When I talk to women about why they have not been able to stick to their wellness routine or reach their health goals, I usually get one of two answers. They either tell me that they are too tired or there aren’t enough hours in a day. We spend a lot of time talking about sleep around here so today we are going to talk about the time conundrum.
Time, the finite resource that is equal to us all yet some of us seem to be able to get more done in a twenty four hour period than others. Beyonce, Michelle Obama, you and I are all working with the same amount of time. So why is it that they seem to accomplish so much and look so good doing it while we struggle? Sure we could attribute it to their fortunes and the staff of people that they have assisting them. Yet the reality is, life hasn’t always been that way for them, but they still found a way. The real secret is not just having help, it’s time management.
How do people who have time to workout, take a girls trip, meal prep and pursue a career they love make it all fit? This is a question that I used to ask myself often, until I learned the art of life audits and more specifically a schedule audit. It is the practice of taking a look at your schedule, meaning everything that you do in the course of a day, and evaluating that against what you want your days and weeks to look like. Now as you take a look at your planner or the calendar in your phone and think, my schedule is not packed but I still don’t have time for me then you haven’t looked deep enough.
The reason schedule audits are so important is because it looks at the parts of your day that you tend not to write down. This includes time to eat, sleep, watch tv, clean the house, do laundry, commute to and from work and the like. The seemingly mundane tasks that still eat up your time. Most of us are visual people, so being able to see what you are filling your day with will help you to evaluate what stays and what goes and what can be added. Completing this audit is a critical step in the path to more self care because without it you are likely to set unrealistic goals for yourself. Consider this a part of the foundational work to creating your self care master plan.
Step 1: Write Down Everything That You Do Over The Course Of A Week
This will be the most tedious task of this process but it is also the most important. If you are going to make room in your schedule then you have to know everything that’s on it. All the way down to picking up the dry cleaning after work. Mark out the time for sleeping and eating as well as commute times. The goal is to see how much “white space” is left on your calendar after you have filled in EVERYTHING!
If the page is full or you had to write on the back then you may have some work to do. If you have a ton of white space I encourage you to take a second look to see if you omitted anything. Remember that no one is going to see this except for you so don’t feel judged if you realize that you have overbooked yourself.
Step 2: Categorize and Color Coordinate
Break your activities down into categories, things like essentials, work, things related to your kids etc. For ease of managing your time, group similar tasks together. For instance, laundry, cleaning the house and yard work can all go under domestic chores. Time spent commuting to work, working and returning home can be grouped together, unless you have other tasks that you fit in during your commute time.
Now to make it pretty. Choose a different color for each category and highlight accordingly. The color coordinating part of this step is optional though it becomes extremely helpful when it is time to reorganize activities. It will also help to give you a visual representation of how you are spending your time. If you are seeing your time dominated by one color then you know it’s time to take a closer look at that category and see what can change.
Step 3: Decide What Is Critical, Important and Optional
Now to the fun part, prioritizing your tasks. There are some things that are critical to survival like sleeping, eating and at some level working. There are other other things that are important but not necessarily critical to your survival like household chores, familial obligations and kids activities. Finally there are the nice to haves, the things that you may or may not enjoy but probably need to be done.
Some tasks will be easy to categorize others will exist in a gray area. For those we use what is called a priority matrix, to determine the level of importance. A priority matrix has four quadrants. At the top are the labels important and not important and on the side it’s urgent and not urgent. If a task falls in the “not important, not urgent” quadrant of the matrix then it is likely optional and may eleven be able to be removed from your list altogether.
Step 4: Alter, Add & Subtract
Now that we have categorized and prioritized it is time to decide what needs to change, what can be added and what needs to go. Decide what things in your schedule that you may be able to get rid of altogether, either because it is unnecessary or because you can hand it off to someone else. Once you have gotten rid of the unnecessary, see what you can change. What tasks or responsibilities can you tweak to make life easier for yourself? Can you utilize public transportation instead of driving to work? This may allow you time to read or listen to that book you have been putting off. Can you utilize a car pool for yourself or your kids? This may free up some time to hit the gym after work. If we take the time to think about it, there are plenty of ways to reclaim some time.
Of all the steps however this is the hard part. This is the part where you ask for help where you can, outsource if you can and let go of things being exactly the way you would do them for the sake of your own sanity. This is the part where you move from idealism to reality and do what works best for you. You may struggle with letting some things go, you may feel like you are somehow relinquishing control or responsibility. Both of those things are true and both are ok. The sooner we realize that we don’t have to do everything the better off we will be.
Step 5: Rinse and Repeat
Now that you have had the opportunity to reassess the current state of your life you can go back and chart out your week based on your new priorities. As you glance through your newly revised schedule you should see more free time. Hopefully as you looked at ways to add and subtract you didn’t fill up all of your time. The goal is to end up with at least 60 minutes of time that you can dedicate to self care each day. Not multitasking time but dedicated time for yourself. That sixty minutes doesn’t have to be continuous but it should exist in at least 20 minute chunks of time.
Inevitably this will have to be done again. Things shift and change, that is life. However now you are armed with a method to realign yourself when things get out of hand. The best way to handle it is to perform regular check-ins with yourself. Be proactive instead of reactive.
Need visual help walking through the steps? Download the worksheets for steps 1-4 below. And if you missed the live video of this lesson tune in on Instagram here