Ask the therapist: How can I stop feeling restless and inefficient?

In the “Consulting Therapist” series, I will answer all your questions about mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about living conditions, or just seeking the insights of a therapist, you can submit a question. Please pay attention to my answers to your questions in the Healthy Mind newsletter every Friday.

Our readers ask

“Sometimes I’m really upset. I turn on the TV, browse my phone, start a million projects or housework, but don’t really complete anything. I’m angry at myself for wasting so much time, but I really didn’t. Know what else to do. What can I do to feel better and more efficient?”

Amy’s answer

I can imagine that it is frustrating to feel like I am just passing the time and not accomplishing anything. Fortunately, you can use the following strategies to identify any problems and take control of your time, so you will feel better and more efficient.

Create time diary

The first step is to figure out where your time actually goes. For a week, record what you do every day.

You can create a simple paper diary that divides your day into 30-minute periods. Write down what you did during each time period, such as eating, watching TV, or browsing social media.

On the weekend, look at your log. Add up the time you spend on each activity—such as eating, sleeping, running errands, watching TV, working, and watching your phone.

You may be surprised to find that you spend more time watching TV than you think. Or you may find that you spend hours a day scrolling through social media (even if you only browse for 10 minutes at a time).

You may also find that you have a few free times a day with nothing to do-this is why you are walking around aimlessly.

Managing your time can help you start paying more attention to how you spend every minute of every day.

Establish an ideal schedule

After you realize where your time is going, develop an ideal timetable for yourself. How much time do you want to spend eating, exercising, working, sleeping, watching TV, and browsing social media?

Make sure you have enough time to build fun. Do you have any hobbies? Do you want to spend time with friends and family? Allow yourself to engage in leisure activities and make sure to include breaks in your schedule so that you can relax.

Develop a written ideal timetable for yourself. Determine how you will spend the day based on 30-minute increments. This can help you introduce more structure into your life.

Of course, you will not be able to fully comply with your schedule. You may answer a friend’s phone call when you are planning to do housework, or you may end up in a traffic jam, so it takes longer than you expected to run errands.

You may find that you underestimate the time required for some activities and overestimate the time required for other activities. It’s ok. You can make any adjustments you need, or you can make some different plans for the next week.

If you continue to do this exercise week after week, you will have a better estimate of how long certain tasks will actually take.

Track your emotions

You can also start to understand yourself better by paying attention to your emotions. When you find yourself walking around aimlessly, take a moment to ask yourself how you feel.

Or, how do you feel when you browse social media?

You may find that when you feel anxious, you turn to social media to distract you. Or you may find that when you feel lonely, you turn on the TV to try to make yourself feel better.

Although there is nothing wrong with using social media or TV as a general coping technique, problems may arise if they interfere with your daily life.

For example, if you are using social media to escape your financial troubles, browsing Instagram may just help you avoid problems, rather than face the budget crisis head-on.

Knowing your emotional state can help you develop healthier strategies for coping with stress. You may decide to deal with a situation that causes anxiety head-on, or you may decide to try more proactive strategies to manage boredom, such as finding hobbies.

Please ask for help if needed

Controlling your schedule may help you overcome boredom, irritability, anxiety, and frustration due to lack of productivity.

If you still have trouble controlling your time after trying these strategies, consider talking to a mental health professional.

Potential problems, such as depression, anxiety, and even ADHD, may be factors that lead to inefficiency at work. A licensed mental health professional can assess your needs and help you develop a plan that will make you feel better.