One of these days. That’s when you’ll paint your bedroom, read that 800-page historical biography, and learn to speak French. But right now work is crazy, your family is embroiled in yet another drama, and that pile of laundry isn’t going to wash itself. You barely have time to think, much less kick back with a cup of tea.
If your dreams of personal time keep dissolving in a sea of unwashed dishes, try these six success strategies.
1. Put It in Your Calendar
Laura Stack, author of Find More Time and Leave the Office Earlier, says that whether you want time to write a novel or just take a bubble bath, you have to carve it out first. “It can be as simple as saying I’m going to be in the tub from 8 to 8:30 each night and I don’t want to be disturbed,” she says. Stack also suggests that you make an appointment with yourself. “Put it right in your daybook or your Outlook Calendar, then that time will come up as unavailable when you’re making plans with others,” says Stack. No one needs to know that your “appointment” is to meditate in your bedroom or read magazines in the park.
2. Curb Your Web Time
Stack says that most professionals waste an average of one to two hours a day. The biggest culprit: the Internet. All that time Googling ex-boyfriends and checking your eBay account really adds up. Instead of going online every time you get curious about Brad and Angelina’s kid, Stack suggests you write a master list of everything you want to look up, and then do so at the end of the day. By then, you may realize you can live without the latest pics of little Shiloh.
3. Limit Your Options
Whether you’re buying an MP3 player, a cell-phone plan, or a leather jacket, you could spend hours researching your options and countless Saturday afternoons schlepping to stores in your quest to find the best. But Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, says don’t bother. “It’s not worth the effort. There’s no way to know if you’ve ever found ‘the best,'” he says. Instead, look at four or five options and pick from there. Sure you might find a better product or price if you look at 50 options, but when you factor in the time and energy that would take, it’s probably not such a value.
4. Buy Time, Not Stuff
If that unmowed lawn or unscrubbed bathtub is preventing you from relaxing, calculate what it would cost to hire someone else to do it, versus the value of your time and mental well-being. “I talk to a lot of professions who make all this money and buy stuff,” says Stack. “I encourage them to buy time.” Her favorite home time-saver: premade meal plans like Supper Solutions that that enable customers to put together two weeks’ worth of meals in a couple of hours and then freeze them for later use.
5. Turn Off Your E-Mail Alert
And check it as infrequently as your job permits, hopefully once or twice a day. Stack stays that e-mail wastes time because it interrupts the flow of your work. “You’re constantly ramping up and then going back and rethinking what you’re doing. It’s a lot more effort than if you just took 20 minutes and focused on that one thing,” she says. By turning off the bell — or quack or frog croak — that says “You’ve got mail!” you’ll work more efficiently and can then respond to e-mails when you’re ready.
6. Lower Your Standards
If you can’t afford a cleaning service — and actually even if you can — you can also save a lot of housekeeping time by giving your kids some responsibilities. “A lot of parents are really lax in terms of sharing the load, but even small kids can pitch in,” says Stack. But this means accepting that your 7-year-old probably won’t make the bed with the crisp hospital corners that you do. “I use the 80 percent rule. If someone else can do it 80 percent as well as I can, then that’s fine,” says Stack. “My 5-year-old sets the table at night. She may not be perfect, but if it gives me time to relax, I don’t mind having the fork on the wrong side of the plate once in a while.”