Spring break is here, the kids have a few more months of school left and summer vacation is right around the corner. As the days become longer you may also find your to-do list growing. Spring is a season of growth after a long winter and understandably many of us hit the ground running with home repairs, planting gardens, joining community groups and enrolling our kids in extra-curriculars. These activities can add value to our days and allow us to form new connections with others. But before you rush headlong into filling up your calendar, we want to encourage you to give it a good spring cleaning. Below are steps that will help you envision your values and use them as a measuring stick for all proposed activities and responsibilities. After working through these steps, we hope your calendar is more organized and your to-do list lighter.
Identify Your Values
The first step is to make a quick list of what you value as an individual and as a family. What activities and community groups bring you joy? Are there any hobbies that enrich your days and lead to your personal growth? What activity is your child drawn to most? What responsibilities would you continue to uphold even if someone let you off the hook? Each family will have a slightly different list, but look for common themes on your lists and circle them. These valued and cherished time commitments should take precedent on your calendar.
How Do You Spend Your Time?
But let’s be realistic; our ideals are often very different from how we actually spend our days. We all have a finite amount of time in a week. And if you’re a parent? Then your time is all the more valuable as you juggle work, home and raising children.* Since we cannot create more hours in the week, we must use creative means to align our time with our values. Take a moment to honestly reflect on the activities and responsibilities that make up each day and write them down. Record all the different ways you currently spend your day from the moment you wake up to when you go to bed. The more detail, the better.
Think back to your list of values from the first step. Does the way you spend your time each day accurately reflect your family’s values? Consider what you must do to bring your time and values into alignment.
Simply Say No
One of the simplest but often hardest ways to reclaim your days is to say no to any future requests on your time. When newly proposed responsibilities come your way measure them against your list of values. Of course there are some activities and responsibilities that we must continue to do, whether or not we actually want to. But if something doesn’t align with your values, offer a simple and kind refusal. For every decision you make there is an outcome. And not everyone will be happy with your decision. But your first priority is to yourself and your family, not others. Over time the practice of saying no will become easier and second-nature. Refer back often to your list of values as a measuring stick for making decisions.
Leave Room in the Margins
As your schedule begins to lighten, avoid the temptation to fill it with new activities. Our culture tells us we should structure our days like a marathon, barely taking a moment to look up or ahead into the future. But we want to encourage you to live differently, to swim upstream and craft days that are fulfilling and intentional. It’s okay if your kids are not enrolled in every possible extra-curricular or you turn down that book group invitation. A little boredom and (probably much needed) downtime can actually be quite beneficial. Our days should not be filled to capacity but should contain room in the margins.
Create Rhythm and Rituals
The final step in organizing your time and spring cleaning your calendar is to create the illusion of more time. Since we haven’t figured out a way to actually add more hours to the day, we’ve found that adding rhythm and rituals can have a similar effect. A rhythm is a pattern or a routine that your family follows on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean that each day has the same rhythm, but that there is a guiding structure to your days. If you’ve fine-tuned your calendar and created some white space, then you are in a great place to add rituals. Family rituals are a purposeful way to consistently add values-based activities to your schedule. A family ritual can be as simple as pancakes for breakfast on Saturday mornings or a family movie night on Fridays. It could be a few hours a week in which everyone turns off screens and devices for some tech-free downtime. Or perhaps you take one day a month to go on a family hike and reconnect in nature. Let your values influence which family rituals to include on your calendar.
We hope this short guide to reclaiming your time was encouraging. Being intentional about your days is a lifelong practice and you’ll find that periodically reevaluating your commitments will reveal ways in which your calendar and values are at odds. The goal is never perfection, but to envision and create a life that reflects and honors your family’s deepest-held values.
*As parents of young children and busy business owners, we truly recognize the value of our limited time. We’ve decided to step down from writing this monthly column to focus on our families and our podcast. We hope you’ll join our community on our website and subscribe to the Cohesive Home Podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast listening app. You can find all our previous columns archived here.