15 Ways to Make Room: In Your Mind, In Your Days, In Your Years
So often, I hear people say things like “I’m going to work hard for the next X years so that I can then spend more time with my kids later,” or “I’m going to get my life in order before the holidays so I can start working out for real after the holidays are over,” or “I’m going to get through this busy stretch of work events and then start cooking healthier meals at home.” My personal refrain is often “I’ll make more time to write when [my work slows down, my children get older, insert a million other excuses here].”
Most recently, I told myself that I’d write more when I went on maternity leave. And guess what? I’m on maternity leave and having just as much trouble making space for writing as I did before my leave. The challenges are different (nighttime exhaustion versus nighttime email, carting children around versus going to meetings), but the time and energy constraints are similar. This experience has brought to the forefront a truth I have long known, but only sporadically paid attention to: DOING THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO IS ABOUT MAKING ROOM FOR THEM TODAY.
It’s not about setting some deadline for when to begin; there is too much flux in life to guarantee that everything will fall into place in the way we expect it to. It’s not about hoping life will somehow create space for you in the future; it’s about making room in the life you have today for the things you want to do.
I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, which is all about building and living a creative life, and I felt liberated by her message that creativity isn’t necessarily about finding a creative vocation; it’s about approaching every single day with the curiosity that leads to creativity. It’s steady, not spiky. It’s messy, not punctuated. Extending her message beyond creativity, improving fitness isn’t just about running a race; it’s about what happens in between the big events. Nourishing your body isn’t just about choosing a healthy entrée when you go out to eat; it’s about what fills your plate at every breakfast, lunch and dinner. The big events matter, but the smaller moments in between may matter more.
Life is busy these days, and it’s easy to get caught up in living at one end of the spectrum in hopes that the future will occupy a different end of it. But what if we all entertained a quieter, gentler path to living the lives we want? What if we created space every day for the things and people and adventures and challenges we dream of? What if we traded excuses and justification for hard work and acceptance? What if we kept making plans, but started also making room?
Making room is more art than science, and it’s measured more easily by our own satisfaction than by the approval of others. It’s about making room in our minds…so that we can make room in our days and in our years…which is how we make room in our lives. Here are a few ideas I have for creating this space – I’d love to hear what’s working for you.
5 Ways to Make Room in Your Mind
- Write first thing in the morning. The personal development bible, The Artist’s Way, calls this early morning writing “morning pages” – a daily practice to write freely before the distractions of the day creep in.
- Walk or bike for transportation when you can. Fresh air has incredible power, and the world looks different on foot or over the handlebars.
- Take a few deep breaths before reaching for your phone. I learned about this from a friend, takes five deep breaths every time he feels the urge to reach for his phone.
- Read widely. Exposure to a wide range of ideas can expand our minds and help us make connections we may not otherwise make. My favorite app for brain food these days is called Wildcard (yes, I’m trying to take five deep breaths before opening it).
- Turn off at night. Particularly for working parents, evenings are an extension of the workday. But when we never turn off, it’s hard to make space in our minds for things that don’t relate to work.
5 Ways to Make Room in Your Days
- Make a daily list. Not a bucket list, just a simple, daily to-do list. And make it a life list, but just a work list.
- Get clear about your non-negotiables. Want to be a writer? Then make writing a non-negotiable. Want to be a swimmer? Make swimming a non-negotiable. Want to be there for your kids? Make family dinner a non-negotiable. And hang on like hell to these things when the day gets bumpy.
- Schedule your day in blocks, with space in between. I like working in 90-minute blocks when I can, and making sure they’re sandwiched by space to think, walk, or rest.
- Share your intentions with those you love. The people who love you will work with you to help you make room for the things that matter to you, holding you accountable to living the life you’re told them you want to live and raising the flag when you don’t.
- Sleep. It makes the days easier to manage. The science is irrefutable.
5 Ways to Make Room in Your Years
- Contract with your boss and team. Be open about where you are and what you need space for. Your boss and your team at work are in a great position to support you and help you manage the trade-offs.
- Embrace traditions. Find things during the course of the year that you know will ignite your spirit and expand your life. These could be small things like decorating the Christmas tree or bigger things like an annual trip with friends. Figure out what these things are and count on making them happen.
- Make the most of weekends. If you can’t make room every day for certain things, the weekends are a great way to make sure you make room in the week for the things that make you whole.
- Take all your vacation. Don’t be one of the millions of people who finish the year with vacation hours in the bank. Taking your vacation will make you better at work, better at home, and better in between.
- Reflect on what’s behind and what’s ahead. Take some time quarterly or annually to notice how things are going and make changes as you need to. Course correcting daily is exhausting, but course correcting once in a while can help you stay on track.
A full life is made up of moments, days, weeks and years. Let’s remember the past and plan for the future, but stay focused on making room today.