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Six Powerful Ways to Take (Happy) Charge of Your Time

If you wanted to, you could read more than 5 billion search results about how to save time. But, ironically, that might be a waste of your time. After all, as KJ Dell’Antonia, former New York Times reporter and author of How to Be a Happier Parent, says:

“When it comes to time, you can savor it. You can endure it. You can miss it—which is that thing when you suddenly look up at the clock and realize you just spent an hour and a half on Facebook. But you really cannot save it. It only moves in one direction.”

The important question then is how can we spend our time more wisely and joyously—and, as author Courtney Carver puts it, “enjoy what we’re doing, notice what we’re doing, and really show up for our lives.” 

Here are six ideas—from being more honest about family responsibilities to evaluating yourself by something more meaningful than a to-do list:

1.    Boycott the “busy” answer—and ask better questions. 

“I highly recommend doing a seven-day ban on the word “busy,” says Carver, adding that there are two reasons to do this: One is that when we say we’re busy, we tend to feel busier. The other is when we tell other people about how busy we are, we may be signaling that we’re too busy for a meaningful conversation. Instead, she recommends asking more probing questions such as:

  • “What made you smile today?”
  • “What are you interested in?”
  • “What are you working on?”

2.    Be more honest about family responsibilities.

“One thing that people with family responsibilities often do is mask them,” says Dell’Antonia. They say ‘Yeah, I’ll be out this afternoon. I got an appointment,’ when their mother is having chemotherapy.’ Maybe you don’t want to share that but you could say ‘I’ll be out this afternoon. I’ve got a responsibility to my mom.’ Or ‘I’ll be out this afternoon. I’ve got a kids’ baseball game to referee.’”

Being more open about family responsibilities at work will not only help you, it will help you change the workplace for the better, says Lauren Smith Brody, author of The Fifth Trimester. “If you can embrace the idea that being open about your personal life in the workplace actually propels your workplace forward, and makes it more modern, and helps people feel more motivated and more loyal in their work, which is what all the research shows, do that.”

3.    Order your groceries at work—and feel OK about it.

If you’re working at home, says Smith Brody, you should also feel OK about doing some family-related things at work. “Go ahead and order groceries at work,” she says, “because you are probably also the person who is answering your emails at 10 and 11 at night.”

“How do you get comfortable doing that in a way that doesn’t make you feel constantly guilty? I think that some of it is about redefining what guilt is. Guilt implies that you’ve done something wrong.” But these permeable lines between work life and family life, she adds, are the new normal.

4.    Say “no” more often.

“I say ‘no’ all the time,” says Carver. “I don’t say ‘no’ because I’m so busy, I say ‘no’ because I don’t want to be so busy. I’m going to keep saying it, ‘no, no, no,’ so that I can say ‘yes’ to all the things I want to say ‘yes’ to.”

5.    Evaluate yourself by something better than your to-do list.

“At the end of the day, we look at our to-do list. If it’s only half crossed off, then we have only succeeded at 50 percent, and we have failed by 50 percent. We have to stop measuring who we are by what we accomplish, and look at who we really are, and what we really bring to our families and to the world. And it’s not on your to-do list.”

These tips are drawn from “Time-Saving Tips for Women at All Stages of Life” at the 2018 Pennsylvania Conference for Women.