We often automatically accept meetings without asking if our participation is really needed, we sign our kids up for activities because everyone else does, and we all watch more TV than we admit to.
But it’s true that in our heavily “calendared” environment, especially for those of us in the corporate world, it’s hard to feel that we really control our own time. And the many columns and articles about creating more time for yourself (and yes, I wrote one!) can ring hollow. Yeah, easy for her to say.
So if you want to make time for what matters to you, but are struggling to find it because you don’t control your own time, a few of these strategies might help:
Shift the time you do control. You may have to go to work at a certain time or stay until a certain time. Your children may have school start and end times that require you to be awake or available at certain times. You legitimately don’t have control over those schedules. But can you shift how you think about the times outside those boundaries in order to squeeze in the things you want to do? I get up at 5 a.m. most days so I can squeeze in a workout or even just do some reading before everyone else is up and needs my attention. When my children were younger I would run after dinner. What priorities do you have for the time you do control and how can you maximize it?
Start small. For some people it can be effective to clear their entire calendar and start over. But an alternative is to take a more incremental approach. If you can’t find time to exercise every day, can you find 10 minutes once per week? Start there. Then add another 10 minutes. You can do the same thing with work — can you challenge your team to end meetings 5 or 10 minutes earlier? Over the course of a week that could save an hour. More importantly it would get people thinking about how to be more efficient. If you are struggling with wall-to-wall meetings can you push back on one next week?
Make it a habit to regularly assess your commitments and see if changes are possible. At work, take the time each quarter to review standing meetings to see if they are still needed and useful. If you create quarterly goals it’s good practice to be sure everyone’s calendar aligns to the those goals (meaning, crucially, that everyone on the team has the time they need to do the work that needs to be done). At home regularly evaluate the activities everyone is involved in. Do the kids still love baseball? If so, great. But if not, ditch it.
Change your mindset. I really do believe that how we feel about our time has more of an impact on our well-being than the reality. (In fact, Laura Vanderkam documents this phenomenon in her new book, Off The Clock.) Acknowledge where your control lies, even if it’s limited to your desire to avoid bad consequences. Take the example of weekly team meetings — you feel like you “have” to go. But your boss doesn’t chain you to the conference room table. You have free will, so remind yourself that you could choose not to attend, noting it may limit your career prospects. But also try to reframe the time — you’re there to share and to learn. You can also try to positively influence the time by suggesting agenda changes or other improvements.
Change your circumstances. If a mindset shift is still leaving you miserable, maybe what needs to change is your circumstances. A job that leaves you burned out and feeling like you have no control on your calendar is one where it is hard to be successful. Maybe it’s time to research companies with better or more flexible work environments and begin your search for a new job.
Tami Forman, WOMEN@FORBES