Late last year. I complained to a friend that I never had enough time to write because everything else always seemed to take over my schedule. As I was talking, I suddenly realized that I was referring to my tasks as if they had a life and power of their own, although the decision to add activities to my schedule was entirely mine. Why was I giving greater priority to volunteer activities or to meetings all over the city than to my own writing? That conversation led to the decision to pay closer attention to the way I treat my commitments. Writing now comes first instead of “when I get to it.”
Of course, we can’t pretend that we are alone in the universe. Everyone has private and work obligations that are part of the daily fabric. The intent of “time defense” is not to become so selfish that other people have to pick up your slack. However, you probably said “Yes” to at least one obligation this week that will take away from the things YOU want to do. Time to read. Time to be outdoors. Time to try something new.
Here are some thoughts about defending your time:
Time will not magically appear
It is not helpful to wait for things to “settle down” – they won’t. Instead, try to take an active approach to make time for your personal priorities. As a first step, think of the activities you want more time for. In that context, it can be helpful to consider long-term goals along with your daily routine. If your typical day does not offer opportunities for enjoyment and fun, it’s time for a few adjustments. Are you giving yourself enough time for learning and growth?
Why should other people’s concerns matter more than yours?
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in trying to please everyone that our own priorities fall by the wayside. A client has an urgent request? Sure, you can help! The boss needs to rearrange the schedule, would you mind staying a little later today? Can someone please take the minutes for the meeting? No big deal, of course you will! It’s good for business to be seen as positive and helpful, but does it really ALWAYS have to be you? Your willingness to accommodate short-term requests shouldn’t send the signal that your time matters less.
Where is your time going?
“Time spent connecting with people, being immersed in a good story, and other forms of rest and relaxation are essential to a life well lived. However, it’s when we are mindlessly giving in to low-level dread and anxiety, when we allow such feelings to rule us and make us procrastinate that we are vulnerable to not making the most of our short time on Earth,” wrote Philippa Perry in the Guardian last year.
Procrastination, meetings or e-mail can be culprits, but you know best when your time is used productively and when you are spinning your wheels. That gives you the power to rearrange your routine to make room for something new. Just as in physical organizing, there are always opportunities to streamline, simplify, or drop commitments without major consequences.
Organizer Marie Kondo’s famous advice to only keep those items that “spark joy” may well apply to some of your time choices as well.
Make appointments with yourself
Doctors routinely give out appointments that are months away and we dutifully enter them into our calendar. Why not do the same for something more enjoyable than a dental cleaning? Block out evenings, afternoons or weekends in your calendar to make sure they don’t fill up with meetings and work commitments. Tell everyone you’re “busy” (always a well-accepted statement) and go read a book in the park for half an hour. Listen to the first birds of spring. Dust off that long-forgotten musical instrument. Live.
Making positive changes can seem difficult at first, since routine is a way to feel in control. Taking a first small step often leads to the discovery that obstacles are smaller than they appear. Making room in your day for priorities of your own will not result in things falling apart–on the contrary.
What are your best tips for defending personal time?
I look forward to hear from you!
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