How to Create Time for Yourself
Work-life balance has become a hot topic, but it tends to miss out on one crucial component — alone time.
It is the era of extroverts. Open-plan offices, networking, keeping up with the Joneses/Kardashians and social media posts. While all these things have their place, it is extremely rare to be a true “extrovert”. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung claims that most of us are ambiverts, and gain energy both from within (ourselves) and from without (other people). This means we are more energetic, more successful and happier when we find the balance that suits us. Having a “life” should not be synonymous with having a social life 24/7.
There are a million ways for you to find the time to spend on your own — here are 10.
1. Have a Clear ‘Why’
Understanding the benefits of being alone can help you prioritise it in your life.
Solitude fosters creativity. It is no wonder that `The Creatives´ of the world spend so much time alone. It allows the mind to have time to think outside of the box. It reduces distractions and maximises focus and its opposite creative daydreaming. But you don’t have to be Leonardo Da Vinci to require this time. No matter the nature of your job — whether if it is focused on the financial, technological or physical industry– we all need to think creatively to solve problems and develop new ways of operating.
Oprah Winfrey, not exactly someone that hides in the shadows, looks at it this way, “Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own”.
And you don’t need to move into a cabin in the woods to find it. Find a particular bench in a park, or a cosy spot at the back of your favourite café, this will do just fine.
The key is to find a place where you can listen to yourself, without engaging with other people’s expectations. Listen to your own heart: what do I really want? Am I happy? Am I where I want to be? In fact, solitude helps to prevent burnout which is not just the product of overwork or under-sleep but can simply be due to running low on psychological energy or over-stimulation.
Allowing time to unplug from the world can prevent this from happening.
2. Calendar Block
Structure is freedom. A great way to ensure you have time for yourself is by booking your own time into your calendar. The practice of calendar blocking can help you realise you have more time than you realise. This can create a limitation to the time you invest for your work outside the working environment, and you may even get more work done– not only because you are more refreshed but also because of the Parkinson’s Law. If you give yourself a day to complete a task it will likely take the full day, if you give yourself 4 hours it is more likely to take 4 hours.
Then, once that time is over, you can even set alarms labeled ‘wind down’. Switch off notifications, close your laptop and run a bath, read a book, or whatever floats your boat.
Schedule a day once a month or an evening once a week just for you. Not for socializing, working or errands, but for you. And stick to it like a commitment. If a friend wants to meet up just say “I have plans” and schedule him/her/them for another day. You are not lying, you do have plans.
3. Wake up Earlier
The ‘5 am morning routine’ has become somewhat of a social media trend in the last few years, but the benefits are usually framed around productivity. But the early hours of the morning can also be down-time — and no, not browsing on social media or checking emails. Look just for 15 minutes to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee — aaaand breathe. If you have children or noisy roommates, that moment of silence in the early morning can be golden.
4. It’s a Waiting Game
Part of allowing time for yourself is a mind-set change to activities you already do. If you come across “waiting time” in your life, you can use it differently. Perhaps you are waiting in the car, waiting at a doctor’s office, waiting for a friend who’s late — again! Instead of scrolling on your phone, have a novel at hand or a funny or interesting podcast to pop on. This increases the time for yourself and decreases irritability. Instead of tapping your foot and sending your blood pressure soaring waiting for a blood test, you’ll suddenly be sad it’s over — oh, I really wanted to get to the end of the chapter. A lot of us, even if we are driven by anxiety or stellar organizational skills, we arrive early for appointments anyway.
5. Eat lunch alone
So, this is more of a controversial one. It doesn’t have to be. Spending lunch with co-workers can be prime-time for some team bonding and great for morale. However, this can happen 4 out of 5 times a week and have the same impact. Alternatively, you can snip out 10 minutes in the end for a short walk — a great way to change your mood and energy levels.
According to a study published by the Academy of Management Journal, workers who spent their lunch alone were more relaxed and productive than those who spent lunch with co-workers or those that skipped lunch altogether. In fact, 50% of workers studied thought taking lunch slowed production. This is a fallacy — please take your lunch break, it’s there for a reason.
If you are refreshed, you will probably be a better company anyway.
6. Tune Out Technology
Everyone is always ‘on’ — and that’s partly because so are our notifications.
Social media and emails are not relaxing, it’s not sincere alone time. It’s bad for your eyes after staring at a screen all day, but it also makes you believe you have less free time than you actually do.
Do you really need that hour or two in bed on your phone? What if that hour was spent doing yoga, or an hour and a half on that movie you’ve been waiting to watch…? We often don’t believe we have time to do it because it feels too substantial. But many of us use that time anyway awake.
7. Set Boundaries
If you struggle to say no to people, it’s time to draw a line in the sand. A lot of us have regular get-togethers that drain our energy, which we simply do out of habit. When we step back and evaluate, we realise some of these relationships drain more energy than they provide. As life coach Suzy Greaves explains: ‘Saying no is the most effective method of gaining time and energy’.
Another way to free up time is to tell people that you don’t check messages, for example, before 9 am or after 8 pm. Or you don’t answer emails on Sundays. If they know beforehand, they won’t be expecting a reply and you won’t feel any need to check. And that’s really liberating.
8. Take a Holiday
Whether it be a week-long safari that boosts creativity, a 3 day spa weekend that leaves you refreshed or day-out volunteering that changes your perspective. You would be surprised how big a difference an extended weekend can make.
If you struggle with the idea of taking time off because you’re concerned that you’ll just have too much to do when you get back, book something far ahead of time. Buy that Eurostar ticket to Paris for 3 months in advance. Then you can easily get a little more work done prior, so when the holiday comes to an end, there is less of a ‘catch up’ period.
Even if walking up the stairs gets you out of breath (we have all been there) — schedule in a 20-minute walk after dinner or before work or on the way in. Plug in a funny or interesting podcast and breathe in.
Running is also great for clearing your head — 10 minutes in the morning before you shower. The benefits are blinding. Try without music — almost like meditating — another way to appreciate your own company. Time to let that mind wander.
10. Pace Yourself
Perhaps, after all this, you truly believe you still do not have the time. You are in a “hustle” period. Instead, you can take advice from GP Dr. Rob Hicks, and spend just 5 minutes each day doing something you enjoy: ‘Play the piano, listen to some music, whatever takes your fancy. Then gradually extend it to 10, 15 minutes and so on. Before you know it you will have made the time to do what you want to do’.
Time alone is vital for a work-life balance and you don’t have to sacrifice hard work in the process. The two can work harmoniously, hand-by-hand. It isn’t indulgent to take a little time to yourself. Rest in moderation is not a “treat”; it’s essential.