certain activities, like if I’m gonna take on a workshop or agree to be interviewed by another podcast or something like that that’s very time specific and I have to be able to show up, I only take those things on when my husband’s around as backup childcare. And so, that means that, particularly for certain activities, my time is incredibly limited, and that time becomes very valuable.

Why I’m saying all this is — and I’m sure other people have a similar situation going on in their lives — when your time is that limited, you can’t live in denial of it. As I said, you can’t just be like, “Yeah, I’ll say yes to this, and I’ll figure it out.” There really might not be a way to figure that out, and I think a lot of us understand that, at this phase of our life, there’s a benefit to that. Because we are addressing it on the frontend, and so, we are having to deal with some of that frontend frustration of saying no to things.

Again, if you struggle with this still, there is no shame in that either. I just want to throw that out there. I would not know how limited my time was unless I used this system. So if you don’t use The Bright Method or another time management system that helps you see how limited your time is, and you overcommit a lot because of that, it’s not your fault. I just want to throw that out there too. I don’t want to assume that everyone feels this way. I’m pretty sure if I didn’t use a system like this I would not understand how limited my time was, so just know that you’re not weird, and if you want to learn it, wonderful, but I just want to more emphasize that you’re not weird if you don’t understand it.

Well, what I really want to emphasize here is that our time is limited, and I think a lot of us in this phase of life fully appreciate that in a whole new way, and while it’s frustrating in a whole new way, it just kind of is what it is, and we have to view it as not a bad thing, but it’s a neutral thing. It’s an objective thing. It’s a fact. And so, I’m gonna accept it and work with it because, when time is limited — and it is for everyone. It might just be a little more limited for some people, but it is for everybody. When you say yes to almost everything, you’re really kind of at the whim of whatever everybody else asks you to do, whatever ideas come to mind, and what you accomplish is a little bit left to chance because it’s likely too much work for your limited time. So what you get done is a little bit by chance. Versus, if you truly embrace how limited your time is and make intentional decisions around what you allow in, then you are more in control of what you’re accomplishing.

I also want to point out — this analogy just came to me, so I’m probably gonna butcher it. I’ll develop it over time, but in a lot of ways it’s like money, right? If you don’t have a lot of money, a lot of us go to, “I need to make more money. I wish I could make more money.” And it’s the same type of thing with if you feel time-poor you’re just like, “I just wish I had more time.” But often, what a lot of financial experts will talk about, is that it’s really a spending issue. So even if you made more money, if you still spend it too freely, you will still feel time-poor. It’s money and time.

And so, I think that’s what’s important to realize is sometimes we just wish we had more time, but our issue probably wouldn’t be solved because we’re not addressing the real issue, which is that we’re saying yes to everything or we’re saying yes to too much, so we’re spending it too freely and we’re still going to feel that time-poor, where no matter what budget you have, we can really work within that to help you feel more in control of your time by adjusting the spending of it.

So, point one is time is limited. That’s a neutral fact. It’s an objective fact. Let’s just accept it and work to accommodate it on the front end.

Point Two: How We Decide What to Take on – 8:17

Point two is how do we make those decisions, how do we accommodate them on the front end? And here, this is where I really think the empowered feeling can come in because you decide. And not perfectly. I mean, I know a lot of us are at jobs where we can’t unilaterally decide what projects we take on and off, but you can have probably more control over it than you realize as long as you take a step back and put some intentionality and thought into what do I want to be doing, what types of projects do I want to be taking on also in my personal life, all that kind of stuff, so that you then use that as a filter to decide what to take on and what not to take on.

I really find this to help me shift my narrative a lot around just like, “I don’t get to do all the things that I want to do. I could grow this business faster if I had more time,” that kind of stuff. I really find this being like, “This is what I’m focusing on. I’m saying yes to projects that serve this. I’m saying no to projects that don’t, so that I have time to do this, and then I feel more in control, I feel more in the driver’s seat around where my time is going.

I like this quote by Steve Jobs. He said:

“People think focus means saying yes to the things you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.”

I think that helps reframe the yes and no issue from one of feeling like, “If only I could say yes to everything,” to “Let me be really intentional and clear on what I’m trying to accomplish, so that I can say yes to the right things and no to things that I might want to do, but would not serve me with that bigger purpose that I’m aiming for right now.”

So I just want to kind of explain this. I’m gonna give you some business examples from my business. Obviously, if you work in law or something, these might not apply, but I will then address the kind of more career side of things after.

I think it is helpful to hear from the business side because it’s almost a little bit easier when you run your own business to make these types of calls, mainly because you have more autonomy and can make unilateral decisions more, but I think it still helps us clarify an example even if it’s not totally applicable to you.

So, for me, I’ve had kind of different phases of my business. I’m gonna even just ahead past when I was trying to figure out what to do phases of my business. But once I got to a place where I was like, “I’m going to teach time management in a more coursed program structure,” that took a while to get to, but we’ll skip ahead. For a period of time, my focus was on building the product.

Then my next focus, after that was done, which basically took about almost a year with a little baby at home and all of that, the next phase was proving it out and tweaking it as people started working through the program.

Then after I want to say maybe seven or eight programs, the next focus was taking what I’d learned and improving the program and also re-recording it because it was now moving out of the intense COVID years when COVID had such an impact on our work life and our school life. I had to kind of re-record it because a lot of the lessons had a lot of COVID language around them and having kids at home for school and that kind of stuff. So anyway, the next phase was re-recording it. I thought of it as like revamping the program.

And then once that was done and I’d kind of fixed things that broke in that process and finally got it back on track, then the focus really became growing my audience. That was really my goal in 2023. It got a little derailed slash a lot derailed because we pulled our little daughter, and she was home. But it helped me almost — and this is a bit of a caveat — but my time became even more limited, that it was even more critical for me to have the guiding thing I was trying to do of growing my audience to help me evaluate how was I going to spend that very limited time to do that. It helped me put aside a lot of other things and build out this podcast because I was like that’s something that I think I have time for and will be a high-leverage activity for the thing that I want to be doing, which is growing my audience. Same thing for this year – that’s where I want to be.

Then, to put a little more meat on that, because I’ve been in business a few years and have data, I can be like, “How do I grow my audience?” Well, my top ways are Instagram, referrals (past clients who refer people), and also guesting on other people’s podcasts. So I have a lot of clarity now going into this year of those are the three activities I do beyond serving my clients and filling my programs. That helps me filter what I’m doing and what I’m saying yes and no to.

So when I have people ask me to do a workshop or things like that, I mean, if it’s easy, it’s not a ton of work, I can do it. If it requires me to travel, and that would be a pain because of my husband’s schedule and all of that, I can say no knowing that it’s not serving my growing of my audience because giving workshops is not a top way that I get clients in the door. It can be easy for me to slip into for a little bit like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be so cool to speak onstage at this thing, and I’m just so sad that I have to give up that opportunity,” and blah, blah, blah. But then I quickly am like, “Wait, my goal this year is to grow my audience, and these are the top three ways I do that. So I don’t need to sweat doing that. I can let it go. It’s okay, and then I shift my whole narrative around it of being like, “I am deciding what is important to me. I am deciding how to leverage my limited time,” and I feel a lot more empowered with that approach than feeling bad for myself about not being able to do something that actually isn’t even getting me closer to where I have decided I want to be this year.

Now, I know that that’s easier to talk about in a business context because I can set my own goals and then evaluate things underneath them. But I do believe that there are ways to do this in your career. I mean, I really do, from a deciding what substantive projects your company should be taking on, or your organization or your firm. I think there’s a lot of value in understanding what is your primary business goal during this phase and are these projects serving that. But you might not be in the position to make fully those calls.

And so, even on your personal, professional level, I think it’s really helpful to think about what are you, personally, in your job trying to do over the next year, the next even six months, whatever it might be. Some examples here are if you really want a promotion, what are the skills that you want to get? And I used to kind of roll my eyes when I heard stuff like this, but I did finally get into that as an attorney. There was a period of time where I was like if I want to be a really strong litigator, I have a lot of great strengths in this, like I deal with discovery issues a lot, even though it’s my least favorite part of litigating. I had a lot of deposition experience because I got to do that, fortunately, really early. But my writing was weak. My actual writing of briefs was weak, and so, I had to go both proactively look for that and ask for that, and that looked like, for me, going to the partners I loved working for and saying, “Hey, I need more writing from you guys. I know you had a great person who drafts briefs way better than I can, but I need to shore up on that, and if you guys can’t give me more writing, I’m gonna have to go work for another partner as well ( take more work on from someone else) so I can get that writing experience.” And they were like, “Okay, okay! You can have writing,” because they want your time, they value your time in other areas and your value in other areas, so they’ll help you with that.

That was one thing that worked really well for me, and then from a reactive standpoint, same thing. I could take on new cases, especially if I saw the opening for writing in those types of cases. Maybe skill development isn’t something you’re looking at, but maybe it’s just like the general experience that you want to have at work right now comes down to who you’re working with.

So I went through a different phase of my legal career where I was not really enjoying working for some of these partners. I really wasn’t enjoying working for so many different partners. And so, what I try to do is say, “You know what? I really enjoy working for these two partners, and they seem to have a lot of work. So if I can just get on more and more cases with them, then I can get off or at least sunset out and not take on more cases with other partners.”

And so, I’m just sharing these as examples of you might want to think about, over this next year, “My time is limited. My time at work is limited. What are some things that I’d like to have going on, whether it’s skill development or working with certain people or whatever it might be, and how can I use that — even before I know what other opportunities are gonna come my way, how can I use that to help me inform whether I say yes or no to other opportunities?”

Okay, so point one is time is neutral. Just embrace that. It’s objective. It’s a fact. We’re just gonna embrace it and deal with it on the frontend, make decisions on the frontend knowing that time is limited and that means saying no to probably some things we’re gonna want to say yes to. In terms of how to do that, take control. Think about what is the overriding filter I am going to filter opportunities coming at me through or even ideas that I have through it to help guide me on what I’m going to say yes or not to, because the more I can feel really informed and in control of the decisions I’m making, the more I’ll feel empowered by this even when I am hit with some of the frustration.

Obviously, you’re not gonna be able to do this 100% of the time. There are gonna be projects you have to take on that you don’t want to take on and things like that. That’s probably already the case, so the more that we can just aim for it, the closer we’ll get you to where you want to be even if it’s not 100% there right away.

Point Three: Believe More Opportunities Will Come Your Way – 18:15

The third point, I’ve talked about this before, but really is just believing that more opportunities will come. If you say no to something, it’s not the only time it will come, and really understanding that more opportunities will come because of your work ethic. I’ve talked about that before.

I think I had the benefit of going through an experience that was just so concrete and so short. It was just so wrapped with a bow that it really helped me learn this lesson. But I got asked to take on a presentation, and it was for a presentation to summer associates at a law firm, and while that’s cool, that’s not really my demographic of who I work with. And so, I ended up having to say no. It was an in-person thing, and I was just like, “Ugh, it’s just such a bummer, but I just can’t make this work.” And they were like, “No problem! Actually, we have a virtual talk that we like to give to the women’s group. Could you do that?” And it was this weird, “Oh, wow, that’s a way better fit for me than that initial no, and I’m not saying that the no facilitated the yes to the women’s group. I might have assumed that they would have offered it to me anyway, but it was a great recognition for me that saying no to something doesn’t mean I won’t get the ask to do something else that might be even a better fit.

So that was just a great lesson for me that I just share that with you. Assume more opportunities will come your way. I know I’ve said this before. Of course there are the rare once-in-a-lifetime things, but I think they happen more infrequently than we think. I think there is more coming your way because of your work ethic, because of how great you are, because of the work product that you put out there, and you’re gonna continue to do that. So more opportunities will come, and that really helps ease my frustration and anxiety when I have to say no.

Point Four: Slow Roll It – 20:02

The fourth point is slow roll it, and I’ve talked about this before in the context of if you get the ask and you want to say no but you’re too scared to say no, so you feel like you would have to say yes, if instead you say, “You know what? Let me get back to you later,” that’s great, and that is wonderful, but that still stands. What I also like is slow rolling the yes when you want to say yes and just slowing yourself down because often we have that excitement feeling in the moment, and we want to say yes. It feels like a full-body yes. We’re super into it. Where, if we make ourselves wait 24 hours, that simmers down, and we can make our decision from a more emotionally stable place. You can still say yes, but at least then you know that it’s not an excitement-driven yes and more of like a this is really the smart move in a more measured way. You can feel like you’re making that decision from that measured place.

Point Five: Saying Yes More Rarely Helps Us Enjoy Our Yesses – 20:55

The final point I want to say is that we’re doing all of this, one, to help us feel more empowered and not just frustrated, which is great, but also because when we say yes to everything, again, it’s just by chance, then, what gets done because there’s too little time to do it all, so it’s almost like happenstance what gets done. If we say yes in a more rare, measured way, we’re more likely to get everything we say yes to done and done well and in a way we’re proud of, and we’re also more able to enjoy each of those things, because so often I think we say yes to things because, individually in a vacuum they’re awesome, but when they all combine, if you’ve overcommitted yourself, you’re not gonna enjoy any of them. The goal here is that we want to enjoy them as best we can, and by saying yes more rarely, then we get to actually enjoy them.

So I hope that that helps. I hope that even one of these approaches helps you shift out of the — and I totally get it — the crushing frustration of not getting to do everything you want to do with your time and more just saying, “You know what? This is neutral. There’s nothing I can do about it, and so, let me just embrace it and get more empowered and in control around where I want my time to go.”

All right, thank you for listening! I hope this is helpful, and I will talk to you soon!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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