You're busy. Your to-do list is never-ending. By the time you check off the fact that you sent that email to your boss and finished, you've remembered that you have to add more: run to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription, pay the electric bill, call grandma, make dinner. Trying to get it all done starts to feel as impossible as herding cats.
There are just too many demands for your time. From your family. From your work. From your health. From your home. From yourself, as you juggle thoughts of what you could and should be doing.
How much time do you spend doing what you want to do?
Do you spend more time working than with your family? Is the way your time is divided up the way you want it to be?
1. List out your priorities.
What matters most to you? If you're anything like me, you think you have a good grasp on your priorities, but I'm going to challenge you to take a few minutes to write them down. It's one thing to say you have your priorities straight; it's another to actually have to write them down in order, as a numbered list.
Where does your family fall? Your relationship with your significant other? Your job? Your faith? Your hobbies?
Unless you choose to share your list, you're the only one who is going to see it. So be honest. You can only have one top priority, and it matters that you know what it is.
I'll go first. My priorities are:
- My faith in Jesus Christ.
- My relationships with my real-life people.
- My health.
- My work as a purposeful life coach.
- My relationships with and interactions with people outside of my inner circles (including social media).
2. Pay attention to how you're currently spending your time.
I'll be the first to admit it's really easy to spend our time doing trivial things because it's convenient and fun. I spend more time on social media than I'd care to admit, and I could spend a whole day reading, but that's not always the best use of my time.
When I first began trying to live purposefully, I thought I didn't have time to focus more on relationships. My schedule was full. It was one of those "I'm busy; sorry, I can't" sorts of things. I had just accepted my busyness as an inevitable side effect of living an adult life.
But I wasn't busy doing the best things. Notice I didn't say I was busy doing bad things. I was doing good things, just not the best things for me in that season, according to my priorities.
In order to notice that and be willing to change, I had to first open my eyes to how I was really spending my time. Until I wrote it all down, I hadn't realized just how much time was spent on certain things, like social media, watching Netflix, zoning out, checking email, or checking for the best deal before I purchase something on Amazon.
If you're serious about dedicating more of your time to what matters most to you (and who isn't?), then I encourage you to fill out this time tracker I created so you can pay more attention to where you're currently spending your time and begin to think about what could change to better align your life with your goals.
3. Embrace time blocking.
Multitasking might be a buzzword, but it's not the most efficient way to get things done. Sometimes we can do two things at once, like walking and chewing gum or listening to music while washing the dishes. But when it comes to things we have to focus on, we can only pay attention to one thing at a time.
One solution to help me focus on one thing at a time in the midst of a world full of distractions is to create specific time blocks in my schedule for certain activities. I work from a specific time in the morning until lunch, when I take a break to eat and relax, and then I go back to work until my self-imposed quitting time. Within that time, I commit to working on one project at a time, giving myself half an hour to finish this project, or an hour for that one. Having a specific length of time helps me focus on the task at hand because that's the only thing that time is dedicated to.
I work out for an hour after I wake up five days a week. It's not something I even have to think about. That's what that time is for. I attend church gatherings on Sunday mornings; that time is dedicated to that purpose. And I find that it works for plenty of other things, and I think you will, too! It helps with focus because I know what I'm supposed to be doing, and anything else that comes up can be handled when I finish the task at hand.
4. Enlist help.
Nobody can do it on their own. Believe me, I've tried! I'm independent to a fault, but I'm learning that I need help. I just can't do it all by myself. And none of us should feel the pressure to try to do it all by ourselves.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses, and we're better together. So if you're not so good at keeping things organized, maybe your coworker could help you out. Or if you prefer cooking meals to cleaning the house, and your roommate or spouse would rather clean than cook, maybe you could split up the roles.
Or perhaps you just hate cleaning your house and resent the amount of time it steals away from you; you could outsource the work and hire someone to come clean for you so that you can spend more time with your family and friends.
Some common ways to delegate and outsource are:
- hire a virtual assistant
- hire someone to clean your house
- buy the food for your next party instead of taking the time to make it
- use a meal delivery service or subscription
- have your spouse or kids chip in on the cleaning
- put together a team to help you with your project
To put a different twist on it, you could consider doing a task with a friend. If you both need to grocery shop, for instance, and feel too busy to grab coffee, you could go on a grocery shopping date! It might seem like less fun, but you could make it fun by racing to see who can get all the items on their list first or who has to backtrack aisles fewer times. And you get to both accomplish the practical task of getting your shopping done while investing in a relationship that matters to you, so it's a win-win!
5. Start saying "no."
When you reach the point where there's too much on your plate that you can't just delegate or outsource, you've reached the point where you're going to have to let go of some things.
Everything you say "yes" to automatically requires a "no" to something else, but so many of us (myself included at times) try to say "yes" to everything.
It's just not sustainable.
When my life and calendar are too full, I've learned that the only realistic solution is to take some things away. I have to start saying "no."
I was in way over my head in high school, going part time to the community college for classes, participating in National Honor Society, working at the local coffee shop, going to youth group, serving as a leader with our youth group, leading in the children's ministry, helping with the children's musical, trying to stay faithful to a weekly Bible study, not to mention trying to spend time with my family and friends. It was just too much! But I loved it all, so I pushed through. It was one of the most stressful seasons of my life simply because of the pace I was required to keep. I nearly ran myself into the ground. I didn't sleep well. I didn't eat well. I didn't have much of a social life at all. It was rough in so many ways.
When I started college, I knew I had to live differently. Of course, I was drawn to many of the same things. But I didn't join them all. I chose to participate in leadership for my student organization, but I said "no" to joining the worship team. I joined just one student organization, even though others sounded like fun. I worked fewer hours and slept more. I didn't do it perfectly (nobody does), but I did it better. And it was far more enjoyable and far less stressful because I chose to be more careful with my "yes" and "no" responses.
Some things you could consider saying "no" to are:
- mopping your floors frequently (who will notice?)
- putting together a beautiful table setting when you have people over
- redecorating for every season
- making homemade food for every potluck or friend with a new baby
- keeping up with new technology and gadgets
- having the perfect Pinterest-worthy party for every occasion
- that new project that would take more of your time and energy, but isn't something your heart's really in
- joining the HOA board, the PTA, the new team at work, or any other team you're not invested in
6. BONUS: MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS
One more thing we can all do to make more time for what really matters to us is to minimize distractions. We might think they're outside of our control, and sometimes they are (like children running in, calling your name, or an urgent email that demands to be handled ASAP), many times we can control the demands put on us to some extent.
One of my favorite ways to minimize distraction in my life is to limit the notifications I receive. I only allow direct messages to me (Facebook messages and text messages) to show up on my lock screen. All the notifications about likes, comments, follows, and the rest go unnoticed. I don't need them interrupting me. My life has been so much more peaceful without constantly being notified when I get an email or a like. And it hasn't hurt my business or relationships one bit because I have dedicated time to check and respond to anything that does need my attention.
I also like to use the "do not disturb" feature on my phone when I'm going to sleep and when I'm going to be deep in work mode for a little while. Or when I just need a break, if I'm really being honest. I have it set up so that a few select people's messages and calls can get through (like my immediate family and a very close circle of others) so I'm not unreachable in the event of an emergency, but it keeps my phone from lighting up, buzzing, or making chiming noises all night while I'm trying to sleep or when I'm trying to record a new video or write an outline for a book.
I've found, too, that it helps me to try to turn off other distractions, like music and TV, when I need to really focus. I'm not good at tuning them out, and while I've gotten better at handling background noise for certain tasks, there's something to be said about quieting our environments.
So if you feel yourself being pulled in too many directions, along with writing out your priorities, evaluating how you spend your time, using time blocking, delegating, and saying "no," I suggest minimizing your distractions. Then you will find that you've made your work more efficient and made more time to do what really matters most to you!
And if you're trying to live with more intention and joy so you can live the kind of life you want, I'd love to have you check out my Facebook group: The Joy + Full Living Community!