How to simplify your schedule - even if you don't have time to think about it

Here’s a sobering thought:

Most people don't run their schedule. Their schedule runs them. 


Because we often make decisions about our time based on our fear of criticism or a need for busyness, rather than choosing our most significant priorities.

This post focuses on four key steps to take back our schedules so that we can focus our time on what matters most.

Are silos making you miss important deadlines? 

Most of us live compartmentalized lives. We have responsibilities at work, school, the organizations we serve, our families—not to mention our personal lives.  Have you ever missed an important deadline because you were in "work mode" and forgot about something in "family mode?"

Step 1: Get rid of the silos. 

Whatever system we choose for keeping track of our schedule becomes more effective if it is used to keep track of our entire life rather than maintaining multiple systems which focus on individual elements of it.  After all, responsibilities often overflow the boundaries of their silos.  Having one place that our mind trusts to keep track of all of it—whether digital or handwritten—can make a big difference in how effective we are at simplifying our lives.

Do you have a clear idea of what is most important to you? 

If we don't have a clear idea of what we want in our lives, then it is hard to make decisions on where to invest our time. Want more time with family? To advance a career? To pursue an artistic dream? Time is a resource that—like money—can make things happen. But without a clear picture of what we most want, we lack guidelines for making decisions about what we give our time to when we are on the spot to make a decision about time. (Sort of like making an impulse buy when we don't have a budget, then realizing we don't have enough to pay the rent when it comes due.)

Step 2: Determine what you want. 

Once we get clear on what we want, we can allocate time to it.  For example, if we want to run a marathon, then we need blocks of time where we train.  Or if we want a college degree, then we have to take the classes. While items with official schedules (like college classes) are often easy to defend, we have to become just as good at defending blocks of time when there isn't an official schedule.  For example, an artist needs blocks of time to create that are defended in the same way an executive would protect a meeting with an important client.

Is there an "energy tax" to items in your schedule? 

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given about simplifying my schedule was from my mentor, Phill Martin, who gave me homework to perform an "energy audit" on my time. He said that he and his wife, Gloria, realized that their day jobs were so demanding that they couldn't afford to give time to a single activity outside of work hours that took more energy than it gave.

Step 3: Perform an energy audit on your schedule. 

Once you have gotten all of your time commitments recorded in a single place, look at each activity and determine if it energizes you or drains you.  This is the part that requires a little ruthlessness if we are serious about simplifying our schedule. How many things do we spend time on that are done because we are afraid of what someone else might think or say? Fear of criticism is a terrible thing to determine how we spend our time.  Take a hard look at any of your activities that have an "energy tax" and cut them—even if it requires you to have a difficult conversation.  While some things can't be cut—like caring for a sick mother or leading a problematic project at work—we can manage the "energy tax" of those items by making sure we have sufficient time allocated for energy-giving activities to help our internal accounts balance.

Is culture impacting your experience of time? 

Much of our feeling of a lack of time is based on a cultural perception. It leaks out in our language. When is the last time you told someone you couldn't do something you wanted to do because you were too busy?  Journalist, Jan Bruce, says that if you ask someone how they are, they’re more likely to respond with “busy” than “fine.” This cultural obsession with "a lack of time" is driving all of us to treat time as if there is never enough and to judge our worth based on how packed our schedules are. Researcher, Brene Brown has famously said that, "Exhaustion shouldn't be a status symbol."

Step 4: Change your language around time. 

The way we experience time can be largely a mental construct. It's the reason time moves quickly when we are doing something we enjoy and slowly when we are faced with a daunting task. We can "game the system" by changing the way we talk about time so that it feels more expansive. So, the next time someone asks how we are, we can refuse to answer with the common phrase "I'm busy," After all, everyone has the same amount of time, and everyone has to make decisions about how they spend it.  By changing the way we think and talk about time, we can actually shift our perception and create some breathing room.

We can do this. 

Taking responsibility for intentionally allocating our time can change our lives from one spent playing catch-up to one of achieving the things most important to us. Even just taking one of these steps can have a major impact on our experience.

The best part? Once we've taken steps to simplify our schedule, we become free to pursue the things that really matter to us. It's empowering to own our decisions about how we spend our time.  

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall