Feel Overwhelmed and Stressed? It’s time for you to track your time.

Many people in our industrialized world have “busyness delusion,” or the mistaken belief that we are busier than we really are.

This may be difficult to accept, but many of us think we work more hours than we actually do.

If you immediately read this and thought, “I really am working too many hours. It’s not in my head,” I understand. I thought the same thing. Bear with me.

Men today work about 12 hours less per week than they did in the 1970s. Women work more, partly because more women have full-time jobs than they did 50 years ago — but their unpaid labor has dropped by double digits. When working mothers kept time diaries for several weeks, they found they had much more time with their children than they thought.

Regardless of whether you’re working excessive hours or not, believing that you are short on time has real, damaging effects. Keeping an eye on the clock, even subconsciously, can lead to a sharp drop in performance.

Research shows that when you are highly aware of time passing, it makes you less compassionate toward others. What’s more, it can interfere with your ability to make rational decisions.

Because of this, feeling pressed for time can lead you to make bad choices about how you use it, and this can quickly become a vicious cycle. Having no clear understanding of how you spend your time can leave you feeling more overwhelmed, which can cause you to make decisions that lead to more stress and anxiety, which feeds the sense that you’re pressed for time and leads to your feeling even more overwhelmed.

An understanding of how your hours are spent is known as “time perception.” People who have high time perception and are very aware of their schedules actually tend to set aside more time for leisure. These people allow for time to contemplate and reflect, which gives them the sense that they have more time.

Here’s how to sharpen your time perception.

Step 1: Track your time

Begin by keeping a diary and tracking your activities. Be honest! If you spent a half hour on Twitter, note that down. If you spent 20 minutes looking at shoes online, write that down too. No one will see this diary but you, and the more honest you are, the more helpful this exercise will be.

Once you know how much you’re working, how much you’re spending on social media, and how much you’re spending on leisure, you can begin to ask yourself some important questions, like: How much time do I want to spend on social media or email? Do I want to exercise every day? How much time should it take to eat dinner?

Use the answers tothese questions to create guidelines for yourself.

Step 2: Make a schedule

If you have decided that you want to spend no more than 90 minutes a day on email and social media. To accomplish that, you may need to make drastic changes.

You may find it useful to create an ideal schedule for what is important to you, for example, one for gym days and one for the rest. You may find it more useful to create a schedule for weekdays and another for weekends.

Ask yourself: What’s the ideal use of my time on a daily basis? Create a list of the things you want to do every day, plus the things you have to do, then spread them over your waking hours. Here’s an example of what those schedules look like:

Gym Days

7:00 Wake/take care of the dog/dress

7:30 Walk the dog

8:30 Gym

9:30 Shower

9:45 Meditate

10:00 Email and social media

10:30 Write/work

12:30 Lunch

1:00 Short walk

1:30 Write/work

3:30 Free time and meditate

5:30 Walk the dog

6:30 Dinner

7:30 Free time

9:00 Bath or self-care

10:00 Bed

Non-Gym Days

7:00 Wake/take care of the dog/dress

7:30 Walk the dog

8:00 Meditate

8:30 House chores and errands

9:30 Email and social media

10:00 Write

12:30 Lunch

1:00 Short walk

1:30 Write

3:30 Free time and meditate

5:30 Walk the dog

6:30 Dinner

7:30 Free time

9:00 Bath or self-care

10:00 Bed

These schedules should not be seen as restrictive but supportive; they are merely suggestions. If your day changes with things that come up, maybe spend less time on social media or the dog gets three walks a day instead of four, but the basic underpinnings remain the same.

Your schedule is an ideal schedule, remember, an ideal is rarely the same as real.

Print out your schedules and hang copies in  your office. After following them for a few weeks, you will be surprised to discover that you had plenty of time to do everything you want to do, with hours to spare.

It is powerful moment when you truly understand that your work was not out of control or unmanageable, a tangible wave of relief sweeps through your body. You have enough time!

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