As a new lawyer, I walked around constantly worried I’d drop a major ball, feeling overwhelmed, and worried someone would discover I did not, in fact, have it all together. I was drowning in work and couldn’t reconcile how other people seemed to accomplish their workload without crumbling. As a result, despite looking like I had it together on the outside, inside, I lacked the confidence to stand up for myself and didn’t enjoy practicing as much as I wanted to.
Have you ever felt that way about your business, career, or life? Like everyone else got a magic “how to adult” handbook that you somehow missed out on? Like you have this great opportunity in front of you, but you can’t even enjoy it because you’re too worried about mucking it up?
If this is or has been you, you’re not alone. So many women struggle with feeling like they’re failing, falling behind, or just barely keeping up with their long list of obligations. It sucks the joy and fun out of life while feeding the Imposter Syndrome monster. You fall prey to the idea that you or your efforts aren’t good enough, but if you just worked harder… maybe, maybe it’ll get better. That’s a dangerous mindset to have.
If you’re anything like I was back then, you might think that you’re bad at time management or productivity, which feeds that imposter syndrome. But I have some great news for you: you likely just have a work management system that doesn’t function well for you. Luckily, there’s a solution for that.
Getting on top of my time management challenges solved my imposter syndrome
Time management is a tricky thing. As women, we’re not taught systems that naturally work for us. Instead, we’re stuck with to-do lists and advice that doesn’t take into account our unique roles, responsibilities, and mental load. Many of these systems fail us because they make us feel like we are lacking when the truth is, that’s not the case.
Once I stopped trying to live by my paper planner (and I loved my paper planner!) and to-do lists and upgraded to a more streamlined, modern system to manage it all, I began to feel the stress and anxiety easing. A few months after creating a time management system that actually helped me get it all done with a lot more clarity, my imposter syndrome was gone and I was enjoying life again. I can’t tell you how amazing and empowering it felt. I no longer stressed about dropping a ball. I didn’t worry about someone discovering I didn’t have it together because, truth was, I did. When spending time with friends, my mind no longer raced with thoughts of projects I hadn’t finished or concerns about when I’d follow up with that opposing counsel. Instead, I knew that even if something wasn’t completed, I had time protected in the future to handle it. No need to feel any pressure to do it now. I could relax and enjoy my time off because everything else was already mapped out.
Here’s how I did it.
Death to post-it notes and to-do lists
Blasphemy, I know. But the way women have been taught to track to-do lists and post-it notes holds them back daily, particularly when there is a simple solution that can replace all of them. Ready for it?
This may sound overly simplified but stick with me. When you calendar your tasks, you’re developing a more intimate relationship with the length of time things take to complete. Instead of having a confusing list of things you need to do, you’re tying each task to the time you’ll take to complete it, protecting a certain amount of time to do it, and making sure it fits with everything else you’ve got going on that day—which gives you way more clarity than to-do lists and post-it notes can.
To do this effectively, you want to take all of your tasks, projects, and activities and break them down into bite-sized steps. Then look at when the overall task or project needs to be completed and assign time blocks for the bite-sized pieces working backward.
If you’re new to calendaring tasks, give yourself about twice as much time as you think you’ll need to get each task done. That way, if you run into a roadblock, you’ve added in time to protect the project. Not to mention, you may not know how long something will take to complete (we humans are notoriously bad at estimating how long things take us), so by giving yourself double the amount of time you think something will take, you can give yourself more breathing space and reduce your stress. Better to stumble upon bonus time than constantly find yourself rolling stuff over to the next day!
Why it works so well
Plotting all of your tasks and activities out in your calendar gives you a much better, objective view of your workload.
Going back to when I was a young attorney suffering from imposter syndrome, getting that clarity about how I’d get it all done was huge. Calendaring time to do each bite-sized step helped me to see how everything could get done over time, instead of right now, which gave me the confidence that I was not behind and actually had a plan to get it all done. This meant I could take the mental load off of my plate and focus on the task at hand.
Seeing it all mapped out in my calendar also empowered me to make decisions about what to prioritize, and I suddenly felt way more confident saying “no” to new projects or asking for help. Now I could see when I objectively had too much on my plate and could back it up with specific details.
Can you imagine how much your life would change if you weren’t worried about how you’d get it all done – if you had the peace of mind to know that everything you needed to do would not only get done on time but with quality care and significantly less stress? How would that change the time you spend with your partner, children, family, friends, even yourself? Instead of having that looming uncertainty and those nagging concerns interrupt your attempts to relax, you could actually take a shower or read a book and enjoy it.