And when you finish work, then you work some more.
You reply to emails. You do the dishes, make dinner, do your laundry, walk the dog. You do people favors and take care of your loved ones because you are a good person, but at the end of the day you always end up with no time for yourself.
Or maybe it’s not even about work.
Maybe you simply watch the days flying by, wondering where the hell all your time went. You punish yourself not only because you weren’t productive, but because you were so numb and lost in space that you didn’t even get to enjoy yourself.
It feels like you’re missing out on life.
I know how you feel. I have been there.
And the most amazing thing is, I got out of it. No magic. No herculean efforts.
Today, I will tell you the story of how I overcame my lack of time and freed up over 10 hours a week to do the things I want, by using only one simple tool that is available to you too:
Suffocated, Hopeless and Exhausted
That was me, for most of my life.
Since I can remember myself, I have always started working on assignments the day before the deadline.
My friends would often invite me to go out for dinner or drinks, and I would reply “not today, I need to stay home and do some work”.
And the problem was that, even though I was refusing myself this leisure time — going out with friends, working on my hobbies, resting, having fun — I didn’t even feel that productive when I chose to stay home and work instead.
I had no free time, no productivity, and no happiness — and my response? Work more.
Then 2 years ago I decided to start my own business.
Things changed slightly — I was now producing more results because I was finally doing something I really loved, however I was dedicating up to 14 hours a day to make it work.
I started losing friendships, my anxiety hit unprecedented peaks, and I am even ashamed to admit the amount of coffee I was consuming on a daily basis.
And then, there came the day that changed it all.
The Day When I Hit Rock Bottom
It had been around 1 year since I had started my business.
I was doing so much, yet I always felt like I could (and should) do more. I was working on my own, so I had to take care of everything, and all the responsibility was on my shoulders.
But one day, I just couldn’t take it any longer, and my body and soul started giving in.
That day I woke up and I couldn’t make myself move out of bed. I felt terrified and exhausted at the same time.
When I finally managed after a few hours and I thought about all the tasks I had planned for myself for that day, I started crying uncontrollably. What was I doing with my life?
When was the last time I had stopped to read a book? To catch up with my friends and family? When was the last time I watched a movie, or went out for a long walk without the pressure of thinking about solutions for this or that work related problem?
Even though I felt the pressure to continue, that day my body just didn’t allow me. I was starting to feel ill, a fever beginning to show, and then I knew it:
I had to stop.
So I spent the day on the sofa, with a blanket and some warm tea, and suddenly the obvious hit me: I had to change the way I was living my life. If I wanted to make my business work — what the hell, if I wanted to survive — I would have to slow down.
I would have to get back my free time.
I would have to be able to breathe.
How I Went From >9h to <4h Workdays
I had just started reading personal development articles and looking for solutions for my poor time management skills when I came across a few articles about journaling.
Apparently, there were lots of people using their journal to stay on top of their lives, build healthy routines, and become more productive.
It sounded like something that could work for me.
So I started reading and getting inspired, and after a while of experimenting I found the first way in which my journaling practice could help me solve my problem:
I was using it to get information about myself — as much as possible — with a few different methods, which allowed me to see patterns and identify specific problems:
The basic idea is to replace to-do lists with journaling: in between projects or activities and while taking breaks, I would journal a few sentences about what I had just done and what I was about to do.
Benefits: I learned how much time it was really taking me to do things, my most productive hours, which projects felt best at different times of the day, which activities made me the most tired, and I learned how to take more effective breaks.
I started tracking habits — especially health related ones. What I ate that day, which substances (such as stimulants or sugar) I consumed, if I exercised (for how long and what kind of exercise), if I overate, how each food felt in my body (and how it affected my mind), etc.
Benefits: I learned a lot about what makes me feel at my best, and started fueling my body with the right foods, so that I could be more focused during my working hours, therefore feeling less guilty to stop working early and having a proper rest.
Grading and evaluating
How did I feel today, from 1 to 5? How was my productivity? My energy levels? My mood? How much free time did I get today? How happy am I with how I organized my day?
Benefits: I gradually started allowing myself to flow with my natural cycles. For example, it became obvious that my energy levels and my mood were much lower when I overworked (and even though I knew that before, it was only theory — now I had proof), so I could finally convince myself that overworking was seriously damaging me.
What If I Can Just… Stop Doing It?
So what did I do with all the information I gathered?
My main conclusion was that there were a lot of habits and behaviors in my routine that weren’t benefiting me: scrolling down my social media feed, drinking way too much coffee, sleeping less that 8 hours per night — the list could go on and on.
So I did something very simple: I stopped doing those things.
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s easier said than done!”
But the truth is that it didn’t happen overnight. I took my time. I quit one habit at a time, and I kept on tracking to test the differences in how I felt.
The more I changed, the more relaxed I felt, the more productive my work became, and the more I allowed myself to rest and do other things I love such as reading, taking at least 2 days off every week, and spending time doing absolutely nothing.
But I didn’t stop there. It still wasn’t perfect.
When I Thought I Couldn’t Simplify Any Further… I Was Surprised. Again.
Sometimes I still questioned my decisions, and some of my old unhealthy habits started creeping back in (one more cup of coffee can’t hurt, right?)
Every few days the stress and anxiety would come back; I would lose my clarity and balance, and suddenly I was pushing myself again with more and more tasks, longer working hours, and that voice inside me that whispers “You can’t stop — you need to do more! More! MORE!”
And then it hit me: quitting bad habits was a good first step, but I needed something more.
I needed a point of focus, something that would help me prioritize, and tell the difference between what was really necessary… and what was unnecessary, empty hustling.
That’s when I started setting myself goals.
I started setting monthly goals — only a few of them.
I would then write those goals in my journal and look at them every day: they would be my priority.
Of course, I would have other tasks during the month, but they were secondary — these goals were my focus.
This allowed me to go even deeper with eliminating habits that didn’t serve me.
For example: I noticed from tracking my habits that I has been spending a lot of time reading about marketing. However, even though that had felt relevant at the time, now it became clear that it wasn’t a priority. So I would shift my reading material to articles or books on how to become a better writer, or some yoga and mindfulness inspiration.
Whatever activities were unrelated to my main goals could probably wait — or at least I wouldn’t stay up late replying to emails about my website server because I had decided it wasn’t a priority.
I focused on what mattered — and I was surprised at how much breathing space I finally had.
Good Ideas Are Useless… Unless We Put Them To Action
Becoming aware of your habits is good.
Quitting the ones that don’t serve you is even better.
Setting yourself goals and checking that you are in alignment with them is amazing, but…
Only in theory.
Because what if you do all of that, but then you don’t take action to make a change?
Well, most likely nothing will happen.
So how did I actually turn all this theory into practice?
Here is one of the ways I did it: I built a routine around them.
Every week I reviewed my progress, and I planned for the next one:
“How can I work towards my goals next week while keeping plenty of time for myself?”
The other thing I did was to constantly make the choice to refuse tasks that are unnecessary. Do I feel an urge to reply to all my emails when I am already tired at the end of the day?
Do I feel the pressure to start researching for a new project, fix that bug on my website, reply to social media comments?
Not today. Because that’s not part of my current goals, therefore it’s not essential.
Today, I choose to rest. I choose to watch a movie. Read an exciting fiction book.
Do whatever I want, but not work.
Want to Radically Increase Your Free Time? Here’s What You Can Do
It’s in your power to free up 10 hours of your every week — or even more.
I’ll tell you more: it’s in your power to start that process today.
Here are 5 simple steps to do it:
- For a week, journal your activities in as much detail as possible.
Woke up at 7, drank water, had breakfast (what dis you eat?), spent time on social media (how much time?), exercised (for how long? what kind of exercise?) drove to work, etc.
- Which daily activities do not serve you? Stop doing them.
Do you really need to spend 20 minutes on Facebook every morning? Do you really need to have that sugary snack for your morning break?
- Set yourself goals. Then stop doing what doesn’t serve those goals.
So your goals for this month are to lose 10lb and finishing the 1st draft of your novel. Sure, ironing your clothes makes them prettier, but is it really a priority? You could use that time to 1) work towards your goals, or 2) have fun with your friends!
- Plan your next week so that it’s in alignment with your goals.
Maybe you want to create a new exercise routine that you love, and finish writing the first chapter. Put yourself in the right mindset. Remind yourself of it every day. When you do it, give all of yourself to it — and you will see that not only will it go faster, but the sense of accomplishment will also sweeten up your free time.
Use your free time wisely — connect with your loved ones, rest, read a good book, watch a good film, go for a hike, whatever truly excites you. Because if you don’t, what will keep you motivated to have more free time after all?
Here’s What My Life Looks Like Today
It’s been a few months since I have worked afternoons on a regular basis.
I used to work up to 13, 14 hours a day. Nowadays, I work 4 hours a day maximum, and I am accomplishing more than ever before.
When I take breaks to rest and have fun, my brain works better, and I am happier. And that’s because, as I made my work time more productive, I also made my leisure time more rich and meaningful.
I feel rested, and I love what I do — more than ever before.
And I learned something that before I never thought was possible: I can love my business and be 100% dedicated to it, while also spending a lot of time without it even being on my mind.
Don’t Be Exhausted For The Rest Of Your Life
I get it, you are tired of not being able to do the things you love because “unfortunately, a day only has 24 hours”.
However, how you feel and what you achieve totally depends on what you do with those 24 hours — it’s all about focusing and stripping away the unnecessary.
As you can see, I didn’t use any magic to get where I am, with more free time in my hands than ever before in my life.
You can get there too — just grab your journal, follow the steps above, and start enjoying your new life.