Ask Unstuck: How do I find more time?

For a couple of months, we’ve asked you to let us know what you’re stuck on. And have you ever! Now it’s our turn to respond. First up, trying to find time or energy for pursuits outside of work. While Monica and Adam emailed us with different situations, their struggles are similar, and something most of us can relate to.

By the end of a day full of household chores, Monica lacks the energy for cherished creative pursuits, such as reading, writing, and painting. Adam wants time to develop his own business. But he’s committed to a day job he doesn’t like to pay the bills. Plus, his proposed business can only run during the same hours he’s at work.

As much as we’d like to possess super-human stamina or add more hours to the day, we can’t. What we can do is rethink our priorities and take small steps to reintroduce our passions. A shift in perspective is often the best first step when looking for solutions. Then, with an open mind, we can prioritize and plan our new strategy.

1. Shift focus from limitations to possibilities. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the obstacles that we miss seeing any opportunities. That’s when it’s time to get away from what’s familiar and refresh our perspective. Physically go somewhere else. Let your mind wander. Take in new sights, sounds, and ideas. Breathe deeply and immerse yourself. You want to feel calm and open to new things. You might need to do this several times to get there.  Then, with your new outlook…

• Describe your situation to someone else. A different pair of eyes will see things you don’t. Find someone you trust and respect to talk with. Listen for possibilities and fight the urge to quickly shoot down new thoughts. People love to help. Let them. You never know what they’ll offer to do.

• Step back and look forward. When we cling too closely to our current routines, we push away good ideas. Take a step back from the situation and think about the larger scheme of things. Monica, what creative achievements can you accomplish five years from now if you squeeze in an hour a day of reading, writing, or painting? Adam, where do you want to be 10 years from now? Running your own business or working to pay the bills? Fill out the story and then keep that goal front and center as motivation to do what it takes to reach it. 

2. Prioritize your options. It’s hard to figure out how to introduce multiple new endeavors into a constrained schedule. That’s why we love this game that helps you prioritize. At the end, you will have selected the most important new activity to bring into your daily life. Here’s how it works:

On index cards or pieces of paper, write down 10 or more specific things you want to do. Monica, these could include books you want to read, subjects to paint, or story ideas. Adam, what are the different things you need to do to advance your business? Once you have your deck of “cards,” pull out two cards. Pick the one you feel is more important and put the other aside. Don’t worry about how or when it will happen — this is just about importance. Then take out another card, compare it with the one you just chose, and keep the one that’s most important. Repeat until you’re left with one card. This is what you should probably do first because it means the most to you. (Repeat the game with the cards left in the deck to order the rest of your priorities.)

3. Tweak your routine. Now that we’re open to possibilities and we know how to prioritize one small thing at a time, we can get to the nitty gritty. This exercise helps us adjust our routines so we can take on that new priority.

Write down the name of the routine you want to change up (or use Unstuck’s “Shake Up Your Routine” tool. You can download the free Unstuck iPad app here). Monica, this is probably your household cleaning or evening routine. Adam, this could be your workday routine, or maybe your free time on the weekends. With that routine in mind, list everything you do. Be as detailed as possible. If you go on Facebook during your workday or if you watch a show in between cleaning rooms and cooking, don’t leave those out!

On another piece of paper, create three columns labeled, “Keep Doing This,” “Stop Doing This,” and “Do Differently.” Now, sort the items in your routine into the column that makes sense for you. This is your chance to reconsider whether you need to do something or just do it out of habit. Then write down what you want to add to your routine — we suggest some aspect of that first priority you determined in the card game.  

The last step is to come up with specific ways you’re going to execute this new plan. Write down how you’re going to stop doing certain tasks, start new ones, and do others differently.

You’ve now essentially created a plan to get unstuck. It’s not an instant fix, but rather, small practical steps that help you do what you once thought was frustratingly impossible.

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