It was probably about my third month living New York City when I realized that I had lost control. I was working long days while also trying to stay fit, build rapport in the media community and have a vivacious social life (and maybe get some shut-eye). My schedule would be booked for weeks in advance, but still I wouldn’t want to turn down requests to do anything, and would instead try to puzzle-piece them in. At the end of each day, I would come home drained at 10 p.m. or later, feeling like I didn’t do half of the things I’d meant to.
But what was worse than the exhaustion was the frustrating realization that my calendar was controlling me — not the other way around.
So, after an especially hectic week, I decided it was time to take a step back and re-evaluate how I was filling my all-too-limited time (seriously, when will they figure out how to add more hours into the day?). And I realized it was going to take some serious mindset changes to live the healthy, balanced life I was hoping for.
Read, below, for the new beliefs I’ve adopted that have given me much more control over my time — and a much more balanced life.
1. Free Time Doesn’t Have to Be Available Time
I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: A colleague asks you to attend an event with her next Thursday evening. You peek at your calendar to see if it would work, and sure enough, that block of time is free of any obligations. “Sure, I’d love to do it!” you answer, before really thinking about it. But as the words come out of your mouth and you scan the rest of your week, you realize that block of time is the only one that isn’t filled — the only time you would’ve had to yourself to run errands, cook dinner or watch your favorite trashy TV show.
Especially during my first couple of months in NYC, when I was trying to take advantage of every social opportunity possible, I found myself doing this far too often. And then I found myself getting to that Thursday evening, and secretly hoping that the event would get cancelled just so I could have a hot second of down time.
Maybe you’re the type of person who can keep going and going without needing a break (and if you are, please share your secrets). But if you’re like me and need time to recharge, saying yes to anything that happens to fit into your schedule is not sustainable. It’s important to remind yourself that you can turn invitations down for no other reason than you want that time to yourself, and that your free time can be just that: free.
If keeping this idea in the back of your mind doesn’t help you get a few moments to breathe, try the strategy, below.
2. If it’s Not on the Calendar, it Won’t Happen
I’m sure you’ve heard this refrain — most often in reference to actually exercising during the week. But I’ve started applying it to almost everything in my life after realizing that there were important tasks that were just never getting done because other things were butting them out. These things include planning my upcoming vacation or cleaning my apartment.
I used to operate under the mindset of “I’ll get to it when I have time,” or vaguely promise myself that I’d tackle my life maintenance “sometime this weekend” — until it dawned on me that I will never have that time unless I make it.
If you feel like basic things are starting to slide off your schedule, try this: Sit down and make a list of things that need to get done every day, every week and every month, and determine how much time they take; this can include everything from activities you need for basic living — an hour a week for personal administrative tasks (e.g. buying plane tickets, paying bills), 15 minutes every day for tidying up — to personal non-negotiables like an hour twice a week to cook, or a few hours of “you” time every week.
Then, put blocks of time on your calendar for all these things for the next three months. It may sound super militant to schedule your life like that, but the times you schedule now don’t actually have to be set in stone. As events come up that conflict with your personal tasks, feel free to move them around; just make sure you move them somewhere else on your schedule — not remove them altogether.
3. Sometimes My Time is More Valuable Than My Money
I attended a panel a few weeks ago where journalist Jean Chatzky shared how she had recently allowed herself to hire a car service to drive her daughter around because doing it herself was preventing her from having time to focus on other important things.
I’m generally a do-it-myself kind of person — especially when doing it myself can save me money — but hearing her say that gave me pause to think about places in my own life where it would be worth spending extra to save time. For me, that meant finally coughing up the cash to have someone else do my laundry, giving me a few extra hours every couple of weeks to focus on side projects.
Think about the regular tasks that suck time away from you, and then look at your budget to see if you might be able to pay a little more for them, so you’re able to do more valuable things. If it’s cooking, look into meal-delivery services. If it’s cleaning or home maintenance that you feel is holding you back, try a service like Handybook to have someone do it for you. You could even consider hiring a virtual assistant.
Whatever it is, if you have room in your budget, do it without guilt and don’t look back.
Like many of you, I will continue to be busy, and continue to say yes to too many things. But by adopting these new beliefs, I have a little more control over my time.