It’s that time of year, right? Spring cleaning. It’s an annual tradition that goes back forever. And most of us get a piece of the action. Seven in ten Americans participate every year.
I’ve seen dozens of spring cleaning checklists, tips, and shortcuts. But there’s one thing most of these lists miss, and it’s usually far messier than any other area of our lives: our schedules.
Nothing gets filled up with useless odds and ends like a calendar. I’m a planner by nature, and this is seriously the hardest challenge I face. I bet many of you struggle with the same thing.
You know the story: past commitments that don’t fit our present circumstances; too many yeses to other people’s projects; breakfast meetings, lunch dates, and dinners with clients, colleagues, and old friends you were never close with to begin with.
Between work, kids, friends, church, and our own desperate need for sleep, it feels like there just aren’t enough hours. We get 168 a week, but it usually feels like we’re trying to get by on half that.
It’s time to clean this mess up.
Reclaim Your Schedule
Whatever your worries, trust me: You’ve got this. As Daniel Harkavy and I detail in our new book, Living Forward, there are really only four steps to finally find the breathing room you need.
- Get clear on your priorities. We do what we value. Sometimes we list things—downtime, family meals, weekend rest—as priorities. Meanwhile, our late-night emails, drive-through windows, and hectic Saturdays tell a different story.
When we’re clear about our priorities, we can honestly assess what’s worth doing and what’s not. There will be costs to reassessing. But there will also be major gains. FOMO is real, but it’s not worth very much.
Triage your calendar. Once you know your true priorities, you can start cleaning up the rest. There are three aspects to calendar triage:
- Protect the basics by ensuring you have enough time reserved for essentials.
- Eliminate everything that doesn’t fit your current list of priorities.
- Reschedule all the important-but-not-urgent stuff that remains.
- Create your ideal schedule. Now that your calendar is clean, it’s time to create some structure that will allow you to keep it in order. The long-term win is not just fewer commitments; it’s having the right ones.
Given your priorities, what would your perfect week look like? Get your calendar and start blocking time accordingly. This is your opportunity to start reserving time for what matters most.
Now think through the big non-negotiables for the year: birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, work trips, and all the rest. There’s no point being surprised by things that aren’t surprises. Get these down so you can plan around them now.
Manage your sanity with a well-spoken no. Once we’ve cleaned our calendars and established the order we so desperately need, we have to maintain what we’ve cleaned. And the most important tool for that has only two letters—the word no.
Try this on for size: “I’m sorry. I’d love to, but to honor my existing commitments, I’m going to have to say no.”
You can word it a hundred different ways, but a response like this does a lot of work. Not only does it convey respect to the person making the request, it also protects the time you’ve reserved for yourself and other people that matter in your life.
A well-spoken no serves to keep the clutter out and protect the space you’ve already cleaned.
Don’t let this season get away from you. More importantly, don’t let it run away with the life you deserve and want to live. Living Forward explains exactly how to walk through these four steps, but the essential thing is that you start.
If you do, you’ll reclaim valuable margin for the things that matter most.