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How to eliminate the calendar clutter & regain peace in your life!

My Top Secrets to Get More Done

For 15 days, we’re exploring the topic of making our health and well-being a priority as part of the 15 Days to a Healthier You series. You can read Day 1 hereDay 2 here, Day 3 here, Day 4 hereDay 5 here, and Day 6 here

Paper clutter, an overloaded email inbox, and lots of stuff in your house that you don’t love and use, can drain you, bog you down, and zap your energy and creativity.

But it’s not just physical clutter and excess stuff that can bog us down; calendar clutter is a huge cause of exhaustion and burnout. It’s not only a joy-killer and a creativity-killer; it could also be hurting your overall health.

I get it.

There’s so much we want to do. There’s so much we need to do. And there’s so much that seems like a good idea to do.

If you’re a driven person like me, you constantly have so many ideas and brainstorms and dreams and hopes and goals for what you want to do with your life, what you want to do with your year, what you want to do with each week.

And it’s great to dream about all these amazing things you want to accomplish, but the reality is that overextending yourself and packing your schedule so full with “good stuff” doesn’t make for a great life at all… it makes for an overwhelming life.

Clear the Schedule Clutter

So, what’s the solution? Well, we have to get ruthless with our calendar clutter.

It can sound simple on the surface, but just like it’s sometimes challenging to keep physical clutter at bay and to know what to hang onto and what to get rid of, so it can be hard to figure out how to eliminate the calendar clutter, too.

Not sure how to do that? Here’s some step-by-step help to get you started:

1. Choose Your “Best Stuff”

There are many good things in life that you can invest your life in, but you can’t come close to trying to do them all. Figure out what the best things are for YOU and wrap your life, time, and energy around those things. Again, this goes back to knowing what your most important priorities are for the season of life you’re in.

When you know what is important for you, it’s much easier to determine what’s NOT important for you to do. 

For me, that’s my marriage, my kids, my health and well-being, and the blog. I say “no” to a lot of other things because they are the best things for me to invest my time in at this season of life.

Related: Stop Trying to Be Awesome & Instead Be Wise

2. Create a Stop Doing List

I love this quote from Breaking Busy by Alli Worthington:

“Our lives have gotten so cluttered with things we think we should do, that we can’t figure out what we were meant to do. Let your life be about what you were meant to do, not full of what you think you should do. This starts with your daily decisions about how you spend your time.”

Alli then goes on in her book to encourage you to create what she calls a “Stop Doing List” — a list of items you intentionally decide to not do so that you can focus your time and energy on your greatest priorities.

She says the best way to identify what you need to stop doing is by asking yourself these two questions: What is sucking the life right out of me? Does this activity get me closer to reaching my goals?

Related: How to Create a Realistic To-Do List

How to finally stop being overwhelmed by all your to-do's

3. Carve Out Intentional Breathing Room

You might be able to juggle a lot of things and do a good job of it, but you aren’t nor will you ever be superwoman. You need to set aside buffer time in your schedule — to recharge, to refuel, and to prevent burn-out.

Some practical ideas for more breathing room in your life:

Stay Home More — I love staying home and we aim to stay home all day at least 1-2 days per week. When we are running, running, running, and going, going, going, it makes us all feel tired and cranky.

Allow Two Hours of Margin — A lot of our feelings of busyness come from trying to pack 32 hours’ worth of projects and to-do’s into a 24-hour day. No wonder we feel so overwhelmed and worn out! I use a time-blocked to-do list and I try to always include at least 2 hours of margin every day so that I have some wiggle room for the inevitable interruptions. Expect the unexpected, plan for the interruptions, and it will alleviate a lot of stress in your day!

Take One Day Off — Setting aside Sundays as our “off” day has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. In fact, I would say it is almost the number one key to my productivity and efficiency. I look forward to Sundays as the weekly 24-hour period to rest, refresh, and recharge. You’ll quickly wear out of you just charge through life and never take time to refuel. Sundays are the day when my spirit breathes and my creativity tank is refilled for the week ahead.

4. Commit to Quality Over Quantity

When considering the multitude of opportunities that constantly present themselves for activities, ministries, service projects, and more, I try to first ask myself, “Will this matter in 25 years from now?” This helps me weed through a lot of things that just aren’t the best things for me to be devoting time and energy to right now.

After paring down my list based upon that question, I then try to focus on quality versus quantity. I’d rather do a few things really well, than a hundred things pretty poorly.

You’ve got to set your foot down, create boundaries, and say no. This doesn’t mean you always say no to everything and it doesn’t always mean that you say no every time. But it does mean that you realize that you are the one calling the shots. If an opportunity or idea is going to put extra strain on your home and family, you are the boss and you have the final say.

It’s easy to forget this and start feeling obligated to people and projects, so I encourage you to ask yourself a few hard questions before committing to something:

  • “When am I going to find the time to do this?”
  • “Is this going to take time and effort away from my most important priorities?”
  • “What is going to be the return on my investment of time?”

By carefully considering commitments before saying yes to them, I’m able to really, really give my best to those few things I’m saying yes to. I’m able to focus on them, pour into them, and give my all to them instead of giving my leftovers or what little tiny capacity I could muster up because I was stretched so thin and exhausted by all the demands of the other things I’ve committed to.

Related: The 10-10-10 Analysis & How It’s Changing My Life

Make 2016 the year you officially get control of your schedule…for good!
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Day 7 Project

  1. Create a Best Stuff List and a Stop Doing List. This exercise alone should give you enormous clarity when it comes to calendar clutter.
  2. Do you have enough breathing room built into your life? Do you need to make changes in your schedule and commitments in order to allow for more intentional margin in your life?
  3. Design a list of questions you ask yourself before saying yes to anything. You can see the questions I’m currently asking myself this year before saying yes to an opportunity.

More Helpful Resources:

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  • Staci says:

    I was wondering if you are investing time into friendships as a priority like you have talked a lot about in the past. Curious. If not why not? Blessings to you.

    • Jo says:

      Yes, ma’am! I try to build in at least 2 intentional friendship-building things per week (in addition to the daily things like texting and emailing and checking in on people) — coffee with a friend, a phone call with a friend, having someone over, etc. Making friendships a priority are part of my own personal health and well-being (that’s the priority I peg them under because they really do make me a better person!).

  • Amy says:

    GREAT steps! I sometimes have to re-experiment to get just the right balance of “going” and “rest” both for myself and the whole family, but we’re the same way with needing at least one “stay home” day per week or we all get cranky!

    Also, 2x/wk of friend time sounds like a really nice balance. That might be something I need to aim for. 🙂 I tend to schedule too much at once, get depleted and retreat for a while, then I get depleted by too much alone time and end up overscheduling myself again and the cycle repeats itself … (I am an introvert but I have enough extrovert in me that I’ve realized I’m most recharged by a good balance of both alone and people time!).

    • Shannon says:

      One step I started a few months ago is before I leave my friend after coffee/lunch/etc. is to schedule our next time together. That allows me to make sure that I have time set aside with the people that are important to me and I can work my schedule as needed. Of course, it is flexible enough that changes can be accommodated.

    • Sandra says:

      Amy, you are singing my song, girl. Your pattern sounds just like me!

  • Davonne @ The Tidy Mom says:

    I’m quietly following along on this series, Crystal. The posts & quality of content is stellar. It’s perfect timing for me right now, and I’m sure many other women as well. Thank you for the work you’re pouring into this series.

  • Leah @ The Frugal South says:

    Your best post yet! Full of practical advice that I really need right now. Thank you Crystal!

  • Aimee says:

    This is so timely as I am weighing options for this school year. I am learning how important it is to keep my family from being overcommitted.

  • Maryalene says:

    This is such a great post!

    My biggest struggle is that I’m a single mom with five kids and two elderly relatives I care for. I’m running someone somewhere all the time. The only disposable activities are my kids’ sports/extracurriculars (they get one a season). I’d hate to eliminate those. I’m a single mom because my husband died 3 years back, and I’ve worked really hard to not make it feel like since their Dad died, they have other things taken away from them as well.

    I feel awful saying this, but what kills me is my aunt just went into assisted living. Sunday used to be our sacred “nothing scheduled” day to recharge, but now we spend the bulk of the day traveling and visiting her.

    On the bright side, my two oldest will be taking drivers’ training soon so hopefully there will be another driver in the house come fall!

  • Ana Willis @ TheyCallMeBlessed says:

    I love your advice Crystal!

    We need to be more intentional in our lives. I have decluttered my life this year in so many ways starting by my agenda! But the email is still a problem and I’m working on it.

    I love all the practical steps you offered here and I know they will work because everything I’ve learned from you, works!
    Thank you!!

  • Kristy MeYeR says:

    Thank you so much for not only for this series, but for this post especially. I started a very small accountability group based on this series and here are my answers for today’s post.

    I like this day’s project. So.very.much.
    Best list: laughing with my family
    Pizza and movies together at the end of a long week
    Coffee dates/tea parties with mama friends
    Good books and quiet evenings
    Campfires and s’mores with friends and family

    Stop Doing: rushing around like a headless chicken
    Trying to make everyone happy ALL THE TIME
    Stop using the word ‘should’ as a bludgeon over my own head to guilt me into doing things that I neither have the talent or time for…but SOMEONE must do. (That SOMEONE doesn’t always have to be me)
    My list of questions has nothing on it. I am simply not starting anything new this year. The end.
    Unless some project falls straight from Heaven with a tag that says, “Kristy, this is your new assignment. Do it well. God.”
    LOL, and maybe not even then. 😉
    Oops, I missed answering question 2. I think it is safe to say that I decidedly do NOT have enough margin built into my day. I’m in a really busy season right now and I’m so glad the end of that is in sight. 55+ hours a week at work is simply too much, but it is what is necessary to survive the summer months for the family that I work for. So, I’m longing for August 10th like my life depends on its arrival. 🙂 Then I can go back to 30 hours a week and have some breathing room back. Praise the Lord. The end of this summer is in sight, and I fully intend to retire before next summer.

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