In this post, we respond to one of our reader’s frustrations, tackling the challenge of how to make 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.
Regarding 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, socialize more with likeminded friends, have a 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 The Minimalist Vegan has some advice and answers regarding our issues.
I asked her to give me an idea of what a typical workday looks like for her. Here’s a rough breakdown of her timetable:
7 am: wake up, prepare breakfast, have a shower and leave for work at about 8 am. This varies depending on what time she needs to get into work, but she wakes on at 7 am on average.
8:30 am to 5 pm: 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.
7 pm to 9:30 pm: 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 7 am and the process starts again.
Hmm…does her schedule sound familiar?
I know I’ve been there before. When I worked in finance, I would often get into the office at 8 am and finish at 6 pm. 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 had 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. When I refer to quality time, 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 five steps to help you do more of the things you love doing.
Step 1 – Create a list of low-involvement activities you love to do
This list is 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, I’d rather spend that time journaling 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 socializing, as well as contributing to social issues. Awesome!
In this exercise, it’s important to list as many activities as possible. You’ll 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 to doing the action.
For example, if one of your favorite 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 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 give up, for it to be a consistent daily routine. If on the other hand, tennis is your absolute favorite thing to do in the world, then 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 doing this activity.
If you’re struggling to think of some low-involvement activities for your routine, here’s a list of examples:
- Bodyweight exercise – if you’re looking for a quick and efficient way to stay in shape, look no further than bodyweight training. This typically includes activities such as pushups, situps, dips, squats, lunges and bridges. A great app that I use every day for exercise is the 7 Minute Workout app. The app tells you what training you should do and for how long, all in 7 minutes. You can increase the number of repetitions and workout longer as you get stronger.
- Reading – whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, reading is an excellent low-involvement activity for self-development and just relaxing. Even five minutes of reading per day can make a huge difference.
- Stretching – stretching is critical for injury prevention and overall wellbeing. I went years without stretching consistently, and my body always felt creaky and stiff as a result. It also increases your flexibility. I’m still working towards crossing my legs for the first time since grade 3!
- Yoga – the next level up from stretching is yoga. Depending on the style, yoga can also double up as exercise as well, killing two birds with one stone (actually don’t kill any birds). It’s worth going to a few classes to make sure you’re executing each pose correctly. But as we’re talking about low-involvement activity, check out the Pocket Yoga app. All you need is a yoga mat to get started.
- Meditation – as I mentioned earlier, personally, I’m not a fan of meditation, it just doesn’t work for me. Having said that, it’s a proven method of mindfulness that has worked for many others (and I’ll get their eventually). If you’re looking to get started, I’ve heard this app is a great tool.
- Walking – according to Bupa, walking just 15 minutes every day can extend your life by as much as three years! Don’t stress yourself out by trying too hard. Start off small by walking around your block, and gradually increase the distance.
- Taking an online course – while the internet can be an addictive distraction, it can also be a great resource for acquiring new skills. Anything from, design, cooking, music, art, business, photography and much more, can be learned on your computer. Online training platforms such as Lynda, have 1000s of courses to help you learn something new.
- Writing – the simple act of journaling your thoughts can drastically reduce your anxiety. For me, writing is the best tool for brain dumping all of my thoughts and finding clarity on a daily basis. Set a timer for 15–30 minutes and just write whatever is on your mind. If you get ambitious, check out 750words.com.
- Running – running is almost always accessible, as long as you have decent running shoes. Like walking, start slow and gradually increase over time. Mat Frazier over at No Meat Athlete has a great free self-guided course to help you develop a running habit (even if you’ve never worked out before).
- Affirmations/Visualisation – spend time visualizing where you want to be in life. You can take it a step further and create a pinboard or an image scrapbook. Use this simple formula to affirm powerful statements to yourself and reprogram your mind.
Step 2 – Refine your activity list
After you’ve brain dumped all of your low-involvement activities onto a piece of paper, it’s time to refine the list down to 2–3 activities. This process is challenging as there are so many things you 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’s still one crucial decision you have to make before moving on. That is, how much time will you allocate to performing these activities?
If you want to go for a walk around your neighborhood 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 the change. But the question remains, if you work long hours, where will you find 60 minutes for quality time for yourself? You have a few options to make this happen.
- Do it after work – using the above example; it makes sense to slot in YOU time after dinner and before bedtime. 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.
- Do it on your lunch break – for those of us who are fortunate enough to get a 60-minute lunch break; 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 while 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.
- 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 while 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 your 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 defend your 60 minutes of bliss ruthlessly.
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will” – Greg McKeown, Essentialism
If you’ve committed to get up at 6 am 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 the internet, to television, to meetings, 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’ll 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, say no more often.
How to make more time for yourself
Phew, this has been a long post, so here’s a quick recap of the steps:
- Create a list of low-involvement activities that you love to do
- Refine your list to 2–3 activities
- Determine how much time you want to spend on your activities
- Create time in your day
- 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 realize 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 an active household and still manage to do 45 minutes of yoga daily? We would love to see your examples in the comments below.