Leaders – How your self talk is wasting you time

Over the past few weeks I’ve heard a lot of people talking about time, or the fact that there’s not enough time and too much to do.

These have ranged from:

Sitting on a train listening to the lady behind me telling her friend about how she had loads to do and she had no idea how it was going to get done.

My friend worrying as her workload had increased and she didn’t know how she was going to fit it all in…

And colleagues saying they had work coming out of their eyeballs and couldn’t get it all done in time.

This isn’t too much of a surprise as time management is probably the topic that I get asked about most often.  But this time as I was taking all this in, and offering practical tips where possible (well to everyone apart from the lady on the train) I found myself thinking the same thing.

‘I’ve got too much to do’

‘I can’t fit it all in’

‘I’m never going to get it all done.’

‘There’s not enough time today’

And as I was going through my day these thoughts kept whirring in my head

‘I’ve got too much to do; I’ve got too much to do, I’ve got too much to do’

‘I’m never going to get it all done, I’m never going to get it all done, I’m never going to get it all done’

Round and round and round my head over and over again…the same thoughts….

And as I went through my day, I went from feeling motivated and energised to  ….tense, agitated, and worried…which quite quickly turned into feeling stress, overwhelm and panic.

So, there I was still trying to work, but now I started to procrastinate. Overwhelm makes me do that. Rather than face the picture, I’ll do something else instead…anything instead…and it’s usually a lot less important.

My brain had stopped focusing, I was dithering with what I was doing and I felt completely out of sync…but this time I was thinking…’I didn’t get done what I needed to’ . ‘I knew I had too much to do’

It was then that I realised what the problem was.

I had done this to myself.

My self talk had completely backed me into a corner and it had become a self fulfilling prophecy.  I’d been telling myself I wasn’t going to get my work done all day, so of course it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that this was the reason why. It doesn’t matter how many times I blamed other things, in actual fact on this occasion I had been the one to set myself up to fail.

The way we talk to ourselves can have a profound effect on so many things from our self esteem, our confidence and of course how we manage our day. But for so many of us, it’s just something that we do thinking we’re spurring ourselves on, rather than thinking it could be having a detrimental effect.

So, if you’re ready to try to play a different message in your mind to take back control of your day have a go at these tips.

1.Catch your self talk and turn it into a positive

Our self talk is a habit just like anything else – so it can be re-wired. Be more aware of what you’re saying to yourself and have a go at replacing the negatives with a positive. So instead of ‘I’ll never get it all done’ try ‘I’ll get done what I need to’ or ‘I’m really productive today.’ It takes time but well worth the effort.

2. Take time out to re-focus and connect

Just because your day has started off badly, doesn’t mean it has to end that way. If you feel like it’s spiraling out of control take a minute to clear your desk, clear your mind and re-focus on what you need to get done rather than trying to do everything all at once.

3. Be realistic

So often one of the major problems with managing time is not the time but the fact that we’re trying to do everything in one day. You can’t squeeze a hundred marshmallows into your mouth at once, so why even try?  Instead focus on the one thing that if you got done you’d feel amazing about, and then go onto the next.

4. Make a list of what you’ve actually got done as well as what you’ve got to do

Although I love a good to do list, I also keep a celebration journal as well. You can call it what you like but for me it’s a record of my wins. What went well today. That way, I can look back at my day and tell myself  ‘I got loads done.’ ‘I was productive’, and I end the day feeling great.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage your time and your self talk. Let me know by leaving a comment.


  1. Mike Harvey

    There was once an American television show named HOMICIDE: Life On The Streets. The Homicide Squad kept a white board listing all of their cases. New cases went up in red. Once, closed, they were replaced with the same information in black. I adopted the same scheme for tracking my major project milestones and that white board mostly covered in black words at the end of the year is beautiful to behold.

    • Barbara Nixon

      What a great idea. I have a similar process where I write any unplanned tasks at the bottom of my list so I can always see how much I’ve actually got done. But I love the idea of changing the colour so you can see what you’ve achieved through the year. Thanks for sharing Mike.

  2. Beth

    I read somewhere that instead of creating a “to do” list, you should instead book the things you need to do right into your calendar. That way you make time to get the things on your “to do” list done. I used to be overwhelmed by my “to do” list but not anymore (or at least a lot less than before!).

    • Barbara Nixon

      What a good idea to book your to do list straight into your calendar. Love it. Thanks for sharing Beth.

  3. Sam Moyers

    Good article and two good suggestions too. Prioritize your list first and work on #1 first until you finish or need to wait for approval, data, etc. Then go to #2. Etc. for the day. That way at the end of your day you have invested your time in the most important tasks regardless of how many you finish.

    • Barbara Nixon

      I’m a big fan of doing one thing at a time, Sam. You’re right it really does help to invest time in your most important tasks whenever possible. Thanks so much for your comment.

  4. Jason Harris, MBA, PE

    I encourage folks to replace their 8×11 notepad of to-dos with a 2×2 post-it (I write small). That way, whatever is on the post-it gets done that day.

    • Barbara Nixon

      I love this idea Jason. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sharon Kaur

    Hi Barbara
    I usually use the calendar method for home and work.
    But the colours on to do list is a good idea…my line manager at work does that for our meeting action points so we know what status each task is at!


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