Worrying About Time Management

One of the main thing that interferes with my practice is my worrying about managing time. I worry about scheduling meetings, activities, appointments, social commitments, work-related responsibilities, etc. I have come to realize that worrying about how I spend my time is one of my main attachments that I am trying to overcome through my practice.

It seems almost an inevitability that in the contemporary world humans are required to be preoccupied with scheduling and time management. Even the monks at the Wat I attend have to manage their time. A commentary I read recently on the Five Hindrances noted that in the world today planning is a necessity but that planning should not be confused with worrying about the future.

To me, there is a fine line between planning and worrying about the future.

Does anyone have any suggestions for overcoming worry about managing time and scheduling the activities of contemporary life? All suggestions would be much appreciated.

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The book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen might be worth a look. Knew a guy quite a long time ago who was big into this time management book (the book has something of a cult following). So read it myself and found it very good and have been using some aspects of its approach since then. As these types of books go, IMO it’s good and you’ll probably pick up something useful from it.

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Time won’t stop; no worries. Time will stop; no worries.

If either or both are true, if neither is true, :slight_smile: no worries.

May it be of use. When not of use, blink! it’s gone.

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Thanks for the suggestion. I will definitely look into this. I have never had a problem with time management. My problem is worrying about how I spend my time and worrying about whether upcoming events represent the best use of my time. So it is not so much the management of time as the worry about the management of time.

I have become painfully aware that it is this worry about time management that hinders my practice. I suppose that being aware of this is a good step towards adjusting my concentration so that I focus more on being mindful of the present and the impermanence of time rather than worrying about how I use that time.

As the Rolling Stones sang, “Time waits for no one, and it won’t wait for me.”

Plan out your time and then stop thinking about it.

Acknowledge that you can’t “do it all”.

Write out a schedule for what you can do, picking out the highest priorities. Tell yourself you are doing the best you can to account for the most important things and that nobody else can do more.

Then forget about it until it comes time to do your next activity.


Sage advice. Much appreciated. Thank you.

Yes, nice advice from @Jhana4 . It sounds like prioritising may be your problem. If you know that you have set your priorities correctly then you will automatically stop worrying that you are not making the best use of your time.

My first boss suggested that whenever anyone asked me to do something (including myself ) I should note it down, put it in my bottom desk drawer and concentrate on what was in front of me on my desk. If they asked me again, I should take it out of the drawer and put it on the desk at the bottom of the pile of things to do. The key point here is that I should only do what was on my desk. If it really is sufficiently important to actually be done, it will remain in the drawer for a very short period of time - someone will hassle you to do it. If not, then what’s the point of doing it? When I reach the bottom of the pile on my desk, then I can address the things in the drawer if I feel like it. Usually, the time has passed by which they could’ve been useful and they can be thrown in the bin.


The central approach of Getting Things Done (GTD) is that all to-do’s go down on paper (or on computer) in a list: whether it’s some interesting Buddhist book I’d like to get around to reading, or the toothpaste is running low, an appointment, or some cool idea that I might want to do someday occurs to me (essentially maintaining a kind of mind dump of everything to do on paper).

You may have calendar-based lists for stuff that has to be done at specific times or by certain deadlines, “next” lists for stuff that needs to be done in the immediate future, “someday” lists for stuff that might be cool to do someday. GTD suggests you not have a vague “project” entries in lists but further break these down into a list of concrete actionable project steps (so if you’ve time to do some work on it, then it’s obvious what immediately needs to be done without thinking too much).

Could all easily be done using pen and paper, but I personally use a generic tree-based editor (used to be KeyNote but was getting a bit dated and have moved to NoteCase, which works on linux as well as Windows). I briefly review and update my lists every night and have a bigger review once a week.

I also keep a list of goals in various parts of my life (GTD does suggest longer-term overviews; this is my own idiosyncratic version of that). About every two months, I do a review of how I’m doing with these. Do a complete review of everything (including everything in the someday/maybe lists); how has the past 2 months gone, how am I using my time, think about my daily pattern etc. Do I need to make some change? Kind of like making New Year’s resolutions. However, I’ve found in the past that the enthusiasm behind New Year’s resolutions tended to last only about a month or two. More regular is probably better (and the aimed goal/changes also tend to be more modest and gradually accumulate over time).

GTD is mostly just common sense but put together in a nice fairly systematic way. If everything goes in an appropriate list that you review often, then you can be sure you won’t forget about it. And if you spend some time every so often thinking about what’s essential to do, what might be nice to do if you have the time etc. then everything’s to hand and the short-term tasks needing to be done usually seem clear. And it’s nice to do a higher level/more global overview every so often (try to see the wood from the trees). All just common sense but with a more organized structure (maybe a bit too organized for many people’s tastes but works for me anyway :wink: ).

It has been years (about a decade) since I actually read the book (adapted the parts of it I liked and ignored the rest). Easy to find quite short summaries of its approach, e.g. here. It seems to be a kind of classic in the area (though this is the only book of this type I’ve ever actually read; were more than enough ideas in it to keep me going :slight_smile: ).


Thank you very much for the summary. People here are more than kind in their assistance.


@Metaphor some things to consider: what’s your greatest fear when you are running late to meet that time deadline? Is it a deadline, or have you turned it into one? What’s the worst that can happen if you run over? Under what circumstances will they be forced to fire you? Is not delivering a certain task less than that?

What happened in the past when you ran over time - what’s the worst that has happened? According to your past performance are you likely to get it done on time, and if so, what is the usefulness of worrying? Do you think worrying improves chances of meeting targets or reduces it. Do you think worrying will help you remember tasks, better than a checklist would? Is it a hindrance to the path of practice?

You can also get intentionally or unintentionally late and see how bad it really is compared to how bad you thought before it. You can score it out of 10 (10/10 before and 3-4/10 after for example). There are irrational thoughts behind the anticipatory anxiety which need to be identified and challenged. We may unintentionally think that worrying is beneficial to us somehow. This maintains the worrying. Cognitive behavioural therapy methods can be helpful.

With metta

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So many thanks Mat! I do believe you have identified much of what is behind my worrying about time. I have become acutely aware of how this worry affects my ability to be mindful. I am addressing it through a variety of means including therapy, mild medication, and perhaps most importantly, meditation and my Buddhist practice.

I am endeavoring to use my practice to uncover my clinging to desire to win approval through staying busy in my work. It is a challenge since I work in academia and the need to “publish or perish” invites a tendency towards working as a lifestyle as opposed to a mere job.

What I am finding particularly useful is precisely that examination of the sources of my attachments, the hypothetical consequences of curtailing the worry, and a meditative practice which allows thoughts of worry to be seen as impermanent. The more I reveal the impermanence of my worries the more I am able to see them as not-self and therefore relieve my suffering.

It’s easy to write this, but a daily challenge to actually undertake. Your comments and suggestions, Mat, as always, are sincerely appreciated!

With metta


A suggestion would be some cognitive reframing: to make the worry part of your practice rather than opposed to it. After all, practice and worry are both conditioned things to be seen in the light of anicca, dukkha, anatta. Perhaps we can try approaching them in a similar way which may lessen the division between them a bit, maybe relieving some tension in the process.

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Thank you for this suggestion! I will definitely try this.