I’ve been on a productivity and time management reading binge lately. Part of my interest stems from the goal-setting process I went through before the year began. Using Power Sheets for the first time opened my eyes to a lot of my own behavior patterns.
Looking back at what worked last year and what didn’t work, I was able to see that time management is an area where I really want to grow and improve. I have an abundance of time, but I can be a very poor steward of those hours.
While you may not feel like you have plenty of time to accomplish all you need, you probably recognize that there is some time in your life that gets squandered. I don’t believe that every minute of the day should be productive. However, I also know that I waste far more time than I’d like to admit.
What is White Space?
If we use our time wisely, it creates the opportunity for what I call “white space” in our weekly schedule. Some call it “margin” or “breathing room” or simply “free time.” The idea is the same. We need to have time available for rest and self care so that we don’t burn out.
In the same way that the white space in this image allows you to focus more clearly on the different elements, white space in your schedule gives you the opportunity to find rest so that you can more easily concentrate on your priorities.
Related: Self Care – What, Why and How?
Far too often, I see moms who don’t feel as though they can prioritize their own needs. It seems selfish or like it just won’t fit into their schedule. They’re so used to worrying about everyone else that they don’t leave any room for themselves.
Here’s a little tough love: we often use the excuse that we don’t have time for certain activities when the truth is that we don’t make time for those things. Being a mom is a round-the-clock job. If we let it, the demands on our time and energy will be all-consuming. It’s up to us to find time to recharge our batteries.
How to create white space
You might be thinking, “how on earth am I supposed to make time for myself when I can barely keep up with the needs of my family?” Trust me when I say that I get this. It can be incredibly hard to carve time out of a busy schedule for something that doesn’t seem like a necessity.
But in this case, attitude is half the battle. If you don’t believe that you deserve time to rest, recharge, or invest in your own interests, then you will struggle to find the time. On the other hand, if you recognize that you can’t do all the things without some time of your own, then you will make white space a priority.
Here are the 5 steps I take to make sure that I carve out white space in my schedule so I don’t end up feeling exhausted and overburdened.
1 | Determine static commitments in your schedule.
Some elements of your weekly calendar are consistent the majority of the time. Aside from vacations and snow days, the kids are at school for the same duration each week. Music lessons, sports practices, and clubs generally meet at the same times. If you work outside the home, you most likely have some regularity to the hours you spend at your job.
Enter these static time commitments into your calendar first since they are the most predictable. Since there’s less (or no) flexibility in these activities, you’ll need to work around them.
2 | Schedule time for other responsibilities.
Aside from static commitments, we all have responsibilities that require our time each week. Household duties like cleaning, grocery shopping, and meal prep all demand our attention.
Make a list of all of the extra responsibilities you need to address in a normal week. Then divide these tasks into 3 categories: cleaning, errands, and personal.
Cleaning and errands are self-explanatory. Personal tasks might include things like exercise or daily Bible study or journaling.
Now put these tasks into your weekly schedule. For example, Sunday might be when you plan your weekly menu and grocery shop. Monday could be the day you vacuum. A less structured option is to schedule a block of time each day for household tasks.
The idea is to have these responsibilities worked into your schedule so that you know when you actually have time available for white space activities.
3 | Block out time for white space.
It might seem counterintuitive to schedule “free” time. But, the reality is that if we aren’t purposeful about planning time to rest, we often don’t do it at all.
White space doesn’t need to be hours and hours or every day. Planning 30 minutes to eat lunch and read a book in peace is a perfectly good way to recharge for me. Mindlessly scrolling on social media is not. It’s not that I don’t like to do it. It just isn’t what refuels my tank.
When you know that the rest of your commitments and responsibilities are accounted for in your schedule, you’re less likely to feel guilty about doing something for yourself. Having coffee with a friend is much more pleasant when you aren’t feeling like you should be doing x, y or z.
4 | How to Find time in a busy schedule.
If you put down your static commitments and your extra responsibilities, and you don’t see any additional time, there are a couple things to think about.
Are there activities that you’re committing to that bring you zero fulfillment? Saying no to an opportunity might be hard in the moment, but beneficial in the long run. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s also too easy to spread ourselves thin.
While you can’t say no to raising your children, you don’t have to be on every fundraising committee at school. Just because someone asks does not mean you have to say yes if it means giving up your only free morning.
Another trick I use is to make otherwise wasted time more beneficial or enjoyable. Instead of just watching my kids’ 40 minute karate class, I pop in headphones and listen to a podcast. It makes the time pass in a more interesting way where exactly zero participation is required from me as a parent. I do the same when I’m in the car running errands.
When my kids were home full time, we had a babysitter come every other Friday. She arrived in the afternoon so I could have a couple hours on my own. Then my husband would come home from work and we’d go out for a date night. Yes, it cost money, but it was worth it. Swapping time with another mom is a great option if you’re on a tight budget or don’t have family nearby to help.
5 | Focus during your white space.
My final tip is to make sure that when you go through the steps to block out white space in your schedule, use it wisely. Don’t channel surf or scroll through social media unless that is truly what recharges your batteries.
Don’t do “just one more thing” around the house that eats into the time you’ve allocated. While you’re in charge of your own schedule, we all know how quickly those little things add up. Give yourself permission to use that time for you.
This is a sample of my weekly schedule:
Pink is for free time, personal responsibilities, or time with my husband. Yellow is time primarily devoted to kid-related stuff, although dinner technically falls under family time. Purple is for work/blog-related tasks and household duties. Green is family time. Blue is sleep.
I purposely kept the descriptions vague so that it would be easier to envision your own life broken into these categories. Obviously they sometimes overlap. Saturday and Sunday include household tasks, date nights, and kids’ activities on a regular basis. However, those days are typically spent together as a family in some capacity.
Also, remember that this is a work in progress for me too. I don’t stick to a rigid schedule every day. Mapping out my week is my attempt to stay focused and purposeful about how I spend my time.
If you’ve been struggling to get things done, this might help you as well. Think of it as a game plan for the week. It’s not going to go perfectly, but it provides a starting point.