Between work, chores, and errands (like laundry, grocery shopping, and sweeping the floors), many of us feel like we have very little time for the things we really want to do. We think we have very little time for attending a yoga class, going on a dinner date or two, relaxing on the couch, or taking on a creative project.
That is, by the time we’ve checked the necessities off our lists, we’re dragging ourselves to bed because it’s late. Way too late.
So, if we barely have enough time to do the things we really need to do, how the heck will we have time for the things we really want to do?
Below are eight tips to answer that very question.
Forget the traditional to-do list. According to Holly Reisem Hanna, creator of The Work at Home Woman, traditional to-do lists are problematic because they rarely include time. Which means it’s all-too easy to jot down 10 tasks on your list that you can’t complete in one day (or two).
In other words, you haven’t thought through when you’re actually going to do these things—and how long these things will take.
Instead of a to-do list, Hanna suggested time blocking. This provides “a detailed roadmap consisting of all of your daily chores, appointments, and projects, and the time needed to complete each one, leaving no room for overscheduling,” she said.
For instance, you might write in your planner that from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., you’re practicing yoga. From 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., you’re working on a writing project.
Hanna prefers to overestimate the amount of time a task will take, so she doesn’t over-schedule herself.
Think of your personal priorities as non-negotiables. Specifically, treat your top priorities as appointments you can’t cancel, as appointments you protect on your calendar, said Morgan Tyree, a professional organizer and author of the forthcoming book Take Back Your Time: Identify Your Priorities, Decrease Stress, and Increase Productivity.
She noted that these priorities might be anything from a monthly massage to cleaning up the garage to catching up with a friend. They might be taking a dance class, going shopping with your mom, attending a gallery opening, and taking piano lessons. Think about the activities you’d love to do, which you allow other tasks to bulldoze over because they’re not urgent or imperative (and yet they are).
Do it first thing. “The best way to ensure you have time for your most important activities is to do them before the day gets going,” said Craig Jarrow, a coach, speaker, and founder of Time Management Ninja. “That way, you can get your top tasks and goals done before the chaos of your day has a chance to interrupt.”
Of course, Jarrow noted, the morning hours won’t work for all priorities—like dating. But for activities such as exercising and engaging in creative work, “they can be magical hours…”
Outsource time wasters. When you hear the word “outsourcing,” you might think of full-time nannies and housecleaners, said Hanna, author of the book Time Management in 20 Minutes a Day: Simple Strategies to Increase Productivity, Enhance Creativity, and Make Your Time Your Own.
However, today, she noted, we can outsource minor tasks that still take up a lot of time, such as grocery shopping, laundry, and yard work—all from our phones. “On-demand apps make it easy and affordable to unload unwanted tasks from your to-do list.”
Hanna gave these examples: Instacart for grocery shopping; LawnStarter for yard work; and TaskRabbit for running errands, cleaning, assembling furniture, doing minor repairs, doing research, and other tasks. There’s even a dog-walking app called Rover.
Create a “stop doing that” list.” Similarly, think about the things you’d like to stop doing, an idea Hanna got from author Danielle LaPorte. This can go beyond the errands and tasks you’d like to outsource.
For instance, Hanna’s list includes: scrolling without purpose, worrying about things she can’t change, watching recipe creation videos, reading negative comments on articles, and mindlessly checking her smartphone.
What will you stop doing?
Add the activity to a well-established routine. “Sometimes the things that are essential slip by because we put them off, thinking that we’ll do them when we get around to it,” said Jarrow, author of the forthcoming book Time Management Ninja: 21 Rules for More Time and Less Stress in Your Life. But we rarely do get around to it. What can help is to tie that activity to something you automatically do daily.
For example, you want to read more, so you put on your pajamas, wash your face, brush and floss your teeth, and then read for 20 minutes before bed. Or you work on your novel after you eat lunch during your break.
Schedule activities for the same time every day. “This may sound rigid for your schedule, and it is meant to be,” Jarrow said. That’s because your desired activity becomes an expected part of your day, he said.
For instance, you write every day from 9 to 11 a.m., read every morning from 7 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., or go on a 30-minute bike ride with your spouse at 7 p.m.
Reflect on the longer-term effects. Tyree noted that most of us don’t realize how “responding with either a yes or a no can have a ripple effect—positively or negatively—on your available time.” For instance, she said, when you say no to getting work calls and texts after hours, you have more time for your self-care practices and personal relationships.
That is, be very intentional with the activities you accept and decline. Try to take a longer view and consider the ripple effects of your decisions. Doing so just might open up time you didn’t even realize you had.
Making time for the things we really want to do requires that we re-evaluate our schedule, approach, and our perspective. Are you doing things you can actually outsource or delegate? Are you saying yes to invitations or commitments that you can say no to? Can you rework your schedule? Can you start seeing your self-care activities as self-preservation (instead of luxuries and indulgences)?