I love a good calendar. It helps me feel in control of my schedule and able to tackle whatever comes my way. When I schedule things, I know they’ll get done because I’ve made time for them. Most importantly, my calendar helps me avoid wasting time, one of our most precious commodities.
Sometimes though, I must admit, my calendar feels overwhelming. When I look at all the items laid out before me, it’s hard to know what to tackle and when it will ever end. It’s a challenge to see all the things I need to do, yet not feel like I’m running myself ragged, stuck on an endless cycle of to-dos.
In my new book Unstuffed, I dive deep into this issue of taking on too much, because the reality is that a big part of being unstuffed is to also declutter our calendars. Yes, we all have to do things we don’t like (that’s just life). But too many of us spend FAR too much time dreading certain obligations and doing things that offer us little payoff—monetarily, spiritually or emotionally. Even scheduled time can be wasted.
And so there are a few important questions we each need to ask ourselves: Is my schedule really serving my needs? Am I making the most of my time? What am I doing that I shouldn’t be? What doing that is adding stress but not adding value?
As you unstuff your calendar, note there are a lot of to-dos you can (and should) take OFF your agenda. I’m talking about all those things that cause you to spin your wheels—timewasters, activities that feel like drudgery, and obligations you resent. What items can come off your calendar today to free you up for more important things?
1. Things You’re Going to Skip Anyway
I have a friend who has a reminder set on her calendar every Friday to revisit her birthday card list and correspondence. You know how often she actually does it? MAYBE once a month—and definitely not once a week. She tells me that in some idealized world, she pictures herself dutifully writing cards and correspondence for half an hour on Friday afternoons, but in reality…she just doesn’t.
If there’s an item clogging up your calendar, take it off. Oftentimes, reminders and weekly obligations can be moved to bi-weekly or once a month. We actually desensitize ourselves to these items on our calendar and ignore them anyway—and then they NEVER get done. Let go of the idealized version of yourself and take off the plans you “wish” you were going to keep and the reminders you’re ultimately going to ignore anyway.
2. Unnecessary Cleaning Tasks
I love to make my bed every day, and I have other daily routines which help me keep up with household chores. However, there are a few cleaning to-dos I actually do a little more frequently than necessary. I love a clean home, but do I need to wash all the windows once a week? Truth be told, I could probably stretch that out.
If cleaning relaxes you or you enjoy it, then keep the items on your schedule. If you find you’re cleaning your unused guestroom once a week out of a sense of obligation, habit or duty, it might be time to let it go. Once a month, add an extra 15-20 minutes to your cleaning routine to really give attention to some rarely used areas, but don’t beat yourself up if you stretch out dusting to once a week. Keep your house organized, your surfaces clear, and your bathroom and kitchen spot-cleaned. The rest can probably go on the back burner.
3. LONG Meetings
If you’re in the workforce, you know all about dreaded, endless meetings. There are lots of people out there who can drone on for hours about topics they could sum up in 5-10 minutes. While you might not have control over your office obligations, you can scale back personal meetings and appointments to free up your calendar. It can be difficult to control the length of PTO, scouts and church meetings, but allow yourself a finite amount of time to attend, and don’t be afraid to step out early if it’s going nowhere.
When you’re meeting a friend for coffee or when you have an appointment, always be upfront about the amount of time you have. Say, “I’d love to get together for an hour and catch up,” and then stick to it.
4. Hours of Emails
Email can be a huge time-eater. Checking your inbox first thing in the morning and firing off responses right away can mean you’ll be in front of your computer for hours. Instead, try to tackle some other tasks first and leave your inbox untouched. When you do sit down to respond, keep your emails short and to the point.
So often, we spend hours typing out responses when we could have simply picked up a phone and taken care of things in one short call. If you’re leading an email thread, say, for planning for an event, keep the group on task and focused with specific action items and direct questions.
Unsubscribe from any spam, and also from any retail and store emails you delete anyway, or those that encourage unnecessary spending. If you don’t read the email regularly, unsubscribe and simply visit the site occasionally for new information. Try inbox filters to help organize your personal correspondence and keep your important emails separate from notifications and social media.
5. Phone Calls
Remember the days of corded phones? You’d end up literally tethered to one spot while you talked. Now that we have cordless and cell phones, we can have phone conversations while we get other things accomplished. Yes, if the conversation is important, step away from your computer screen or stop what you’re doing. However, taking a walk to get your 10,000 steps in for the day while you talk, or having a conversation while you prep dinner can be a big time time saver.
Talking on your cell phone while driving can lead to distractions. You should be focused on the road, of course. But for long trips, a hands-free solution can allow you to catch up on the way to your destination.
6. Things You Do Out of Guilt
Raise your hand if you have at least a few items on your calendar solely because of guilt. I know I do! It can be hard to say no to running the bake sale, taking dinner to a neighbor, or organizing the block party. The next time you’re asked to do something you would rather forgo due to time restraints (or even just because you don’t want to), give yourself permission to decline.
We can say yes to so many things because we feel guilty or bad if we don’t. However, these obligations actually take us away from our families and leave us feeling burned out and emotionally strained. Give yourself back to your family by knowing when to say when. There’s no shame in choosing a different path that better fits your needs and the needs of your household.
7. Things that Don’t Bring You Closer to Your Long Term Goals
Does a trip to the dentist bring you joy? Does the housecleaning job you recently took up make you beam with delight? Maybe not, but clean teeth, and ultimately earning extra money to support your family both help serve a greater purpose, so they’re worth the effort. Not every item on your calendar is going to be fun, but every item should ultimately be moving you toward your larger goals of health, financial security, and whatever else you want to accomplish in life.
Some of us try things like yoga classes or scrap-booking because we feel it’s what we’re supposed to do, or that it will make us a better mom or wife. If it’s not fun and if it doesn’t make your heart sing, then it’s perfectly okay to let it go. If you want to run a 5K and every training workout isn’t awesome, but you are progressing and satisfied, keep going. If every time you step on the treadmill it’s absolute drudgery—let it go and try walking instead. Determine what is most important to you, and only keep those activities that fit within the bigger picture.
8. Too Many Lessons
Ballet, soccer, singing and softball…our kids’ calendars can fill up with lessons and activities in the blink of an eye. Suddenly you’re left feeling like the chauffeur—and your kids are feeling the pressure and weight of too many commitments, and not enough creativity and play.
Childhood is so short. It can be difficult to let go of our own dreams and childhoods, and resist the urge to “give our children what we didn’t have.” If your child cries every time she has to practice the piano, or just isn’t enthused about scouts, day camp, or swimming lessons, or who is falling behind in school—let the lessons go. Kids can grow into perfectly well-rounded beautifully adjusted adults without jam-packed social schedules. Sometimes you have to let kids just be kids.
9. Too Much Prep Time
When we look our best, it truly does make us feel more confident. However, if you’re spending hours on your hair, makeup, or pulling together your outfits each day (or doing the same for your kids), it may be time to streamline the process a little.
Consider easier hairstyles for your kids. Organize and cut back on your closet and theirs so it’s easier to quickly pull together outfits that don’t require ironing and fussing. It’s okay to skip a full face of makeup for the gym or when you’re going to the store. Simplify your routine and you’ll find yourself with more time to do the things you love.
10. Commitments You Should Have Said NO To
There comes a time for all of us when we get that sinking feeling we’ve over-committed. Instead of stressing yourself right out of all your energy and joy, give yourself permission to cancel plans, reschedule obligations, and take a break when it gets to be too much. Remember: no calendar is set in stone. If something very important came up, like an emergency, for example, you’d make time to deal with it.
A friend once told me: If you don’t take a break, your body will take a break for you. If you find you’re facing frequent colds, feeling easily run down, or if you just need a mental health break, take a few things off the list. Maybe you won’t get the first chapters of your novel written this month, or maybe you won’t organize a community-wide garage sale. It’s okay. Not everything needs to happen NOW.
It can be hard to say no and take items off your calendar, but taking back your schedule will allow you to feel more at ease and in control. Let go of the idea that you have to do everything. Take some time for yourself and give yourself a break, already!
P.S. Unstuffed is now available in bookstores everywhere, and if you’ve been feeling weighed down by clutter or an overbooked schedule, it might just be the message your heart needs to hear! Jam-packed with inspiring personal stories as well as practical tips you can implement right away, it is a guilt-free, stress-free guide to taking our life back from all the STUFF weighing down our lives.