There are oodles of things we want to do in our lives, but we often convince ourselves we don’t have the time for it.
Sometimes it’s the honest truth — we’re occupied with a big move or work is requiring more hours of us or we need to finalize our own personal side project or whatever. Being busy can be totally overwhelming, but it comes in waves. You’re occupied because of a project at work, but eventually it ends. Then a week later you have to plan your friend’s birthday party, but it eventually happens. Then you’re traveling for a week, but you do finally return. If you’re one of those people who claims to be perpetually busy but you have the same things on your plate all the time, then you’re either a) taking on too much to do or b) bad at managing a schedule (or both).
I am a firm believer that I am in control of my own destiny, and you are in control of yours. You have the choice to act and react however you want to in certain situations and to make whatever decisions you want. This thought process gives me a wonderful sense of freedom in my life, but it also means that I’m the one to blame when something doesn’t work. So when I feel like I’m too busy to enjoy the little things and do what I really want to be doing in life (hiking! hanging out with friends! traveling! and more!), I look inside myself and evaluate what I could do differently instead of making excuses or blaming others for my troubles.
I want you to have the time to do the things in life that fulfill you and make you happy. You deserve to feel like you have the time to do it all — work, learn, explore, relax, travel, support a family, study, volunteer, and anything your mind can dream up. So if you’ve given up hope on accomplishing something because you just don’t feel like you have the time, let’s try to figure out if, actually, you can do it — because I bet you can. It’s going to take a little bit of willingness to change some of your current habits, but hopefully in the end it will help you achieve those big and small goals you have for yourself.
The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what exactly is occupying your time. Can you break down what you did yesterday, to the minute? What about last Monday? It sounds a bit drastic to detail in your agenda every. last. minute. of your day, but take a few days to a week to do it. Keep track of how long you hit the snooze button before actually getting out of bed, to pick an outfit for the day, commute, take a lunch break, grab an after-work drink with your friend, take your yoga class, work on a personal project, watch some evening tv, get ready for bed, and so forth.
When I was in my Freshman 101 class in college, we were all asked to write down what we spent our last week doing, and to be as specific as possible. Most people, myself included, were pretty vague with details or just honestly couldn’t remember where we were or what we were doing a week prior. One girl had an incredibly detailed schedule, though, and kept track of the hours she allotted for sleep, schoolwork, rehearsal, dance classes, and everything in between. She’s now a successful actor booking work regularly in New York and for national tours. Obviously, her time management skills aren’t the only thing to attribute her success to, but she certainly wouldn’t be booking consistent work and achieving her dreams if she were sloppy at scheduling.
Use an agenda, a small notebook, or an app on your phone and see what’s taking up your sweet, sweet time. Not only is this incredibly useful in supporting an alibi if you were to be accused of a crime, but it will help you figure out the source of some of your problems.
While you’re doing this, start to think on how you’d actually like your time to be divided.
To get the wheels rolling, in an ideal world, how long every day would you like to spend:
* working the job that gives you your main income
* watching television
* working on a side business/freelancing
* hanging out with friends
* taking a class (French, painting, dance, etc.)
* getting ready for work
* cooking meals
* spending time with your partner
* planning a future trip
* maintaining your house or living space
* enjoying free time without a particular dedicated purpose (even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, it’s important to have as well!)
Remember to include things that you really really wish you could do right now but currently aren’t. This is particularly where you should be thinking about the adventures you’d like to have but never feel like you have the time to do. Perhaps you’d like to attend one new activity or event in your city each month, enroll in a swing dancing class, read a new book, hike part of the PCT, master bowling, attend more MeetUps, or care for a dog, but you just never feel like you have the time to squeeze it in. Whatever it is, and no matter how crazy it sounds, write it down. I’d personally love to take a dance class and get to a few museums I’ve yet to see in SF, so those would be near the top of my list.
Now, once a week has passed and you have a clearer idea of what’s keeping you so busy, you can get to work.
First, look for easy fixes:
* Maybe you never realized you spend 40 minutes every morning hemming and hawing over what to wear. It might be easier if you set out your clothing the night before.
* You might not have ever noticed that anytime you sit down at your computer to work on a small business you’d like to start in the future you also hop on Facebook for about an hour. Instead, set small goals for your project every time you work, and once you complete them you can reward yourself with some (timed) mindless internet-ing.
* Is your commute time unbearable? Consider trying alternate routes or methods of transportation to work (carpooling, bus, train, bike, etc.).
* Perhaps you’re wanting to be more productive when you get home from work but can never find the energy and instead take a nap. Evaluate your sleeping habits and make sure you’ve set a reasonable bedtime for yourself and stick to it.
* There’s a chance you’ve taken on too many freelance projects and have to work until 2am each night to get them all done in time. Use those projects as a gauge so you don’t take on too many projects in the future.
These easy fixes can be changed mostly by being more aware, promising to change your habits, and following through. For example, I can sometimes waste 30 minutes or more in bed hitting the snooze button. It’s completely unnecessary — I’m already awake — but I’ve found that once my alarm goes off if I take a moment and stretch a little in bed, I perk right up and don’t feel nearly as groggy as I thought I was. Problem solved!
And while these should be easy fixes, sometimes they’ll be more like “easy” fixes. Habits can be hard to break, so don’t be fooled into thinking that you’ll just magically be able to create 2 more hours of time in your day. Likely, changing some of your habits will be a process and might take a bit of time. However, if you’re really wanting to create more time for the adventure you crave, these are the best places to start!
Now, that’s all fine and dandy for the commitments you have control over, but what about the ones you have little to no control over, time-wise? You probably have dedicated times you have to be at work, for example. Maybe you don’t have other options for commuting and are stuck with an hour and a half commute time. Perhaps you’re responsible for getting your niece to karate every Tuesday evening. There are certain commitments that just require the time.
For these situations, I’d first recommend getting creative and consolidating in some ways. For example, you might dedicate 30 minutes at the end of your day to watch the news, but could you listen to it on your way to work, instead? And you might want to read a few chapters of a new book every afternoon, but could you read while you wait at your niece’s karate class? Little things, like prepping the evening’s dinner while you’re waiting for your pop-tarts to heat up in the morning or making your weekly call home while you walk around the neighborhood for some exercise can give you extra time for other things. It will require a little willingness to experiment and figure out what does and doesn’t work, but it’s worth it.
Also, be honest with yourself. It can be hard to ditch an activity that you’ve been trying out for a while, but if you really don’t like doing it then, um, why do it? If choir practice isn’t bringing you the same joy it used to, then maybe you should take a break. Look at the list of things you wish you could spend your time doing, and take the time you’ve now opened up and do one of those instead! You can always go back to something you cut from your schedule, so don’t keep doing something just for old times’ sake.
So as far as work is concerned, make sure you’re being treated and paid or rewarded fairly for the time you work. People get wrapped up in work and put their sole value as a human being into a job. So if you’re one of the many people out there with job woes, it can really hurt you, personally. Just remember that you are not your job, okay?
It’s one thing to be insanely busy from time to time with work but to be compensated well for it — it’s another thing to be taken advantage of continually. I once had a job where I was forced to clock out for my lunch break, but would still have to remain at the front desk, food in hand, while I answered phones and helped any costumers who came in. That was a half hour that was supposedly my time to eat, read, call my parents, or whatever I wanted my break to entail, but I was technically required to still work and not get paid for it. Boo.
If your time and energy are being eaten up by your job, before you march into your boss’s office and yell, “I QUIT!” in a blaze of glory, it’s a good idea to evaluate what could change to make you happy to stay there. A little pro tip one of my former roommates told me that’s really stuck with me: “Bosses don’t like it when you approach them with a problem. Bosses like it when you approach them with a problem and a potential solution.”
In the case of my situation above, a great solution could have been to ask for an additional daily food stipend. Since the company was a small business, I was only being paid minimum wage, and my boss needed me at the front, this would have been a reasonable request. I wouldn’t be getting paid for my break still, but it would show that my boss wanted me take care of myself and to have energy even when I couldn’t just sit in the employees room in peace.
Obviously, people’s jobs vary greatly, and I can’t honestly say I know what it’s like to work long hours as a lawyer or have a strictly 9-5 job. Every profession or minimum wage gig has its own set of perks and issues. The bottom line is that it should be worth it to you. Your shitty waitressing job or editor-in-chief position might piss you off certain days, but it shouldn’t make you utterly miserable for three months running.
If that is your situation, look elsewhere. I say this not only because I passionately believe every person deserves a job that makes him or her happy, but also because if you are unhappy you are going to waste so much of your time just being unhappy. You’re going to spend your evenings trying to escape your life through sitcoms or going out and drinking too much or whatever it is that comforts you…and you won’t be able to revel in the little things or plan to achieve your big goals, which is what we’re really working toward here.
A simple but a commonly-overlooked tip to creating more time for yourself is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Eating well and getting plenty of sleep are a great start. Throw in some exercise if you’re feeling spicy. I know these are the sorts of things that sound like you have to create more time first before you can do them, but they’re not. I feel such a difference in the quality of my sleep when I go for a run. You should know that I hate running. Really, I do. But I love the way it makes me feel, both immediately afterwards and even the following day. So I do it because it can mean the difference between a sleep where I toss and turn and can’t focus the next day or a full 8 hours of rest where I feel ready to conquer the world when I wake up.
The last big piece of advice to creating more time for the things you want to do is to learn to love lists. I sound incredibly dorky being all, “Squeee I love list-making!” but it will make your life easier. I swear.
Tomorrow make a list of everything you want to accomplish. First, note how warm and fuzzy you feel when you check something off the list. Pretty great, right? I know. Also, at the end of the day, use it as a guide to tell you what is a reasonable amount of stuff to do in one day for you. If you spend your next 4 days making lists with 20 things to do each day and consistently only get about 5 or 6 done, you’re not a failure — you’ve simply set yourself up for failure. Take a moment to evaluate what you got done, how long certain things took, and then in the future you’ll be better informed about how long something might take.
Set deadlines for tasks and strive to complete them in time. Don’t let tasks loom on your list for too long, because they can weigh down your mind and take up more brain space than they’re worth. Tackle those items and discover that sometimes it’s the idea of a to-do item that’s the worst part. Reward yourself for getting particularly mundane and non-exciting things done (laundry, paying rent on time, getting the oil changed, etc.) by doing something from your list that you have always wanted to do.
Finding out how to best manage your to-do lists requires trial-and-error. My mom swears by pen-and-paper lists, from chores to groceries to buying Christmas gifts. Some folks use notebooks or a notepad app on their phone. I like using Wunderlist since setting deadlines and reminders with this app is a breeze, and I recently discovered Evernote, which helps me store lots of my ideas so I can prioritize what I need to focus on next. Oh, and using something as simple as Google Calendar makes it so I don’t have to think so hard about when bills are due, when I have a deadline, or when there’s a special event in the city I don’t want to miss.
A big part of having the time to do the things you want is to simply force yourself to have the time. It’s easy to skip out on the things we want to do to achieve our goals or to just jazz up our week. We put importance on some of the things that make us the least happy because they’re the safest choices. A little part of us is afraid of failing. Or, actually, a big part of us. Ultimately, it’s way, way easier to watch tv or mope about work or keep a routine than it is to show up, commit, or try out something new.
Just keep in mind that, as you start to manage your schedule differently, you’ll likely still feel busy. Very busy. But suddenly you’ll be busy doing more of the things that you really want to be doing. And that is pretty awesome, huh?
What other tips do you have to create time for the things you want to do? How do you manage your own busy schedule? Do you have apps or websites that you swear by or handy ways to consolidate to-do items? How do you balance work-life happiness?
Also, let me know if you take some of this advice and how it goes!
Death to the Stock Photo