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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

3 Tips for (Actually) Carving Out Personal Time in Your Busy Schedule

If there’s any phrase I’d love to file under “easier said than done,” it’s this one: “Be sure to make time for yourself!” No matter how many hours I put into my job or how much time I spend trying to advance my career, there’s always more work to be done. Why sit down and read a book for fun when I could get a head start on answering emails or writing an article or networking?

My constant desire to work came to a head when I start showing signs of “brownout”—it’s the notion that while I was performing fine from the outside, I was slowly becoming exhausted, unmotivated, and uninspired. However, every time I tried to take “personal time” to recover, I found myself growing increasingly anxious about not doing work. It soon became a vicious (and unhealthy) cycle.

Just when I was really starting to lose it last year, a friend introduced me to Survivor. (Yes, I see that look on your face—it’s still on.) Despite having never watched the show before, I decided to catch up on that current season at a moment of procrastination—and to my surprise, I became completely hooked!

Nowadays, I would call myself a hardcore fan. Not only do I watch it live every week, but I also tune into podcasts, read weekly game analysis, and livetweet every episode. To some people, it might seem weird. But for me, beginning to tune into Survivor (religiously) became a huge step in reclaiming my personal time. Personal time that’s now expanded past that one hour a week and into doing more fun things after my daily work is complete.

What does this have to do with you—someone who has no desire to watch the show? A lot!

Here are three lessons about “me time” that I’ve learned by spending time watching people get voted off of an island.

1. Start With Something Scheduled

I think the biggest reason Survivor became my first piece of personal time (when things like reading books or writing in a journal failed) is because the show is scheduled by the network, and not by me. If I want to watch Survivor live on Wednesdays at 8 PM each week, I have to step away from my work at 8 PM (7:59 actually, so I don’t miss a moment). I only get one shot to do this every week, and there’s no way I’m missing it.

Obviously, watching reality television might not be your thing, but some other scheduled activity definitely is. For example, if you’re an exercise buff, find a weekly yoga class. Or if you love reading, join a book club that requires you to finish the book by a certain date. Or, you can even set aside a specific time each week to grab drinks with a friend.

2. Don’t Compromise

Read my lips: You don’t owe anyone every single second of your day. This is something I struggled coming to terms with when I started trying to make “me time” every week. Especially because I work online, which results in people acting like I’m always on call. However—as I remind myself—the world is not going to end (and my website isn’t going to crash and the internet won’t explode) if I take 60 minutes each week to watch my favorite television show.

Nowadays, if anything conflicts with my Survivor time (like networking groups or late-night meetings), I immediately turn it down in favor of watching television, as I’m making a conscious effort to make personal time a priority.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, but feel awkward saying no to work, just remember that this small amount of time is important to putting your best self forward.

3. Encourage Others to Do the Same

When I used to work 24/7, I didn’t realize that it was making a lot of my employees and colleagues feel antsy, as I’d be sending them emails or agenda items at odd hours, (accidentally) making them feel guilty for not responding right away.

Since I’ve started reclaiming my personal time, I’ve made an effort to support anyone who works for me to do the same (and to be vocal about it!). Letting other people have time off during the week isn’t just good for them, it reminds you that it’s acceptable to do the same.

Reality television might not be your thing, but there’s most definitely something else out there that is worthy of your free time. The tribe has spoken, and it’s saying that personal time is pretty cool.

Photo of man relaxing courtesy of Shutterstock.