I can't tell you how often I hear my friends, colleagues, and clients complain about how other people just don't respect their time. But the only reason that folks take advantage of you, expect too much from you, or don't respect your personal free time is that you have ALLOWED them to behave that way in the past. But if you draw a different line in the sand -- put develop some "time management ground rules" and stick to them -- you will be amazed at the change in the people around you.


When we talk about scheduling "me time" into your calendar, most people think of an hour spent lounging in the bathtub or a weeklong retreat in which you re-discover your inner child. But time for yourself includes any time that you spend doing the things that keep you sane. For some people, that means time for exercise or meditation or an enjoyable hobby -- others might use their "me time" to work on a business project that they can't seem to fit into the regular 9 to 5 grind. My sister devotes much of her personal time remodeling -- which sounds way too much like work to me! But she'll take an entire week off at a time to "play with her house," because that's what makes her feel good and helps calm the craziness.

But the point is, whatever you enjoy doing with your "me time," treat it like it is sacred. I have actually marked off every Thursday for the rest of the year as my admin days (Thursdays are when my yoga class is scheduled). I have physically drawn a line through the entire day with the word "Admin" written across the top -- leaving me no room to write in any other appointments. And nothing short of a medical emergency (or a vacation!) is going to get me to give up those Thursdays. I often have a client ask me, "Can you get together on Thursday?" My answer is always, "No, I'm sorry but I'm not available that day." I can't tell you how long it took for me to become comfortable saying that! How dare I turn down an appointment with another person when I don't have anything else in my schedule that day?! Ah, but I do. I have an appointment with myself.


I once read an article by a personal coach (and I apologize for not remembering the name!) who offered a very simple system for using your time in the most efficient way possible. He suggested that you break your schedule into "focus days," "free days," and "buffer days." “Focus days” are those in which you do whatever it is that brings home the bacon -- see clients, make sales calls, or (in the case of unpaid homemakers) manage your household. On those days, you do nothing but focus on your job. Then on “free days,” you do no work at all -- not even checking your e-mail, returning a phone call, or putting in a load of laundry. You take that entire day to simply rest, relax, have fun, and recharge the old batteries. Finally, “buffer days” are for all of those little chores that have to be done, but don't really make you any money. That's the day for administrative work, personal errands, dentist appointments, trips to the library, etc.

It becomes incredibly easy to draw clear boundaries around your time. You are simply going to focus on one type of activity all day long -- no confusion and no waffling about what to do. If someone asks you to do work on a "free day" or do some mindless chore on a "focus day," you know the answer is "no," plain and simple. Second, it creates an automatic sense of balance between the many activities in your life, requiring you to spend some of your time at work and some at play. Third, you really do use your time more efficiently when you settle into one mindset for the entire day -- either work or play. It's the mental (and physical) switching of gears that slows us down, eats up so much of our time, and distracts us from really enjoying what we are doing at that moment.


Why are we so afraid to tell people "no"? For some reason, we have been taught that "no" is disrespectful -- and even insulting. We seem to value other people's time more than our own -- feeling that we need to bend over backward to accommodate others, even if it inconveniences us. I know we're atoning for the 1980's, but let's be reasonable! "No" is actually one of the healthiest words that can come out of your mouth. When you tell someone "no," you are really saying that you understand and accept your own limits, and don't want to do a shoddy job by overwhelming yourself. That you value your time and priorities and aren't willing to take away from the truly important things in your life. A little selfishness is necessary, if you want to maintain a balanced and sane life!


The best way to tactfully dodge a request is to offer another alternative. If you can't do participate at this moment because you are too busy, but you would really like to help at a later time, say so. "I'm sorry, I can't do it right this minute -- but my schedule will be freed up by Friday afternoon, if you still need some help." Or you might suggest another, more appropriate resource. "I'm too busy to help you plan that meeting right now, but I have a friend who has been wanting to get involved. I'm sure she would love to participate. Let me give you her number." And finally, if you are asked to do a job that really doesn't interest you or is outside your area of expertise, offer to help with another task that is more suitable. "That's really not my strong suit -- but I would be happy to help out with (drawing posters, setting up the meeting room, working out a budget, etc.)" You will assuage your guilt, and feel as though you are still making a contribution, when you follow that "no" with a suggestion for getting the job done another way.


It can be incredibly difficult to accept the fact that you don't have to do everything yourself. Our society has conditioned us not only to think that we can do it all, but that we should do it all! But understand one thing -- as far as everyone else in the world is concerned, you are replaceable. If you can't do it, they'll find someone else. It's amazing how often we think, "If I don't do it, it won't get done." Yes it will -- if it really needs to be done in the first place. When I start to think that the world will stop turning if I don't check an item off of my "to-do" list, I always ask myself, "What if I got hit in the head with a tree tomorrow? How would this job get done?" When the answer is, "So-and-so would help out," I feel a lot more comfortable asking "so-and-so" to help out now (before I end up in the hospital in a coma!) If the answer is, "It wouldn't get done -- it's not that important," I think very hard about whether that task is even worth my time in the first place. It's amazing what a life and death situation (imagined or real!) will do for your perspective!


One final word of encouragement. It is going to be hard for you to set these kinds of boundaries in your life -- especially if you have been accustomed to letting other people dictate how you use your time. But it is a silent battle that is well worth fighting. And one might say that this fight is crucial to your survival in a crazy world with out-of-whack priorities about how we use our time. As you begin to reclaim your schedule, you will hear comments like, "Well you were always available to babysit at the last minute before" -- or, "You never had a problem with working on the weekends in the past." Your answer is simply, "My situation has changed. Sorry, but I can't do it this time." Period -- end of story. You do not have to explain yourself or justify why you are finally taking time to do the things you want to do. Understand that most folks out there believe that having no free time, feeling stressed and pressured, and giving up your entire life for others is simply the status quo. You will have to convert them by setting an example.

Author's Bio: 

Ramona Creel is Professional Organizer, NAPO Golden Circle Member, and the original founder of OnlineOrganizing. A former Social Worker, she has always enjoyed helping people find the resources and solutions they need to improve their lives. Ramona now travels the country as a full-time RVer, sharing her story of simplicity with everyone she meets. She leads by example -- having worked for more than 10 years as a Professional Organizer, and having radically downsized and simplified her own life as a full-time RVer. Ramona now considers herself a "Renaissance Woman" -- bringing all of her passions together into one satisfying career. As both a virtual and traveling organizer, she can create a customized organizing plan for your home or office, put on a workshop, or educate you through one of her popular teleseminars. As a simplicity coach, Ramona provides a proven program for making every area of your life a little bit easier -- perfect for those who want to make the time and space to focus on their true priorities. As a Professional Photographer, Ramona captures powerful images of places and people as she travels. And as a freelance writer and blogger, she shares organizing techniques, social commentary, travel tips, and film reviews with others. You can see all these sides of Ramona -- read her articles, browse through her photographs, and even hire her to help get your life in order -- at www.RamonaCreel.com.