Escape the time trap: 10 top ways to get things done

Author Emma Grey woke up to the preciousness of life when her husband died from a heart attack. Here she tells Áilín Quinlan the secret to achieving big things is to focus on finding the nooks and crannies in your day.

Is it true that you never have time for the things that are most important?

It’s a question posed by work-life specialist and author Emma Grey, who admits she really only woke up to the sheer preciousness of daily life after the sudden death of her adored husband Jeffrey from a heart attack last summer.

“People tend not to use their available time well, because they’re too busy doing things they don’t really need to do,” says Emma, the mother of a five-year-old son.

“We make excuses, both because of a fear of failure and because we’re afraid of the changes that may come with success.”

Jeffrey’s death — which occurred last July when Emma and her co-author Audrey Tomas were in the throes of editing the manuscript of their new book — made both writers realise that life is truly precious and how quickly things can change.

“All the things that we waste our time on and the excuses we make are just holding us back from living the life we want,” she warns.

There are, indeed, days when these Aussie authors feel like the Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley of the time-management field; while others are doing the ‘top 10 things that all successful people do before breakfast’, they are stealing ‘five more minutes’ and wrangling school drop-offs in their pyjamas.

Like the rest of us, they’re all too familiar with the excuses that hold us back in our health and wellbeing, our careers, relationships, finances, home environments, personal development, and recreation, but they use humour, anecdotes, and research into productivity to flip the notion that we need great swathes of time to get ahead with things.

Instead, their focus is on finding the nooks and crannies in our day to achieve big things over time.

Here Emma Grey gives us the road map to efficacy in life with her 10 Top Ways to Get Things Done:

1. Stop eyeing other people’s greener grass

We waste a lot of time comparing ourselves to other people and feeling we don’t measure up, says Emma. “This disempowers us from taking the steps to do our own thing — we hold ourselves back.

“It’s tempting to gaze longingly at the lives of others, wishing we knew their secrets. We don’t know the reality of the lives that exists behind closed doors and glossy social media profiles. While we’re busy wondering ‘how’ she does it, she’s probably wondering ‘why’, and wishing things were different.”

2. Let go of perfect

Know the difference between doing a good job and becoming stuck in perfect, advises Emma.

“Whether it’s from fear of failure or Impostor Syndrome (the sense that you’re not as competent as people think you are and that you’ll shortly be found out), we waste a lot of time in perfectionism, because we’re afraid we’re not enough,” she says.

As a result, we can get stuck making marginal improvements that aren’t worth the energy or time invested and which, she warns, steal time from our progress in crucial areas.

3. Ask for help

Playing the martyr, people pleasing, thinking ‘nobody does it as well as I do’… we complicate our lives when we insist on doing it all on our own, our way, she warns. “The buck doesn’t always stop with us. Contrary to how we sometimes see it, the place won’t fall down in our absence.”

We’ll cry: ‘I’m an independent person. I don’t want to inconvenience people. I can handle it.’

However, says Emma, it’s not about becoming lazy or needy or selfish and having everyone run around ‘doing life’ for you. It’s about divorcing help from pride and embracing the strength and friendship that springs from true vulnerability.

4. Unclog the overwhelm

Just. Get. Started. Don’t become caught up with getting all your ducks in a row, she advises. “It’s a trap to believe we must always sort out our priorities before taking action,” Emma warns.

“Step one is about doing something. Anything. It’s about reaching out in the dark and extracting one brick from the imposing wall in front of you — any brick — and letting some light in.” Start anywhere, with what you have and where you are, she suggests.

5. Put what you love first

Want to write a novel or train for a half-marathon? Plunge into it first thing, instead of promising to do it later as a kind of ‘reward’ for getting ‘all the things’ done. “If you do something you love only as a reward for getting through other things, you may never get around to doing that thing you love,” Emma warns.

“It’s surprising how much faster we can plough through the more routine aspects of our lives after we’ve purposefully carved time for what matters more.”

6. Know it’s never too late

Remember, you don’t need to have it all worked out by a certain age. “It’s inevitable that we’ll change course many times throughout our lives,” Emma observes. “Many of the world’s most successful writers, artists, and entrepreneurs didn’t start the careers they’re now known for until much later in their lives.”

7. Do things afraid

Don’t allow fear to stop you doing things and don’t wait until you feel confident enough to do it.

“Confidence is the result of doing scary things with courage,” explains Emma. “We don’t need confidence to get off the couch and take a big step in our careers or personal lives.

“We need courage, and the knowledge that growth often feels uncomfortable, because it’s new.”

8. Persist

It’s easy to look for ‘signs’ that we’re on the wrong track. We can build a whole story around our minor failures.

Face it, she says: “Things will go wrong. Things won’t work. Rejection hurts.

“We can choose to stay safe from disappointment by doing what we’ve always done, or we can choose the arguably less dangerous path of taking risks and avoiding long-term regret over the important things we didn’t strive for hard enough.”

9. Create white space

Avoid the social media swamp, counsels Emma.

Switch off your TV and your computer. Don’t read the comments. Avoid fruitless exchanges under controversial articles posted on Facebook. Put down the remote control for the television. Switch off, power down and spend time only in activities that increase energy rather than drain it.

“Do this and offline extra time will ‘magically’ reveal itself.”

10. Give meaning to your ‘yes’

Decide what is the most important thing you need to do and say yes to that.

Next, be prepared to say no to the other things.

“Take your most important things, whatever they are, and move them into the inner circle of your life,” she advises. “Every time we allow something that matters less to invade that circle, we’re chipping away at the value we placed on those precious people and personal dreams.”

I Don’t Have Time — 15-minute ways to shape a life you love, Emma Grey and Audrey Thomas, €17.99 | Exisle, published February 2.

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