Time Out

I have talked about not having enough time many times here on this blog.  For the last few months, it seems that time is a whirlwind, going by too fast, with too many things to do, and not enough time to get it all done.  I’m a very organized person, so I know how to keep track of my time. 

But do I, really? 

I have several friends who never seem as crazed as I feel.  One friend even commented that I’m the busiest person she knows.  I find this very interesting considering she comes from a big family, many of whom have kids.  I often think how I don’t know what I’d do if I did have them, seeing as I barely have time now.  (Of course I realize that having kids would change everything, including my time and how I spend it.)  I’m often jealous of friends and family members who aren’t as busy.  How do they manage to have time to just relax?  And what exactly am I doing with my time that makes me so damned busy?

That is really the question: what am I doing with my time.

I looked—really looked—at my planner to see where my time is going.  Minus the things I cannot change (work, sleep, meals, commuting, etc.), I commit to a lot, not just appointments and plans with friends and family, but also with my ever growing to do list.  I have a lot of hobbies and projects that I want to work on and complete, so they take up a lot of my time.  And recently I’ve been so busy with other commitments (plans with friends and family and appointments and events) that even the projects aren’t getting done.  And it always seems to happen that way—everything converges at the same time.  Nothing stays on an even keel for long.

Perhaps the reason for all of my tasks lately is due to the fact that I have designated this year the year to getting things done, all of those little things I didn’t want to tackle in the past.  I decided enough was enough and I had to work on at least some of them.  But one task leads to another, which creates a new task, a task that needs to be done before I can continue (or start) on the other, etc., etc.  It’s a never-ending cycle.  While I have completed some big tasks by breaking them down into smaller tasks, there’s still more to do, more to think about, more to plan for.

A quick peek into my planner since the start of the year will tell you how much I have going on.  I don’t include weekdays in this round up since those days are designated for work, meal prep, etc., though sometimes we will have plans during the week, as much as I try to avoid that. 

So here we have a breakdown of weekends:
January 6 – work
January 12 – work, dinner with family
January 19 – trip to Tampa
January 26 – dinner/game night with friends
February 2 – free weekend
February 9 – planned to work but got a free weekend due to a blizzard
February 16 – work
February 23 – day in New York City, though technically this is a work day since it’s a library trip
March 2 – work
March 9 – “free” weekend due to being sick (blech)
March 16 – family obligation
March 23 – hosted a 31 Gifts party and work
March 30 – Easter weekend, family dinner
April 6 – free weekend
April 13 – work
April 20 – concert
April 27 – attended a 31 gifts party, work
May 4 – trip to New York City, but again, technically work
May 11 – work, Mother’s Day brunch
May 19 – work
May 26 – Wow!  A *free* 3-day weekend!
June 1 – wedding reception
June 8 – away for the weekend (and this was jam-packed too, running from place to place)
June 22 – work, graduation party

So, in total, since the beginning of the year, only five completely free weekends, two of which weren’t supposed to be (blizzard weekend and sick weekend).  I’m not complaining about any of these events, but the point is, you can see how much I do in a month, in 6 months. Man—I work a lot of weekends!  True, I get days off during the week for weekend work days (most of the time) but much of that make-up time is spent grocery shopping or cleaning; you know, fun stuff.

One could argue that weekends that I don’t work—regardless of what I do do—are free, I just choose to do something other than relaxing.  And this is true.  But some things I can’t avoid for some reason or another; well, I could, but it would cause more aggravation than just doing it in the first place.  And I am the type to shut up and do things to save myself aggravation even if it hurts me in the end—I’d rather take the fall than leave someone else high and dry.  And although I don’t mind working weekends, working so many of them is a lot of stress since I end up adding other events on top of those weekend workdays, where I won’t during the week.  And when I don’t have extra time at home on the weekends, I don’t get the extra tasks done.  And when tasks pile up without my getting to work on them, the stress adds up.  I shouldn’t say stress really—it’s more like the tasks and to do lists float around in my head, chewing away at any mental serenity I would otherwise have.  Yes, I do write these tasks down, sometimes on more than one list since they’re all organized in different ways.  This usually helps.  But when the list grows and my time shrinks, that doesn’t even help.  So, yeah, okay, maybe “stress” is the appropriate word here.  I think my husband would agree to that choice of word.

During all of this craziness, I have come across several articles dealing with time management and the like.  It’s helped me to put things into perspective a little.  (Getting some of my tasks done has helped even more.)  And now that things are starting to slow down a little, I’m on a mission to keep the events and tasks under control as much as possible.

First and foremost, I have got to learn to say no to people.  This is probably my biggest problem.  I’m too focused on the possibility of letting people down or hurting their feelings by not doing something with or for them.  But the reality is that most people don’t see it that way.  I know this about myself: when faced with an issue with someone else, I focus too much on my relationship with that person, rather than focusing on the issue alone.  It’s not so much that I want to do whatever they’re asking me to do, but worrying too much that they’ll be mad at or disappointed in me if I don’t.  This is unrealistic—most people won’t be mad or disappointed.  They’ll simply find another way, another day, another avenue.  I have to stop hurting myself in order to please others because that’s really what’s happening.  I commit to too much without really thinking it through, without looking at how it will affect me.  I’m not a selfish person.  I always put others’ needs before my own.  But in this case, it’s not good because most people wouldn’t do the same for me.  I’m not asking that they do, but I have learned that people will take advantage of the fact that this is how I am, maybe without even realizing that they’re doing it.  I need to learn to be selfish when it comes to how I spend my time.

A recent article by Lifehack really put things into perspective:
  • When you say yes to something you don’t like, you’re saying no to something you love.
  • Know the implications of saying yes.
  • Realize that saying no is okay.
  • Delay your response.

I often say yes to things simply because I have nothing else planned.  But I need to accept that doing nothing, and saying no in order to that, is okay.  So going forward, I plan to delay responses to just about everything so that I can really see what the implications are if I say yes.  Hopefully this will cut down on agreeing to do things I don’t really want to do.  I’m also going to try and not plan so far ahead.  Keep it light and simple where my plans are concerned.

I need to be more realistic about what I can accomplish in a day or a weekend.  My to do list should be a point of reference, a reminder of what I would like to get done, not a locked-in list of things that should be done.  Another article by Lifehack states both the plusses and minuses of a to do list.  I definitely need one (or two or three) to keep me organized.  But I just can’t use them as a bible to my life. 

I also need to be realistic about how many tasks I can get done in a day.  Usually I keep a list for days I have time and hope to get to it all.  Sometimes I good with not getting to it all, but other times I hate that I can’t.  I don’t think I take into account how long each task will take.  Time Management Ninja has a great guideline for not overthinking your productivity.  There needs to be a balance of what you want to accomplish and what you can let go, if only for the time being.

Finally, I need to focus on what is really important to me.  Yes, some tasks are important, but relaxing should be also, if only because I want to be able to do that.  You can organize your day and your time into blocks of tasks in order to ultimately find more time overall.  I find the best way to get to a little bit everything each day is to focus on each task for only a short period of time.  This is sometimes frustrating, but in the end, it works the best for me.

I need to stop making things so complicated.  If I have one thing scheduled for a day, I need to leave it at that.  If I find time to do something else, great.  If not, that’s okay too.  I’m an Organizing Junkie has a great post on how to stop complicating our lives.  Likewise, Zen Habits has a list on how to make our lives simpler.  And Becoming Minimalist offers tips on how to become unbusy.

Overall, the points are clear to me:
  • I need to find and focus on what’s important to me.
  • I need to learn to say no.
  • I need to keep it simple. 

All of this I will try to do going forward in order to save my own sanity (and by association, my husband’s).  I am going to take the next week to decompress, not do anything on my to do list, and just relax.  After that, I will start anew, with a different focus in mind.


  1. Hi, Susan. I hope you really do take this next week to relax and recharge. It's hard to balance introversion needs with a desire to be helpful and present for those around you. I'm on the same boat: I'm very introverted and very motivated by a desire to help and be present for others. I believe it's absolutely essential to learn to say no; it's hard, because you feel like you're letting people down (especially because you feel you've built up their expectations), but ultimately it does get easier over time. I believe taking time for yourself isn't at all selfish, but one of the essential responsibilities you have to yourself and everyone that you care about.

    (I would recommend scheduling in days or time blocks for yourself ahead of time, so you don't over-book -- I put it in my calendar with something repositionable, so I can move it around -- but putting it in helps me respect that time as a commitment I've made to myself.)

    Good luck, and rest up. As always, a great post.

    1. Hi M Ng,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it really is something that's very important, however hard it might be to instill into my brain. But I'm working on it! I've been blocking out days for the next few months -- if I'm working one weekend day, the other remains unscheduled. I'm using the Martha Stewart stickers for this since they are reposition-able. It might always be possible to leave an unscheduled day for every weekend, but I'm going to try very hard!

  2. Hi Susan! I can so relate to this post. One thing I've learned is to schedule in some personal time - time to just sit and read or knit or write a letter - and then do it... and even a small amount makes a big difference. It's like it snowballs in your mind if you just keep thinking about not having time to relax. Not sure I'm articulating this well, but hopefully it helps!

    1. Hi Claudia,
      Yes, very true. Some nights I am able to carve out 30 minutes to and hour just to relax, but lately I haven't even had the time for that. Once I get back into my routine, I'm hoping to get back to at least that 30 minutes, but hopefully more.

  3. Hello Susan,

    I've been here before (apart from the highly organized part... I've never been highly organized). I have gotten much, much better at getting things done since I started using a planner, and I let far fewer things fall through the cracks. That said, the increased productivity has definitely increased my sense of capacity for "stuff" to do. So I have a lot on my plate. I get very tired if I don't have one relatively open, free day each week. Sleep in, read the paper, take a long walk, cook a big dinner, read...

    You can't control the stuff around you, and some of that will ruin your plans; I recently got notice that my tenant is moving out so spent what I estimate was about 50 hours last week advertising, fielding inquiries, scheduling showings, hosting showings, discussing rental policies and criteria, reviewing applications and contacting references, drawing up a lease... This was on top of my real job. Then the other rental had a plumbing issue which took some time to take care of. So now I'm very tired. I'm actively trying to clear my Monday to just have a day to rest.

    Best of luck!

    1. Wow, that is a lot going on at once. I do need to take more days to do only the things that relax me. The problem is that I very rarely get entire days for that. So I have to carve out a certain amount of hours or just one or whatever I can spare. Sunday mornings ate usually my time to relax - two cups of coffee, some journal writing, catching up on blog posts. But then I end up spending more time on that and get behind in other tasks. It's all about balance really. But balance needs to include the things I want to do, not just the things I have to do.

      Thanks josh!

  4. Thanks for an interesting post.
    This is something that I have been working on for probably years now. I can too easily feel responsible for stuff & want to help people, so in the past have taken on way too many things. And then I used to struggle with saying no once I'd agreed in the first place...

    Over time, I've been working on reducing commitments that didn't really add anything to my wellbeing or that I didn't really enjoy. I think the biggest wake up call was when I travelled to Iceland last summer as my Dad had a quadruple heart bypass out there. During the 2 weeks away, I found that the only things I really missed were my loved ones back home & the martial art that I practise.

    I love weekends when we don't have anything particular planned now! I enjoy the mixture of getting stuff done & then chilling out. For example, I'm writing up some AGM minutes right now, but am taking a break reading about filos before getting back to it :)
    Good luck.

    1. While things like family emergencies and the like are in no way fun, they do help to put things into perspective. They do shed light on what is really important and what is not. I have a hard time keeping that at the front of my mind. I often get so bogged down with details and the amount of things I need to attend to that I often forget what is really important, as opposed to what is just excess.

      I do think I need to incorporate regular exercise to keep the sess at bay, no matter what goes in in life. (I do exercise, but as of late it hasn't been at all regular.)

      Thanks for your comment!

  5. I think we read the same blogs! I read that article by Unclutterer, too. I absolutely agreed with what they said.

    It's really hard to keep from getting too busy. There are so many things to do and so many demands on our time. When I was working full-time, I was barely keeping up with the basics, and if anyone asked us to do anything extra, it nearly pushed me over the edge. There just wasn't enough time!!! I think that when you work full-time you have to say no more. You just can't do it all. And you have to have time to take care of your to-do's and yourself.

    Now that I'm back home full-time, I really don't have any more time than I did when I was working. I'm busy with my blog, my grandkids (3-1/2 and 2), my family, my husband's bookkeeping - I'm busy. But I do have downtime. I couldn't survive without it.

    On Friday we had a showing of our house (we're trying to sell it) at 9:00 a.m. So I went to McDonalds and got breakfast and then went to the park and sat and ate my breakfast and read a book while I waited for the showing to be done. It was AWESOME. It was a gorgeous day and it felt so good to just sit. I'm amazed at how an hour of quiet here and there can be so energizing.

    Good luck with the changes you want to make. I hope you're able to get some relief in your schedule.

    1. I used to go to panera or Starbucks every once in a while just for the sake of writing. If I stay home, I tend to get distracted. But I haven't done that in a long time. I have to get back to doing that, at least once in a while.

      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Hi,
    Found you via Philofaxy. I was hearing myself agreeing with your post out loud all the way through. Only on Friday I was unexpectedly asked at work if I could mend a colleagues jacket ( I am a Textiles teacher) I said yes but not immediately as I had a couple of lessons to do but they still came back within an hour expecting it to have been completed.

    Realisitcally I should have said no due to there being no time but it could have been done if THEIR timescale had been more reasonable. So I also think that if a task for someone else is not given with a reasonable time frame and it is not actually a part of my job then I will need to start saying NO! I should not be stressed out due to someone elses bad time managment either.
    Best of luck with it all.

    Excellent post

    1. Hi indigo,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, one of the things that I must learn to do is to postpone giving people an answer right away. I tend to agree to things just because I have the time or because I can't think of a reason as to why I shouldn't do it. But not wanting to should be reason enough. And delaying a response might allow me to really look at all of consequences of saying yes.

      Thanks again!

  7. oohh Susan, saying "no" is SO important. I also just learned this (and really started applying it) a few months ago and what a difference! I read somewhere, someone's blog, (don't remember where) that the most productive peeps say "no" a lot. They decide what is meaningful and important for them and don't let any distraction get in the way. Sounds ruthless but really at the end of the day, the weeks or even years, our happiness depends on it. It depends on our self-care, and fulfillment.
    Have an awesome relaxing, nurturing week! :)

    1. Thanks Lime Tree! Yes, while I have other things to keep in mind on order to keep myself sane, I think learning to say no and sticking to that needs to be my number one priority. And I think it's going to be my biggest challenge. But I'm determined to at least really try to do my best where that's concerned. I might not always be able to stick to it, but I will sure try.

      Thanks for your comment!


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