Minimalism in the home is all the rage these days, but what if clearing out your house doesn’t quite do the trick? What if it isn't your closet that's overwhelming you, but rather, your schedule?
For most people, time is our most important resource. Yet we squander it: rushing through our days, multi-tasking, and not being present in the moment. What if we could find ways to do not just more of what we enjoy—but do it better, with greater focus?
Here's the good news: It’s totally possible for you to feel calm and more joyful when you look at your schedule.
Below you'll five simple ways to make it happen.
Before you do anything else, pause. Take some deep breaths. Savor a few moments, just experiencing your breath.
Then, hit the pause button your life. As though you could put everything on freeze-frame, commit to pausing more and rushing less. After a meal, take a few moments to enjoy feeling full and the taste of your food. Between appointments or meetings, take full minute to breathe mindfully.
I urge you to hit pause on new commitments as well. If you tend to jump on every bandwagon and chase every shiny object that captures your attention, just pause. Don’t sign up for anything new or any make new commitments.
It may seem like you have time for it now, but if you’re chronically over-scheduled, take a break from saying yes and signing up. You can always return when you feel less stressed.
If you’re always playing catch up, this exercise will help you to see what’s really going on.
What’s currently on your plate? Big commitments, work and family obligations, ongoing volunteer time or classes you’re taking—write it all down. Also write down anything you need to do on a daily or weekly basis to keep you and your home feeling good.
Also write down any big events coming up in the next couple of months—what are you putting on your plate in addition to the day-to-day commitments?
If you’re noticing a lot of items that don’t excite you, make comments next to each one noting why you said yes in the first place. Was it peer pressure, fear of missing out (FOMO), ambition, feeling like you “should”?
When we feel overwhelmed, it’s important to notice all the things we’re doing with our time—really paying attention to what we’re committed to—and offering ourselves some compassion. It can be hard to say “no” in a society that values overwork and idolizes a culture of busy. We might feel like we’re never getting enough done, but the demands we’re placing on ourselves might be sky-high.
Once you have this list, you can start to make some choices. If you’re truly overwhelmed, it’s time to scale back. Discernment, in my experience, is the key to joy. Viveka, the Sanskrit word for discernment, points to the ability to distinguish between the real and illusion, essential from unessential.
With your list that you’ve created of all your commitments, you’ll begin to discern what is necessary or essential, from what is not. You’ll also begin to discern what brings you joy and what does not.
Going through the list once, mark each commitment as essential or non-essential. You’ll have to decide for yourself: what’s essential? Are there beings who depend on you? What do you need in order to meet your financial commitments? Are there certain joy or wellness-bringing non-negotiable activities? Discern for yourself: what is essential and what is filler?
Next, use the same method to go through the list and see what is bringing you joy and what isn’t. Maybe something isn’t joyful, but satisfying.
The point of this exercise is not to nit-pick, but to notice patterns. What is essential? What is joyful?
Look at your list again, and observing the patterns you’ve begun to discern, start making a note of what to cut from your list. If you’re trying to tame overwhelm, it can be tough to know where to start, but this new list may give you some clues.
If there’s anything that isn’t essential and isn’t bringing you joy, that’s naturally the first to go. If something is hanging out on your schedule that doesn’t serve a need or your happiness, then it can go.
Simply say “no thanks” the next time it’s offered, knowing you’re making room for what’s truly important (including your happiness). If something in your schedule is only fueling your overwhelm, figure out a way to reframe it, outsource it, or let it go.
When you use this framework in the future when evaluating invitations, projects or commitments, you may find yourself saying no a lot. Remember that this no is a loving act—to yourself and to those commitments you want to fulfill with your best work.
This process isn’t just about doing less or having fewer commitments, but allowing yourself to be fully present for what’s left. You can follow through on de-overwhelming your life by being fully present for what you say yes to.
Without the distractions of what doesn’t feel necessary or joyful, you can be more focused on what’s in front of you. This is a gift to yourself, your wellbeing, your work and your loved ones. When you pare your schedule down, you give yourself the breathing room to show up as your best self.
Everyone will notice. Some friends may miss you, and you may not have quite as many action-packed days. But your presence will be more keenly felt when you are there. You may even discover new joys—and new things that become “essential” that you missed before.
These practices aren’t a one-time thing. Do these steps whenever you feel overly-busy.You’ll continue to experiment, reevaluate, and find new ways to infuse your life with joy.