It’s no secret that we live in a crazy busy world full of endless distractions and opportunities. At any given moment we are susceptible to being sidetracked from the things really matter.
How many times have you sat down to quickly send an important email and gotten sucked in by checking your email, clicking a link that leads you to a blog, which leads you to more blogs, which leads you to Facebook, which leads you to wasting hours watching silly cat videos? (Don’t lie, I know it’s not just me!)
It’s not just the outside distractions either. There are also the needs and requests from other people that pop up throughout our day, both loud and subtle, that demand our time, energy and resources as if we are unlimited supplies of everything for everyone.
Have you ever felt like that? Like if it’s not one thing or one person, it’s another? Like something or someone always needs you? If so, I promise you are not alone!
As a wife, homeschooling mama to four little girls under age 8, daughter, sister, friend and small business owner I have often been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of demands for my attention.
I’ve struggled with being a people pleaser and competitive perfectionist for most of my life, which led me to develop bad habits of saying yes far too often, overloading myself with too many responsibilities, tasks and commitments that constantly left me feeling depleted (and honestly a little cuckoo sometimes!)
When things finally came to a head in early 2017 I had a major wakeup call and decided to actively change those bad habits I’d developed. I knew it wouldn’t just happen on its own….I had to step up and take ownership of my life and my time, because if I didn’t my life and my time would continue to be dictated by the whims of others.
5 Practical Ways to Simplify Your Schedule
Here are some of the key things that I’ve learned and implemented in my own life that have helped me simplify and streamline my schedule and how I’m spending my time. My hope is that you’ll begin implementing some changes yourself, little by little, and be able to look back on your life one day feeling pleased with how you chose to live and what you chose to prioritize.
1. Know your priorities
When it comes to how you’re spending your time and setting up your schedule, it’s absolutely essential that you have clearly defined priorities so you know what needs to go where. If your priorities are out of whack (or worse, if you don’t even know what they are!) your schedule and life will always feel out of whack.
Take some time to figure out what your overall priorities are in life, then put them in order of which are the highest priorities and which are the lowest. If you need some help in this area, check out my free Core Values Assessment which will walk you through identifying your core values and uncovering what your priorities need to be.
Ready to uncover your core values?
Click here to grab your FREE Core Values Assessment and start living on purpose.
There are also what I like to call “secondary” priorities….the things that need to be prioritized on a daily basis, but don’t fall under the category of “overall priorities.” You need to have a firm grasp of what your overall priorities are, and what exactly it is that you want most in any given situation, so that you can properly prioritize things as they come up.
Also, recognize that it is perfectly fine to go through seasons where certain things become a higher priority than they have been in the past. For example, there may be seasons where you need to prioritize work more highly than spending lots of time with family in order to reach a certain goal. Or may you’ll need to prioritize your health more than friendships for a season.
Don’t be afraid of being honest with what matters most to you and setting your priorities up to reflect that. Doing this is WAY better than trying to perfectly balance #allthethings, all the time. You’ll be able to focus more effectively on what counts and show up the way you want to in your life.
2. Automate your decision-making
Something that often gets people in trouble is responding to things without thinking first. How many times have you agreed to help a friend or attend an event without taking the time to really determine if the opportunity is the best use of your time?
I’m totally guilt over here. That’s why I created a new habit for myself awhile back, after being inspired by a friend who was doing it.
I’d called her to invite her to do something, and while she heartily replied that she would love to, she said she’d have to let me know the following day since she had set a personal intention to give herself 24 hours before committing to things.
She had been saying yes to too much for too long, and was taking intentional action to change her habits. I love the idea, and began putting it into practice myself!
Now I personally don’t take 24 hours because I tend to be a pretty decisive person. But I always give myself at least 15 minutes to pause, think things through, and evaluate why I would be saying yes or no, what my capacity in that situation is, and whether or not I actually want to do something or not.
I also started being more intentional about running things by my husband or a close friend before saying yes, because sometimes the people closest to us are more readily willing to challenge us than we are ourselves.
Having guardrails like this can be extremely helpful in automating how we make our decisions.
3. Learn how to say no (and do it!)
The next step in proactively simplifying your schedule is learning when and how to say “no”…..and doing so liberally!
The fact of the matter is this: you cannot be, do and have #allthethings, all the time. You can’t be everywhere at once. You can’t be everything to everyone. You can. not. do. all. the. things.
This means you’re going to have to figure out what kinds of things do warrant a yes, and then be diligent about saying no when a no is necessary.
In fact, I wrote a whole other blog post about this, so instead of rehashing it all here click here to go give it a read.
4. Practice time blocking
This has to be on of my single most favorite ways of simplifying my schedule and making sure that I’m making room for the things that matter most.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of time blocking, it basically means dividing your schedule up into blocks of time throughout the day, week and month and assigning those blocks of time to specific activities based on your priorities.
For example, my highest priorities are self care, family, work, homeschooling and community. Broken down into a time blocking schedule, this looks like me blocking out time each day for things like sleep, exercise and Bible study, quality time with my hubby and my kids, time for work, homeschooling and spending time with extended family and friends.
I also intentionally leave blank spaces, or “white space” in my schedule so there is some margin. This helps be to breathe a little easier knowing that I’m not always backed into a corner having to go from one thing to the next, and that there is some wiggle room for the spontaneous things that come up.
5. Streamline with systems
I am a big fan of using systems to automate and streamline my life, because hello - why wouldn’t I be?! Anything that makes my very full life run a little more smoothly definitely has my vote.
I’ve tried a variety of systems over the years to manage my life and my time….everything from paper planners to a wall calendar to digital management tools and to-do lists. As seasons have come and gone, the systems I prefer have ebbed and flowed.
In this current season of life, my favorite tool and system is hands down Trello. I love it so much I actually created a whole course on how to use it to simplify your life, and you can try it for FREE right here!
Trello is a digital management tool that can help you get your life organized, keep track of #allthethings and always know and find what you need when you need it.
Ready to simplify your life with Trello?
If there is one thing I want you to walk away knowing after reading this, it’s that YOU are the only one who should be deciding how you spend your time and what makes its way into your schedule.
If you feel overwhelmed, overloaded and overcommitted, it’s because you let yourself get that way (sorry for the tough love, but it’s true!)
The good news is, you can ALSO get yourself out of that place! All it takes is learning to make decisions that reflect your priorities, learning to say no with grace and confidence, and learning to simplify your time management.
Words Of Wisdom From Women Just Like You
Here is what our amazing panel of contributors for the Simplicity Sessions had to say about how simplifying their schedules has changed their lives, and what they do on a practical level to simplify how they spend their time.
"I take time every Sunday to schedule my entire week. I not only schedule work-related meetings and tasks, but also workouts, meditation, date nights, intentional time with kids and meal preparation. As the week goes on the schedule inevitably changes but that's okay - I stay flexible and just make sure that my priorities get accomplished each week." - Robin Long, Pilates & Barre Instructor & Founder of The Balanced Life Online
"I don't believe in making long to-do lists - I think it's important to make a priority list. Each morning I set aside 10 minutes to plan my day - I never plan my days too far in advance because I want each day to be achievable. During that planning time, I decide on my daily goals and then I assign them a priority level of immediate (for tasks that are urgent and important), important (for tasks that are important and non-urgent) and insignificant (for tasks that are urgent but not important). That allows me to know where I want to focus my time. My goal each day is to spend the majority of my time on the important tasks. I find that when I do that, less tasks become urgent so I'm able to focus my time on the things that matter most to me and where I want to go with my goals." - Tonya Dalton, Founder + CEO of inkWELL Press, Co-Host of the Productivity Paradox Podcast
"The roles that I've prioritized most highly are the roles I give the greatest attention, time, depth, and commitment. I will often 'time block' to ensure that this is happening, and typically feel it when things get imbalanced." - Natalie Gingrich, Business & Project Manager Extraordinaire & Founder of the More Mom Movement
"Time management for me is a healthy balance between family time and work time. Efficient time management is the secret sauce to working from home, homeschooling, and trying to maintain a little bit of sanity. On a typical day, I use a flexible time block schedule. I implement simple but routine rhythms throughout the day. I try not to overbook our days, I allow plenty of time for meals, naps, and work time for me. Eating meals together is a huge priority in our family, so I make sure my daily schedule reflects that. If it’s important to you, even it’s something as simple as sharing a meal, you have to make sure it’s written in your schedule." - Sami Womack, Budgeting Coach & Founder of A Sunny Side Up Life
"I track my time using Toggl when I'm feeling really distracted. It's easy to get sidetracked by little things. I hop on Facebook to legitimately get something I need for work and then three steps later I'm reading a blog post I got baited into reading that doesn't even relate to me. I'm competitive, so tracking my time keeps me on my A-game." - Valerie Woerner, Founder of Val Marie Paper & Author of The Finishing School
"It's really hard for me to say no. It's hard to draw boundaries. But I've learned that, if I don't, I tend to feel too worn out on Thursday or Friday nights. I try and plan 3 morning activities or outings during the weekdays (including errands) and 1-2 activities at night per week (this includes a date night with my hubby). We try and take 1/2 or all of Sunday to rest and have family time, which is recharging for the week ahead. If I have more in a given week I will push it to the next week or have to say no. Another thing that has been extremely helpful is for my husband and I planning our week together on Sunday mornings. It helps our weeks go so much smoother." - Dr. Meghan Birt, Chiropractor & Founder of the Just Enjoy Health Podcast