What’s your hottest, most precious commodity? You guessed it—time. Your time is your most valuable asset, and whether you realize it or not, you’re always trading it for something: from money, experiences, or connection to distraction, drama, or disconnection. The hard core truth is that your time is your biggest limiting factor, so to live your fullest life, you have to make sure you’re using it to your greatest personal benefit.
Now, I’m sure this isn’t a new concept for you, but before I dive into some tried and true ways to make your time work optimally for you, I challenge you to stop and ask yourself where you might be falling short in getting the most from your time right now. Be honest with yourself, and feel free to jot down your thoughts.
One of the most common objections I hear from potential clients in my virtual coaching business is, “Morgan, I just don’t have time for self-care right now.” Let me tell ya, sister, I used to live in that head space, too, and I got really cozy there. I might as well have been tossing bon bons down the hatch with my feet propped up on the proverbial coffee table, I was so comfortable there. My knee-jerk response to practically anything requiring me to put my self care on the front burner was “#nope.” Okay, I probably wasn’t in-the-know enough to reference any hashtags at that point, but you get the idea. With four young kids, a professional career, a friendship that asked a lot (too much, as it was) of me, and everyday errands and chores necessary to keep normal life afloat for everybody, the demands on my time seemed endless. The funny thing was that as strung out, exhausted, and busy as I was, I also mysteriously had enough time to crush candy, scroll through my social media feeds, and complain about how strung out, exhausted, and busy I was. I found myself wishing my time away just to try to make the weekend come faster. And once it did, I’d have to have a couple of drinks to take the edge off enough to relax. I was using my time, alright, but with little to show for it. Why? Because I wasn’t a part of my time equation. I wasn’t using my time optimally or to my own benefit.
Yes—hopefully, taking care of other people is something we all try to do in our lives. And YES, that comes with some mundane, sometimes soul-sucking tasks that, put simply, are necessary evils. You can’t not take your kids shopping for winter coats that actually fit them or opt out of hitting the grocery store this week just because you’d rather be indulging yourself at the spa. Trust me, I get it. But the reality is that you have choices in how you use your time, and you have a responsibility to hold yourself accountable for those choices.
So. Here are my top ten ways you can optimize your time in order to live a healthier, fuller, more meaningful existence. Ready?
- Prioritize. First thing’s first. What are the most important things you have to do in any given day that only you can do? These are the things that you’ll suffer for in some way if you fail to do them. A practical priority might be going to work, because if you don’t, you’ll lose your job or you might feel you missed an opportunity to share your most meaningful talents that day—something you value. Maybe one of your priorities is to make sure you take care of your body so that you don’t feel lethargic and run down all day long. Or it might be important to you to spend a little quality time with your family each day, because if you don’t, you feel disconnected. What are the things you value most that require your time? Without knowing your priorities, it’s impossible to use your time effectively to align with your goals, and if you aren’t aligning your time with your goals, you’ll always be spinning your wheels without getting anywhere.
- Feed Yourself/Meal plan/prep. Remember that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts goes back into the Beverly Hills storewith Richard Gere to tell the snotty clerks that they’d made a “huge” mistake by turning her away? Okay, imagine me saying the word huge the way she does in that scene—that’s how huge meal planning/prep is. And before you roll your eyes and tell me that you just don’t have the skills or the desire to do this, hear me out. This is not an all-or-nothing type of thing. There are various levels of this, depending on what your schedule and your needs are. You don’t have to be that person who spends their entire Sunday putting together Bento boxes for the week. (If you are, then come help a sister out!) So I’m gonna give you some methods that I’ve found incredibly helpful in my life. Feel free to pick and choose what works for you and ditch the rest. The point here is that you establish a sustainable way to tackle the food thing, because fueling your body is kind of like the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy, right? Right.
- Set aside time once per week to map out the your general meal plan for the following week. For me, the most difficult meals to plan are dinners, hands-down, because there are more people’s likes/dislikes to consider, and I like to make sure we have plenty of variety so we don’t get bored. Beyond that, I have routine staples that I rely on for lunches and snacks or for the kids.
- Grocery shop virtually. Holy hell, this changed my life forever a few years ago. If you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon with this one, it’s time to do it. Aside from the obvious time you save from not having to physically walk through the store, you also save time whenever you’re trying to find some foreign ingredient you’ve never heard of before. In my case, I also save money, because I don’t impulse buy the bag of Oreos or the Cadbury eggs or the smell-good candle I don’t need.
- Cook more than you need for a single meal at a time. For me, that looks like doubling (or tripling, quadrupling) recipes so that we have enough for leftovers the following night. For some, it might look like doubling the recipe so that they can freeze the other half for another night the following month. Either way, you’ve already got all of the ingredients and accouterments out and ready to go—it’s not really going to take you extra time in the moment to double up on the amount you make. And it’s definitely going to save you time in the long run.
- Prep at least some things in advance. Dinnertime is usually the witching hour at our house, because there are so many extra things going on that require attention. Kids are coming and going to various sports practices, or one kid needs help with piano practice while the other needs xyz papers signed for school. I simply don’t have the time to stand at the stove all evening to make a healthy meal. But I can still make a healthy meal with a little pre-thought. Some recipes call for pre-cooked, pre-assembled, or marinated items. Think about ways you can break down any recipe into stages that you can tackle at various times beforehand. For example, if I know I’m planning to have spaghetti squash with dinner, I’ll prep that earlier in the day or even the night beforehand. I’ll often set a reminder for myself on my phone to marinate meats or throw together the ingredients for a crockpot dish the night before I plan to cook it. Sometimes I’ll preassemble an entire casserole after we eat dinner and everything is calmer in the house, and I’ll pop it in the fridge to bake the next night when things are crazy again.
- Have the right appliances. I can’t tell you how much I use my miniature food processor, my immersion blender, my instant pot, and a new favorite—my air fryer (thanks, mom). These are lifesavers when it comes to being efficient in my cooking.
- Workout. Break a sweat at least once a day to get your blood flowing and jumpstart your energy level. Without enough energy, your responsibilities will feel harder, and you’ll take longer to do them. Plus, let’s face it—exercise will improve your health and quality of life. If you can do it at home, you’ll also save yourself the time it takes to get to/from the gym and save yourself from the breeding ground of germs that exists there (got time for coronavirus?) Either way, move your body.
- Get enough sleep. How does sleeping save you time? Well, making sure you’re rested enough helps to give you enough energy to tackle your daily grind more effectively. If you’re constantly running on coffee and Red Bull to keep your eyes open, chances are you’re not being very productive or efficient. Think about those days that things seems to go easily for you, and the obstacles don’t seem to get in your way. Often, it’s because your brain and your body are functioning at their best as a result of good quality sleep the night before. Aim for 7-9 hours as often as you can.
- Multitask. This one requires energy (that you got from #2, 3, and 4 above) and some pre-thought in order to do it well. The good news is that if you’re a mom, it’s likely you’ve had a little practice with this already. Tell me you’ve never cut up food on your toddler’s plate with one hand while using the other to feed yourself over the head of a sleeping baby on your lap, and I’ll tell you the sky isn’t blue. But I want you to step it up a notch and pay attention to spots in your average day that you could be knocking out two birds with one stone. Or hell, 7 birds. (Wait, why are we hitting birds?) For example, you’ve got three baskets of laundry to fold, a 9-year-old who needs help with his homework, and a fussy infant. It’s almost dinnertime, and you’re the only adult home. To optimize your time and meet everyone’s needs, you could wear your baby to calm him down, set your 9-year-old up at the kitchen table, get dinner started (more on that later), and fold a couple of baskets of laundry as you peek over your son’s shoulder and give him the guidance he needs. Leave the third basket of laundry for your husband, because it’s his, and well…men can do laundry, too. Or let’s say I have a doctor’s appointment. I know I’m gonna be sitting in that waiting room for at least 45 minutes, and that’s a lot of valuable time that I could be doing other things. So I might use that time to pay bills for the week on my phone and to create a list of content ideas for my business. These are things that have to get done to keep my world afloat. So I do them while knocking out my annual doctor’s appointment instead of flipping through that Family magazine from 2011.
- Block schedule. Perform similar tasks in the same time block. This allows your brain to stay in one mode rather than bouncing back and forth constantly, which ultimately takes more time and energy. From a practical standpoint, it sort of goes back to the bird-hitting thing. If I know I have several errands that need to get done before the end of the week, I’ll pick an afternoon to do all of them at once so that I can save time and gas. Or let’s say you have several work emails to sort through and respond to—it would be best to set aside time once or twice per day to address them rather than interrupting your day to check your email every 30 minutes (obviously barring any especially time-sensitive circumstances).
- Be consistent with your routine and develop systems. Okay, I’ll admit it! I’m a total creature of habit and a systems nerd. What can I say? I like the ability to free up my head space for other things, and when I have a routine or a system in place that practically runs itself, it helps me do just that. Have you ever been driving in your car, arrived at your destination, and completely forgotten the ride there? The more habitual your actions are, the more likely you are to go through with them without having to put forth much thought. Be careful here, though. Habits can be both good and bad. Stay especially conscious of the habits you’ve formed and redirect your course if necessary.
- Set clear boundaries. Yikes, this one’s tough. Admittedly, this is a weak spot for me, and I’m still working on it. Remember that friendship I mentioned? As it once was, I gave it so much of my time and energy, to the point that I wasn’t being fair to myself, my own needs, and the needs of everyone else around me. I thought that to be a good friend, it was my responsibility to say “yes” all the time and to drop everything at a moment’s notice to be there for her in a crisis. I’ve since learned that a healthy friendship doesn’t look like that, and I take responsibility for my part in having really fuzzy, if any, boundaries. Clear boundaries on what you will and will not do are a must when it comes to living your life fully. Don’t be afraid to let your boundaries be known. It might mean saying “no” to being on the PTA at your kids’ school or “yes” to sitting down with your child to read a bedtime story even though you have extra work that needs to get done.
- Get organized. Sounds boring, right? Okay, maybe it is a little bit boring. But man, does it make a difference. The results are two-fold: First, you’re saving yourself time by knowing where everything is. Take my old spice cabinet, for example. I used to have eleventy-billion half-empty spice bottles crammed into the shelves of my spice cabinet. I dreaded—DREADED—having to take inventory of my spices when making my grocery list. I either had to pull out allllllllllll the bottles and put them on the countertop, then put alllllllllll the bottles back or I had to make an “educated” guess and risk buying more of a spice I already had and cluttering the cabinet even more. Not ideal either way. After years of this, I finally decided to set up a couple of spice drawers with labeled bottles, which took me all of half a day, and now I can grab any spice or take inventory very easily now. It’s been a huge time saver! Imagine how much disorganization you’re tolerating right now in your own life that could be improved with a little TLC. The second benefit to getting organized is that when your personal space is in order, your brain has good Feng Shui, and you can operate from a place of clarity. Clear your space, clear your mind, get more done.
- Delegate when you can. You have a lot on your plate, but are your eyes bigger than your stomach? How much of what’s on your plate is for you alone to handle? Let’s be real. There are always tasks that you can delegate. From one control freak to another, I know it can be hard to let someone else load the dishwasher. Or wipe the table. Or do some data entry at work. But you know what? You have to let go of the idea that your way is the only way and start embracing the help from those around you. My kids are ages 5, 8, 10, and 12 right now, and every single one of them knows how to do at least one aspect of their own laundry. All of them bus their dishes (okay, they’re supposed to), the older two unload the dishwasher, and the oldest three are responsible for packing their own school snacks/lunches (yes, I approve them so that they’re not sustaining themselves off of Doritos and fruit snacks alone). Not only does this help me out tremendously, but it also teaches them independence and responsibility. It’s a win-win. My husband and I share all kinds of responsibilities inside and outside the home. After all, it’s 2020, and our marriage, among other things, is a partnership. So let loose on the reins a little bit. Delegate what you can, and thank me for it later.
Notice a theme? Optimizing your time—and therefore living a fuller, healthier life—is about living with intention. You have to be intentional. Yes, there’s wiggle room for spontaneity here and there. And Lord knows you need to set aside time simply to be. But you can’t wing it 24/7 and expect all the chips to fall in the places you want them. Your time here is valuable. It’s time to make the most of it.