I’ve spent way too much time in life looking for my keys. I’ve never calculated exactly how much: I’m afraid it’ll run into years, or decades.
My husband was at his wits’ end watching me frantically run around the house, all the while stressing about being late for work or church. “You have to get a handle on this,” he’d say, exasperated. “The older you get, the worse it becomes.”
I had no idea how to correct the problem. For a day or two, I’d mindfully note where I had placed my keys. But before long I’d arrive home at the end of the day, distracted, and the keys would mysteriously vanish from my hand. I’d find them much later in the kitchen cupboard, inside a recycled grocery bag, in the space between bed frame and mattress…
This is a pretty common problem for people. In fact, author Marilyn Paul wrote a whole book about it: It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys. This is the best book I’ve ever read about time management and organization — and I’ve read a few. Instead of simply offering strategies to make life more efficient, she delves into the why: what long-held beliefs or habits are holding us back?
Some people, for example, are habitually late. They may blame the behaviour on a host of unrelated circumstances. But, as Dr Phil says, you can’t always be late unless you work at it. If such behaviour were truly accidental and random, these people would arrive on time fairly frequently. When someone is repeatedly late, something else is at work.
Let’s take a deeper look at some reasons why people fail to manage their time effectively:
1. They consistently underestimate how long it takes to do something. Until fairly recently, I frequently arrived 3-5 minutes late for work. I knew it took exactly seven minutes for me to drive from my house to my office, because I had timed it. So I’d leave home about 7:50 or 7:52 a.m. Unfortunately, I had failed to take into account such things as red lights, the weather, construction zones, detours, poky pedestrians, and that pesky key problem. I was, as a result, almost always late for work. Building some extra space into my driving time solved the problem.
2. They’re so overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that they resist getting started. In a previous post, I spoke about the benefits of chunking large tasks into smaller ones. Never tell yourself that you have to “clean the garage.” Instead, ponder creative ways of arranging the garden rakes. Once they’re hanging nicely in a row, turn your attention to those oil cans.
3. They’re addicted to the adrenaline rush. For people who are continually in a rush, the chemical cocktail of adrenaline and dopamine becomes their normal. High-sensation experiences range from the extreme (skiing down Everest) to the mundane (rushing off to work at the last possible moment). Weaning yourself off these high-octane chemicals is an important step toward health and well being. That’s why I advise people to go slow to get ahead.
4. They have a deep-seated belief that governs their behaviour (thank you, Marilyn Paul). Complete the following sentence: People who are always on time are __________. If you answered with “boring … uptight … anal…over-eager,” you may want to reexamine your belief systems.
5. They’re perfectionists. This seems counter-intuitive but stay with me. Some people dwell so long on a previous task that they can’t effectively move on to the next. Nothing is ever “good enough.” Or perhaps the next stage of a task isn’t quite as rewarding as the early stages. For me, researching is big fun: a writer can never do too much research, right? Writing, on the other hand, feels like work. I usually have to give myself a hard kick to move into the composing phase.
6. They don’t like to be told what to do. Some people simply resist authority: as children, lagging behind may have been their only way to exert some independence. Many will subconsciously carry the behaviour into adulthood. If you live with someone who does this, continual reminders that they will be late will only reinforce the pattern. My advice is to make them responsible for their own behavour: just leave them behind!
Let’s get back to me and my keys. The solution to my problem came from my friend Cindy: “I never see you without your phone,” she said. “Why not keep keys and phone together?”
That set me off in search of something that would hold both. A friend had recently gifted me with a tiny pouch that I now wear slung across my body at all times.
The other day, a workshop participant from the healthcare field said to me, “I was wondering what you keep in there. I thought maybe it was diabetes medication.”
I won’t say I never misplace my keys but such incidents are very rare. Now, Mark is happy. I’m happy. What more can you ask in these years of living backwards?
Pssst You can take a look inside Marilyn Paul’s book at Amazon.