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When Anxiety Makes Time Management Unmanageable

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I am a bad decision maker. I am the girl who will stand at Burger King refusing to even join the line until I have hemmed and hawed my way through a 10-minute decision-making process. This is an even more impressive feat given their limited menu and my extremely picky eating habits.

I have long known making decisions triggers my anxiety as I easily buy into the self-defeating thought that whatever decision I make will be the wrong one. And yet the prospect of having choices made for me, or prepared in advance, does not alleviate my discomfort as you may expect. In fact, if anything, it makes it worse.

Having discovered this to be true is how I realized my fear of making poor choices is no match for my fear of losing control.

This is always an issue I have dealt with. The most prevalent example of this is my insistence on whenever possible being the person to drive. Riding as a passenger in someone else’s car, even if we are going to something to do something with a set time limit like watching a film, takes away my ability to choose when I leave. Do I plan to duck out of a movie halfway through? No. But just knowing I do not have the option to act independently and leave causes me a great deal of discomfort.

You may expect creating a schedule for myself in advance would be the easy way around this issue. I won’t stall out on making a choice if it is already made, but I won’t lose any real control since I am the one making the decisions on the schedule. A brilliant option for most, but for me it is simply a prison of my own making.

You see, laying out a set schedule rather than making decisions as I come to them turns my entire day’s plan into an obligation. I detest obligations, though I am well aware there is no way to completely avoid them. Being obligated to do something takes away my control of a situation, even if I am the person who planned/assigned/volunteered for the task at hand. It is ridiculous in a way, but also easy to understand the thinking behind. When given in abstract terms as above, the concept seems logical; in practice however, it seems somewhat more absurd.

For instance: I am obligated to work every day as a part of being a full-time employee. I even enjoy my job and co-workers. However, it can still trigger my anxiety and be stressful to know I can back out if I don’t feel up to doing the work. During bad mental episodes, a vicious cycle of “I’m stressed because I might lose my job if I have to call out, but I may have to call out due to the stress of possibly losing my job” takes root. On the other hand, once I am at work and closing time rolls around, I am completely fine with, and sometimes happy, to stay overtime and work past my obligations.

Another issue for me with scheduled time management is the anxiety of timing. I do not have a very good sense of time. In fact, one of my go-to time measurements comes down to how many times I could watch “Titanic” at any given moment as it is a concrete example of three hours. This makes scheduling somewhat of a guessing game because if I do not perform a given task consistently, I rarely am able to guess the amount of time that should be allotted for it.

This leaves me with either large gaps of time between tasks where I have overestimated how long something will take or I end up racing to finish things in the allotted time. This causes not only making, but following a schedule almost more stressful than just doing things at random as I see fit without losing any of the control chasing a schedule forces on you.

Simply said, time management is a game I must constantly play but cannot win. I either sacrifice my perceived control and stick to a rigid and often inaccurate schedule or I allow myself to choose how I spend my time and end up putting off mundane and monotonous tasks and only move forward outside of my obligations. I hope to someday strike a balance, but just recognizing where my problem lies has been enough to help me start to work on fixing my problems in this area. And knowing I am not the only person who struggles with this kind of issue makes me feel less weird and alone.

Getty image by MangoStar_Studio

Originally published: October 11, 2019
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