You know that old saying, “If you need something done, ask a busy person?” There’s a reason it rings true: busy people may have a lot on their plates, but they’re expert schedulers who always seem to get it all done. There’s plenty to admire about efficient taskmasters but, all too often, the first thing these on-the-go men and women give up is personal time-those moments in the day, large or small, that used to give them pleasure. They shrug it off and chalk it up to a basic fact of life. But in doing so, they’re dismissing a valuable-and vital-part of their lives.
It may feel like it, but personal time isn’t a luxury-it’s a necessity. Research suggests that having free time-even just a few moments of peace and quiet every day-helps you feel more centered, patient and able to deal with the demands in your life. Moreover, setting aside “me” time in your schedule also helps combat stress, which can cause sleep problems, suppress the immune system and increase the risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
Understanding the need for personal time isn’t the problem. Actually carving that time out of your chock-full schedule is. Here’s some help making it happen.
Give yourself permission to take a break.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is overcoming the idea that you’re too busy to have free time. Understand: it’s vital to your mental and physical health to take a break-a few minutes every day, a few hours every week, a getaway or vacation once or twice a year.
Make a list.
Try writing a list of activities that you’d spend free time on. Include healthy activities that you do now that make you feel better and give you pleasure, things you used to do but no longer seem to have time for, and things you’d like to do even if you’ve never done them before. You’ll likely end up with a range of activities, from smaller things like dancing to a favorite song to bigger goals such as vacationing in some tropical paradise. Hang the list where you’ll see it every day. Make an effort to do the smaller things as often as possible. Dancing to music or meeting a friend for coffee once a week is pretty doable and worth making time for. As for that trip to the tropics? Don’t rule it out. Make it a long-term goal, something you can work toward and look forward to.
Set firm dates.
Schedule everything-even your free time and your friend time. And lay down the rules with your housemates. If they see you’re serious about alone time, they’ll take it seriously too. And remember that you don’t have to make everything a huge adventure; sneaking away to the library for a few hours to read can feel like just as much of a getaway.
Create space for yourself.
Many people don’t have a spot in their home that is just for them. If it’s feasible, if you have the space, designate an area that is your time-out zone. Let your household know that when you’re in that space-perhaps with the door closed-that you’re taking a few minutes to recharge.
Focus on quality, not quantity.
Too many people put off personal time for some mythical later day when the planets will align and they’ll have a large block of time to kick back and do whatever they want. You certainly deserve that kind of personal time, but sometimes it may be more practical to focus on getting just a few minutes of personal time every day. Even if it’s five minutes of deep breathing, or a quick run to the bookstore, those little breaks can add up to big results.
Studies have shown that when friends or partners exercise together, they’re more likely to stick with a fitness program because they egg each other on. The same idea can work when setting aside personal time. Chances are you have a friend who is in the same boat-with too much to do and no time for themselves. Make a commitment together-to meet for a favorite outing once a week or to set aside a regular time to talk on the phone-to help you both get those little breaks you need.