It can be easy to feel rushed off our feet or like we don't have the time to do the things we really want to, because we're just too busy. The solution, writes acclaimed author, journalist and clinical psychologist Linda Blair, is to streamline your schedule. It will cut out the clutter, let you do more of what you want and help you enjoy more of life.
Streamlining presupposes a clear path ahead, so before you can make plans and expect your life to run smoothly, you will have to de-clutter. There are three types of clutter that hold us back: psychological, physical and procedural.
Start with the most demoralising type of clutter, the psychological. Every time you tell yourself that you 'should' do something, examine that 'should' carefully. Do you really need to do whatever it is, or are you just trying to please others and appear acceptable generally? If you're only trying to please, consider dumping this unfulfilling task so you can free up time for the things that you find much more satisfying. If you really must do this 'should', see if you can approach it in a more enjoyable — and therefore more energising — way.
Next, de-clutter physically. Take a good look at your possessions — your clothes, household items and so on. What have you not used/worn for more than two years? Those are the things you're unlikely to need at all, so why hang on to them? Consider selling your unused items or, better yet, donating them to a charity where the proceeds will benefit lots of people. Less choice makes for quicker and firmer decisions, and research has shown that you'll also feel happier about the choices you make when there's less to agonise over.
Lastly, de-clutter procedurally. Take a careful look at your weekly schedule. Do you really have to do everything yourself? Could you delegate some of the things you do? Could you double up on others, say by shopping less frequently, or by carpooling with other parents on the school run? Simplify wherever you can.
Now that you've cleared away the unnecessary, organise what's left. Set aside 20 minutes every Sunday to plan the week ahead. List everything you know you must do that week, and write these activities into your diary. Include even the 'obvious'—preparing and eating meals, picking up the kids from school. That way, you won't inadvertently double book yourself if someone unexpectedly asks you do something else at those times.
There will inevitably be spaces left in your week, even if only a few. What have you been meaning or wanting to do, but feel you 'never get the time'? You now have the opportunity to make a start on your wish list. Be sure to write these activities into your diary, too, so they form part of your new and more fulfilling schedule.
Finally, learn to say 'no' effectively. When someone asks you to do something unexpected or new, thank him or her, but buy time by saying that you need to check your diary before agreeing. That way, you'll be less likely to make an impulsive commitment you'll regret later. If there's nothing in your diary at that time, you can of course agree to the request. However, if you're busy already, turn the request down gently but clearly—'No, I'm sorry, but I can't do that.' Don't attempt to explain or justify, because that invites argument. Keep it simple!