For as long as I’ve started tacking up my own calendar on a wall, I’ve struggled with how I fill it.
I wrestle with whether I spend time well, wonder if I prioritize the right things, regret the things that don’t make it in. If you’ve related to the recent posts about high expectations, too much guilt, or trouble expressing yourself honestly, you may also know the struggle of relating to time in cycles of “too busy”, “too stressed”, or “out of balance”.
Below are some guidelines I’ve acquired over time that help me be more intentional in my relationship with time. Although many of them seem simple on the surface, they ultimately help me to recognize my needs, communicate them clearly, and feel more in control of my life, and I hope they can help you too!
1. Prioritize Values
There is a simple activity that I’ve found helpful across spiritual retreats, career decisions, and times of transition: listing your values. This activity works here too because angst about how I spend time is ultimately a discomfort about whether my life reflects my values. When things are out of balance, I make a list of the things that matter and then I order them by priority level. Seeing this laid out clearly sometimes ushers in peace by confirming what I already knew or helping me verbalize an intention. Other times it brings to light a need to make adjustments so that how much energy I put towards something is reflective of how much it matters to me.
2. Name Hidden Value-Zones
Even when life feels balanced, I sometimes experience intense emotions around the way time is spent. In those moments, it’s time to check-in about what’s happening below the surface. Often times, I have a value attached to an event that I may or may not realize is there. For example, I’ve come to learn about myself that I associate dinner time as a sacred space for connecting, moving slowly, and eating good food (surely because this was exactly what dinner was for me growing up). I find myself agitated without knowing why when phones are out or meals are rushed. Recognizing I attach this value to meals that others may not, helps me to own my emotional reaction to it.
3. Communicate Needs
Becoming more aware of my values and when I expect them to be at play is the first step. The second step is being able to communicate them to others. Recently, my husband and I noticed that wide-open weekends are a place we run into trouble. They start out full of potential but end up feeling distracted and wasted. Teasing it apart, we realized weekends can go in three directions for us—productivity, family fun, or rest—and when we try to cram it all in, none of the above happens. Now we try to communicate what we want or need before the weekend approaches, removing the tangle of unsaid expectations and helping our time to feel more focused.
4. Ritualize Transitions in Time
Rituals are another seemingly simple solution, but one we seem to need as humans. People in ministry and therapy are trained to help people come up with a ritual that captures their movement from an old self to a new self. Religion understands this need, having age-old specific rituals to mark “an outward expression of an inner change.” Even culturally, we have rituals to mark the movement of seasons and time across the year.
We need these rituals too in the small transitions throughout the week. It helps us to shift from one state of mind or body to the next. As we move from a structured work-week into the weekend, it’s helpful to have a ritual to help us let go of our hyper-productive energy and enter a more lax one. For women especially, it can be helpful to mark the transition from chores, work, and stress to enter more presently into playful, romantic sex with a partner. The movement from waking to sleeping is another transition in the day, the internet full of abundant tips to help us ease into “turning off.” Not only do rituals helps us with less anxiety throughout the week, but several studies have shown that there is also a correlation between higher family bonding and individual functioning within families who had specific rituals and traditions.
5. Build a Frame
This last tip I’ve been fighting for a while, but have finally given into, partially forced by parenthood: having a highly scheduled week. I used to think that being too structured removed room for spontaneity or actually created more stress by trying to follow the schedule perfectly, but I’ve found the opposite. It’s not a new idea that freedom actually looks like restriction. People are more free to make choices when they are presented with less of them. Many parenting and teaching theories talk about how much children actually need structure in order to be creative and playful within it. The French call this parenting structure the “frame,” and the idea of setting a boundary around a blank canvas speaks to me. I think we could all use a frame around our lives—we need both a protective boundary and a defining border.
Do you have your unique take on any of these tips? Share them in the comments!