Is Your Time Free For the Taking?

Is your calendar busting at the seams? Are you a doormat when it comes to allowing people to take your time? Are you busy just to be busy?

We are living in a scary time. Everyone I meet is busier than the last. Stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed.

We live in a world where it has become expected and acceptable, for people to steal our time. Couple that with a calendar filled with kid’s sports practices, business meetings, community volunteer activities and all the other commitments we’ve made, it’s only natural to feel like our time is under a constant state of attack. Let’s not forget to add the guilt so many of us carry if our time or attention is on our work instead of our family or on our family instead of our work. It’s no wonder we struggle to find or make time for ourselves.

But here’s the deal, I am a big believer that if you do not protect your calendar, that it will be abused. So try these tips to protect your calendar and defend your time.


Establish Your Priorities

It’s imperative that you’re able to prioritize opportunities in your life and career. Basing your priorities on your values is an excellent way to remove any guilt you may have about telling someone no. Make a list of your top five values (freedom, career growth, family, money, etc.) and compare it with a list of all of the commitments (activities/events). If a commitment doesn’t match with any of your top values, ask yourself: Is this something that is moving me closer to my goals? If not, consider canceling it.”

Block Your Time

Schedule blocks of time for your most demanding projects, imperative events and essential job duties, and protect those time blocks as you would any other calendar appointment. Your calendar should look like some weird tetris board with lots of blocks of time already reserved for your tasks/activities.

Schedule Your Personal Time

It’s one thing to schedule all your “to-do” items, but it’s also important to plan “me time.” Yes, that means actually blocking that time on your calendar. While that time block may not be used for anything in partcular or you might just spend it taking a bubble bath – it matters and it counts! The key to managing busyness is keeping that blocked-off time sacred – regardless if it is for your job, your family, or yourself.

Practice the “Right To Decline”

Learning to say “no” can be difficult at times. But if you want to spend your time on your priorities then it’s a necessary evil. So I have to ask: Does that event/activity/project add value to your life? Do you even want to do it? Are you just saying “yes” because you feel obligated or trapped?

If you are regularly stressed or overwhelmed by the capacity of your calendar and how you’re going to fit it all in, it’s time to start declining extra opportunities and invitations so you can focus on what is important to you. Practicing your “right to decline” is more than just saying no – it’s owning the right to allocate your time as you see fit. You have the ability to say no to others, to meetings, to new obligations and to taking on the work of others. All you have to do is briefly explain the other commitments you have, that you don’t want to say yes to something you can’t commit to and thank the person for thinking of you.

Need a good place to start? The next time you have to “squeeze” something in – just say no.

Consider the Opportunity Cost

Every minute that you spend has an infinite number of ways that you could potentially use it. By spending this minute here, you are not using it over here. When people ask you to do things (even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as grabbing lunch with them), think not only of what you might get from that experience, but also what the gap is between doing that and doing something else that might be more fulfilling. Make your decision on your prioritized values.

Make More Time

You’re already practicing the suggestions above but you still need more time? Then make some. You choose where you spend your time. So declutter your space, cut the cable bill, turn off notifications on your phone, get off the internet or listen to audiobooks during your commutes. There are plenty pockets of time that can be used more effectively and efficiently. You just have to choose to spend your time on something else.

Your time in an incredibly valuable resource. Don’t let others plan it for you and don’t let schedules over run you. When it comes to your calendar, a good offense is a good defense.

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