By Leo Babauta
When I decided to change my life a little over 5 years ago, I had a very common problem: I didn’t have the time.
I wanted to exercise and find time for my family and eat healthier (instead of the fast-food junk I’d been eating) and read more and write and be more productive and increase my income.
Unfortunately there are only 24 hours in a day, and we sleep for about 8 of them. Subtract the hours we spend eating (3), showering and dressing and fixing up (1), cleaning and running errands (1), driving (2), working (8) … and you’re left with an hour or two at most. Often less.
Eventually I figured out how to do all the things I wanted to do. I’ve achieved all of that and more, and in fact I have more leisure time now than ever. But first I had to figure out the fundamental problem: how could I find the time to change my life?
I know many of you face the same problem — you’ve told me as much. So I thought I’d share some of what I did in the beginning, in hopes that it’ll help.
The First Step
You must make a commitment. You have to decide that you really want to make a change, and that it’s more important than almost anything else.
For me, only my family was more important — and in fact I was making these change for my family as well as for myself. So these changes I was making were really my top priority in life.
It has to be that urgent for you. Think of this not as “improving your life” but saving it. The changes I made saved my life — I am so much healthier, my marriage is better, my relationships with my kids have improved, I am happier rather than depressed.
If you don’t feel you’re saving your life then you won’t make the tough changes needed.
Once I made the mental commitment, I took small steps to give myself a little wiggle room to breathe and move:
- Cut out TV. I watched less TV than ever before (eventually I watched none, though now I watch a few shows a week over the Internet). For many people this one change will free up a couple hours or more.
- Read less junk. I used to read a lot of things on the Internet that were just entertainment. Same with magazines. I cut that stuff out early so I could focus on what was more important.
- Go out less. I used to go to a lot of movies and to dinner and drinking. I cut that out (mostly) for awhile, to make time.
- Wake earlier. Not everyone is going to do this but it was a good step for me. I found that I had more time exercising and working in the morning before anyone woke up — the world was quiet and at peace and without interruptions. (Read more.)
In general, find the things that eat up your time that are less important than the changes you want to make. That’s almost everything except the things you need to live — work and eating and stuff like that. Cut back on them where you can.
I had a lot of commitments in my life — I coached soccer, was on the PTA board, served on a lot of committees at work, had social commitments as well, worked on a number of projects.
Slowly I cut them out. They seemed important but in truth none of them were as important as the life I wanted to create, the changes I wanted to make. Lots of things are important — but which are the absolute most important? Make a decision.
If you are having trouble making a decision, try an experiment. Cut out a commitment just for a little while. See whether you suffer from cutting it out, or whether you like the extra time.
If you’re worried about offending people, don’t. Send an email or make a phone call and explain that you’d love to keep doing the commitment but you just don’t have the time and don’t want to half-ass it. The person might try to talk you into staying but be firm — respect yourself and your time and the changes you’re trying to make.
Here’s a secret: the people and organizations you’ve been helping or working with will live. They will go on doing what they were doing without you, and (omg!) they will survive without you. Your departure will not cause the world to collapse. Let go of the guilt.
Streamline Your Life
Eventually I made many other changes, including:
- Making bills and savings and debt payments automatic. I set everything up online so that I wouldn’t have to run errands or spend time making payments. This put my debt reduction on automatic, and I got out of debt. (Read more.)
- Streamlining errands. I tried to cut as many errands out of my life as possible. Often that meant changing my life in some way but I adjusted and things became simpler. I cleaned as I went so I didn’t have a lot of cleaning to do on weekends. I did the few errands I had all at once to save running around.
- Work less. I would set limits to how much I could work, forcing myself to pick the important tasks and to get those tasks done on time. I learned which tasks needed to be done and which could be dropped. I became much more effective and worked less.
- Say no. When people asked me to do stuff that was important to them but not to me, I learned to politely decline. Instead I focused on what was important to me.
Slowly I learned to simplify. I simplified my daily routines, my work, my social life, my possessions, my chores, my wardrobe. It took time but it has been more than worth the effort: life is so much better now that I’ve created the time to do what I want to do.