Resolve to Take Back Your Time

By    Dec 23, 2013
I don’t have time to exercise because I’m too busy.  I can’t spend time with my husband because I’m staying late at work.  I won’t be able to see a doctor until February because I’m never free on Mondays.

How many times have you used a version of the above statements? Chances are, you tell yourself or someone else “I don’t have time for that” on a daily basis. My life changed when I decided to stop thinking about my schedule as filled with commitments the universe has shackled me to, but rather as choices I’ve consciously made about how I spend my time, and therefore what  I see as a priority in my life.

Intentionally selecting the language you use to describe your commitments alters the way you view your time. Today is a great example. It’s the Friday before my annual winter vacation and I’m filling every spare second with tasks. A friend has asked me to join her for lunch, but I’ve planned to go jogging with my puppy to get some exercise in before a long plane ride to the west coast. I could tell the friend simply “I can’t. I’m too busy,” but that’s not exactly true; my decision to jog is not irreversible. Instead, I tell the friend that I would love to see her, but I am going to spend my lunchtime jogging because today, exercise is really a priority. The latter statement feels much different to me than “I can’t.” It lets my friend know a bit more about what matters to me while keeping me honest about the fact that I’m choosing exercise above spending time with a friend in this particular instance.

Talking about your commitments as choices also helps to illuminate what decisions you might be making that don’t align with your priorities. As the author of this HBR blog post points out, the ability to say no sometimes is a valuable skill. I recently had a conversation with a former classmate who told me that she can’t ever spend time with her spouse because she has to work extra hours every night. I wonder how she would have felt had she stated that she chooses to devote evenings to work rather than family. Perhaps that’s exactly in line with her priorities (fine by me, if so!). But if not, this might be an eye-opener for my classmate and a call for her to make some changes so that the way she spends her time aligns with her priorities.

Of course, there are always trade-offs. You may value time with your kids over your job, but your job allows you to provide the family with necessities such as food and shelter. No one would disagree if you said that was non-negotiable. However, it’s empowering to apply this frame of thinking to the parts of your life where you may have a little more wiggle room.

If your new years resolution list includes achieving more balance in your life, I offer this post as a tool to help you consider how you are consciously choosing to spend your time. Remember, you don’t really HAVE to do anything but breathe in this life. Everything else is a choice.