How To Create More Time For Yourself When You Work Long Hours

how to create more time for yourself

One of our main goals at The Minimalist Vegan is to connect with you one-on-one to see how we can help you live a simpler and healthier lifestyle. We do this by giving you an opportunity to share your current frustrations around wellness, through our newsletter.

Every now and then we’ll feature your questions on the blog, as others might have a similar challenge in their journey.

In this post, we respond to one of our readers frustrations, tackling the challenge of how to create more time for yourself when you work long hours. This one is a doozy, but an area that we’re familiar with.

Let’s take a closer look at this readers concern.

In regard to your question “what is your biggest frustration with your health and wellness journey?” – the first thing that comes to my mind is not having enough time to look after myself.

I love experimenting with new recipes, especially with vegan and organic food, I would love to exercise, walk, read, meditate, pray, socialise more with likeminded friends, have better quality of life, help with causes that I believe in (e.g. human and animal rights, environmental issues), however it all seems to come down to one thing – not having enough time for the things I would love to be doing, as I work long hours, including weekends, or attend to other jobs and chores.

I hope this helps and that Minimalist Vegan have some advice and answers in regard to our issues.

I asked her to give me an idea of what a typical work day looks like for her. Here’s a rough breakdown of her timetable:

7am: wake up, prepare breakfast, have a shower and leave for work at about 8am. This varies depending on what time she needs to get into work, but she wakes on at 7am on average.

8:30am to 5pm: she is at work, and on her feet for most of the day. Sometimes she will finish earlier to run errands (grocery shopping, handling paperwork etc). Most days she will get home around 6–6:30pm.

7pm to 9:30pm: prepare dinner watch some television and get ready for bed. Sometimes she will go out for a meal and catch up with friends.

The alarm goes off at 7am and the process starts again.

Sound familiar?

I know I’ve been there before. When I worked in finance, I would often get into the office at 8am and finish at 6pm. By the time I got home I was too tired to make dinner and all I wanted to do was jump on the internet or watch some television to “wind down”. I was also studying part-time, so I would do some reading if I has enough energy, otherwise I would wait to study over the weekend.

The whole time I felt like I was chasing my tail. I wanted to perform well at work and school, but at the cost of my health. Besides playing basketball late in the evenings, I never had time to spend quality time on my own. I don’t mean watching HBO. I’m talking about reading, writing, stretching, light training, going for a walk, preparing healthy meals. All of the things I’ve created time for now that seemed impossible before.

So how does one create this time? Below I’ve listed 5 steps to help you do more of the things you love doing.

relaxing with a cup of tea

Step 1 – Create a list of low-involvement activities you love to do

This list is completely unique to what you love, not what you think you should be doing. For example, it’s highly recommended that you should meditate every day. I get it. But for me personally, I’d rather spend that time stretching because I know how good it makes me feel. For you, it might be going for a walk, or taking an online course in typography, or reading a novel. In this readers case it’s walking, reading, meditating, praying and socialising, as well as contributing more to social issues. Awesome!

In this exercise, it’s important to list as many activities as possible, you will have time later to filter the list down to the things you love the most. I suggest you only list low-involvement activities as you want to reduce any barriers of doing the activity.

For example, if one of your favourite things to do, is playing tennis with your friends, you’ll need to ensure that you have enough people to play with, which means relying on other peoples availability. Also, you’ll most likely have to travel some distance, possibly in a car to get to the tennis courts. And when you get to the courts, they might be used by someone else, if you haven’t made a booking prior.

Don’t get me wrong, tennis is lots of fun (we love it!), but there are too many opportunities for you to say no, for it to be a consistent daily routine. If on the other hand, tennis is your absolute favourite thing to do in the world, than sure, make the time for it.

An example of a low-involvement activity is walking. All you need is some decent sneakers. So there are very few barriers to actually doing this activity.

If you’re struggling to think of some low-involvement activities for your routine, we’ll be putting together a big list of examples, in next week’s post.

Step 2 – Refine your activity list

After you’ve brain dumped all of your activities onto a piece of paper, it’s time to refine the list down to 2–3 activities. This process is difficult as there are so many things we would like to do. But keep in mind that you can always change your activities, so try to focus on a few to start with.

Step 3 – Determine how much time you want to spend

At this stage you’re probably excited about incorporating your low-involvement activities into your daily routine. However there is still one important decision you have to make before moving on. That is, how much time will you spend doing these activities?

If you want to go for a walk around your neighbourhood every day, how long will it take? 10, 20, or 30 minutes? How much time do you want to spend drawing, or reading?

Depending on how tight your schedule is, I suggest aiming between 30 and 60 minutes per day for YOU time. Within that time you can do 2–3 activities, depending on your personal preference.

For me, I spend 15 minutes stretching, 15 minutes exercising and 30 minutes writing. When I do these activities I feel amazing as they are things that I love to do, and they’re also great for my health. Keep in mind that this is what works well for me, and will likely be different for you.

Step 4 – Find time for you

Now we’re into the most important step of the process. Mind you, it’s crucial for you to understand what you can do and how much time you need to do it, so that you’re motivated to make change. But the question still remains, if you work long hours, where will you find 60 minutes for quality time by yourself? You have a few options to make this happen.

  1. Do it after work – using the above example, it makes sense to slot in YOU time after dinner and before bed time. However I’ve tried this method in the past and it doesn’t work for me. By the time I finished eating dinner, I felt too tired to spend quality time on my own. It was much easier to do something brainless, like watching videos on YouTube. And for those of us with families, might find it increasingly difficult to get quiet time in an active household.
  2. Do it on your lunch break – for those of you who are fortunate enough to get a 60 minute lunch break (I used to as well), this might be a good option for you. 60 minutes gives you enough time to eat lunch and then jump into your routine. I admire those who can literally eat, go to the gym and shower in their break. You could also eat your lunch outside whilst reading a book. This timing however is dependent on what you have on during the day at work. Maybe you don’t have time to take your full hour break because your day is out of control. Or maybe where you work, you get a 30 minute break which is not quite enough time to get into your routine. Once again, there are many barriers to overcome to make this a consistent daily habit.
  3. Do it first thing in the morning – most of you probably know about the importance of creating a morning routine. Personally, I’ve found this to be the most effective time to do my activities. If you’re able to wake up an hour earlier, you can get so much more done whilst the rest of the world is asleep. It’s quiet, you have the most energy in the mornings, and it helps you set up positive intentions for the rest of your day. If however, you’re not used to rising early, it will take some time before you can adjust to your new sleeping pattern. If you consider yourself a night owl and want to make the switch to an early bird, check out the Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Elrod gives you step-by-step instructions to help you get up early and creating a morning ritual to kick-start you day.

Step 5 – Say no more often

Now that you have an allocated time to do your routine, the next step is to learn how to ruthlessly defend your 60 minutes of bliss.

 “If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will” – Greg McKeown, Essentialsm

If you’ve made a commitment to get up at 6am every morning, and your friends want to stay out late with you, you have to decide what is more important, missing your morning routine, or staying out late with your friends?

Say no to internet. Say no to television. Say no to meetings. Say no to draining friends.

It doesn’t mean you will not do any of these things, it just means you can reschedule to do those activities at a more convenient time for you. The most important booking you can make, is the one with yourself. Eventually, after saying no regularly, your friends and family will get used to it. Meanwhile, you will feel much better because you finally get to do things for yourself, which means you will have more positive energy to spend with your loved ones.

I’ll repeat it again, say no more often.

Over to you

Phew, this has been a long post, so here’s a quick recap of the steps:

  1. Create a list of low-involvement activities that you love to do
  2. Refine your list to 2–3 activities
  3. Determine how much time you want to spend on your activities
  4. Create time in your day
  5. Say no more often

Please keep in mind that this is a system that has worked well for me, and I encourage you to experiment based on your situation. The main thing to realise is that spending 30–60 minutes a day doing things for yourself is non-negotiable. Otherwise what’s the point?

So, have you managed to create YOU time despite having a busy schedule? Maybe you have a busy household and still manage to do 45 minutes of yoga daily? We would love to see some of your examples in the comments below.

2 comments… add one
  • cherry cooke 26/03/2015 Reply

    1.decide how long you will spend online.
    2.switch mobile phone off most of the time.
    3. Let every activity be special, each breath!
    4. Delegate.
    5. De clutter clothes weekly, mail daily.
    6. Live things come first, ie, you, pets, plants, other humans!

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