Just stop wasting time.
The lesson stuck. I find it hard to relax. Daydreaming, reading or sewing all leave me feeling guilty. After all, there’s always stuff that needs to be done. A woman’s work and all.
The problem is that there will always be tasks that I should be doing and these tasks will easily fill all the hours in a day, each and every day of the year.
But it is those things that don’t need to be done that make us happy. That make life worth living.
If you wake up feeling overwhelmed by what you have to do today, if you feel like you are constantly rushing, if you don’t get a chance to participate in activities that you enjoy or that are meaningful, then it’s time for a schedule declutter. Here are some tips on how to do it.
1. Evaluate your current schedule
We all have a lot of commitments: work, child minding, housework, sports, community involvement, groups we belong to, gym memberships, family and friends to catch up with… But are all these commitments making your happy?
Spend some time evaluating your commitments and your schedule. Time management advice is all about trying to fit more in, but if you want to be healthy and happy, the answer is to cut more out.
This goes for children’s schedules too. If adults need down-time, kids especially need it and kids tend to be over-scheduled just as much as, if not more than adults.
I recently read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and he tells a story of a very busy family who decided to create two lists, one of things that they enjoyed doing and one of things they didn’t enjoy. To their surprise, they found their son really didn’t like playing soccer. Ditching the soccer took pressure off the whole family and they found the time to do something they all enjoyed together: going hiking.
2. Eliminate or reduce unwanted activities
This is an important point: you are not a quitter if you drop activities to free up your schedule for more meaningful or leisurely pursuits. Nor are you being selfish.
I know that it can be difficult to drop commitments. We feel responsible. We feel like we’re letting the team down. We worry we will be seen as ‘quitters’.
However, the (sad but liberating) truth is that we’re usually replaceable. The game will go on. Someone else will step into our shoes.
So don’t be afraid to eliminate activities in your schedule in favour of other activities (or some down-time).
On the other hand, there will be things that you won’t be able eliminate. You still earn an income, clean the house, prepare dinner. But you don’t need to do hours of overtime (especially unpaid overtime). Your house doesn’t need to be as clean as a surgery. You don’t even need to cook everyday (you could do Once A Month Cooking, for instance).
Where you can’t eliminate activities that you don’t enjoy, reduce the time spent on those activities (see point 4) to make time for the things you do.
3. It’s ok to say no
Once you’ve whittled down your schedule, you don’t want to fill it again with a whole bunch of other commitments. It’s ok to say no. There are 7 billion people on this planet. You’re doing enough already. Someone else can have a go.
4. Work on efficiency
Efficiency is a great time saver. How do you become more efficient?
- By batching tasks (for instance, running all your errands on a single day, paying all your bills at once, checking emails once a day etc).
- By creating and using working routines that fit tasks around your schedule (so that you can work on autopilot and things still get done).
- By being organised and prepared (for instance, having school bags packed in the evening before bedtime).
5. Cut out your time wasters
Firstly, I want to say that sitting in the sun, staring off into space is not a time waster. Watching the clouds, or the ants, or contemplating your navel aren’t time wasters. I’m not advocating that you be busy every waking moment.
Instead, I’m talking about time wasters that take something away from your life rather than give to it. Things that make you feel worse rather than better after spending that time.
The major time waster for most of us is media (I will be writing more about this tomorrow). TV, internet, gaming machines, iPhone aps… All of these devices, while not bad in themselves, are black holes where much of our time disappears.
What did you watch on TV last night? What did you read on the net last night? Do you remember? No, neither do I.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with sitting down to relax in front of your favourite TV show, or reading your favourite blogs on the net, but sitting zombie-like in front of the screen for hours because it’s habit or because it’s addictive is bad for our wellbeing. I’ve learned this from too much experience!
5. Schedule in down-time and actually take it
Just as you would schedule in dentist appointments and make the effort to get there on time, so too is it important to schedule in down-time and actually take it.
I find it very hard to turn off. Making time for myself isn’t as hard not filling it with to-do-list tasks (or wasting it on the net and feeling bad about it).
But the truth is that taking down-time makes you less stressed, more efficient and more pleasant to be around. A happy mum is a happy family, just as a happy worker is a productive one.
6. ‘Waste’ time
When was the last time you lay in the grass watching the clouds go by? Or drank a cup of tea without it going cold? Or spent an entire afternoon fishing? Or hiking? Or reading? Or sewing? Or soaking in the bath?
We don’t have to be productive 24/7. In fact, our bodies are designed to rest as well as work. I read a baby sleep book once, that said [paraphrasing] ‘children will generally continue to have an afternoon nap until school age, unless they are Mediterranean, in which case they will continue to have a siesta for the rest of their lives. The rest of us, on the other hand, caffeinate to override our biological need for a 3pm slump.’
If you’re like me, and you feel guilty wasting time, remember that it’s ok. In fact, it’s imperative for keeping us healthy.
Less is more. Slow and focused is more enjoyable than rushed, multi-tasked and superficial. Everyday I take this lesson, every day I need to learn it again. The only way we can stop, breath and experience the depth of life is by doing less.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.