Where does the time go? The common time traps that steal your time

time traps Oct 08, 2022

It’s hard to find a professional woman who doesn’t feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and too-busy most of the time. The phenomenon is even more pronounced among women of color, and working mothers. 

Women overwhelmingly carry an invisible workload in their place of employment, and the mental load in their homes. 

The chronic stress created by sustained overwhelm affects our physical and mental health. But when we speak to women about what it feels like to be constantly busy, what they express most often is that this busyness robs them of being present in the moments that matter, and the guilt of not showing up at their best in their personal relationships (spouses, kids, friends, relatives). 

At times it feels as if we’re not even the driver’s seat of our schedule anymore. How did we even end up here? And what can we do to change it?

One of the curses of being constantly overloaded is that it can be hard to pause and reassess. We may not notice the places where we’re giving away our time in ways that we don’t need to. And we don’t know how to reset our commitments to create more space for what matters.  

Our time and our attention are our most precious resources:

  • Time is non-renewable: Once a moment has expired, it will never return
  • Time is finite: We only have a certain amount of time today, this year, and in our life

In this blog post, we’ll talk about a few of the most common “time traps”. Places that are capturing too much of our time, and shouldn’t.


What’s a time trap?

The word Time Trap comes from Queueing Theory, and refers to non-value-added steps in a process that need to be eliminated. We’re borrowing this term from Queuing Theory because we think it has really relevant applications to managing our own time, energy, and attention.

When we apply this concept to the idea of being “busy” as professional women, how do we define “adding value”? Here’s a tentative definition. 

An activity is value-adding if:

  • It is aligned with a goal that matters to us 
  • It supports our growth and development, allowing us to build new skills and capacities
  • It provides an experience we value, cherish and is meaningful to us
  • It aligns with our personal values
  • It helps support our physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing 
  • It is expressly necessary for us to exist in society and avoid suboptimal future outcomes (think doing taxes, going to the doctor) 

It’s worth noting that this working definition is not meant to be binary. In many instances, whether something is value-adding has a lot to do with the quantity of that activity, and the appropriateness in the context of everything else we have going on.  

For example:

  • Regularly connecting with coworkers on a project might be necessary to achieve professional goals. Doing so for 30 minutes weekly might be value adding. Doing so for two hours each week may not.  
  • Spending a few minutes on social media to check in with friends and loved ones might be supportive of wellbeing. Spending hours scrolling Instagram may not. 


The most common time traps for busy women

Fragmented time

Our energy gets swindled away by constant and never ending interruptions. "On average, Americans check their phones 262 times per day—that's once every 5.5 minutes!". These constant distractions have a big impact: on average, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the original task after the interruption. And phones aren’t the only thing splintering our focus: we get email notifications, social media notifications, coworkers walking up to ask questions, Slack or chat disruptions. All these interruptions mean it takes longer to deliver tasks, and we feel more crunched to get everything done. 


So. Many. Meetings.

According to research on meetings, “time spent in meetings has more than tripled since February 2020”. Whoa. Has anyone’s time tripled since Feb 2020? Where is this time coming from? The research continues that “employees spend about 18 hours a week on average in meetings, and only decline 14% of invites even though they’d prefer to back out of 31% of them.” We show up to these meetings even if we know our time would be better used elsewhere. Questioning these commitments can free up a lot of time. 


Defaulting to Yes

We love to be helpful, and don’t think twice about saying yes to dozens of little (and some big) asks that come our way in any given week. An email that says “hey could you review…”, a fellow parent that asks “would you be able to bring cookies to the bake sale”, a cause you care about that reaches out asking for volunteers, a colleague adding you to a working session, your spouse asking you to take on the scheduling for the kids doctor’s appointments. The result: our days get cluttered with everyone else’s priorities, because we wanted to be a team player. 


High expectations for the “right way” to do things

We can be our own worst enemy by holding ourselves to an impossible standard for how things should be done. Like thinking our kids birthday party *must* have a homemade cake and carefully curated favor bags. Or feeling like it’s only a quality meal if everything is from scratch. It makes it hard to take shortcuts that cut our time obligations, and accept help where it would be valuable. Where might you be taking more time than you need to because your standards of yourself are unrelenting? 

We can also do this at work, by sprinting towards artificially aggressive timelines, or producing way too much, simply because we didn’t clarify. We’ve seen it often: a well meaning employee working all night because they thought the report needed to be in tomorrow, when next week would have been fine. Or creating a robust analysis from scratch to provide high accuracy, when an estimate would have been just fine. 


Ambiguous Priorities

When we’re overwhelmed and overloaded, we can slip into a reactive mode, letting our calendar and to-do list manage us. We then default to what’s urgent, or what’s right in front of us, rather than what’s really important. According to one study, people are spending more than half their day doing busy work

How Time Trapped Are You?

Want to assess whether these time traps are at play in your life? Take our “How Time Trapped Are You?” Quiz here! It’s a fun way to do a realistic assessment, and get brutally honest with yourself. It’s a fun way to take stock!



The silver lining

The good news is that awareness is the first step. If time traps are rampant in your life, it means there’s lots of opportunity for you to create space. We have two ways you can get some help.

First… TODAY (literally right now) you can start implementing some of the Time Trap Fixes we’ve laid out in our downloadable guide (it’s zero bucks, so make sure you snag it, we PROMISE it’s worth your time): 7 common time traps that keep career women feeling overwhelmed, and 7 easy actions to start defeating them today! 

Second…In just a few weeks, we’ll be launching a brand new program to help you learn exactly how to reclaim your time, step by step. This program was built by busy career women, FOR busy career women. We know your time is your most precious resource, and investing in yourself through this program will generate meaningful time for you. We’re opening up very few discounted early bird spots. By signing up for one, you’ll help shape the program experience!

If you struggle with time (like basically everyone we know), we know you’ll find these really helpful. Let us know what you think!

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