The Busy Person’s Guide to Taking Time for Yourself

Smiling young woman taking time for herself enjoying fresh coffee in a cafe

Solitude has become a forgotten art. Our hyper-connected world has made us perpetually busy and is diminishing our capacity to be alone. Despite the unending distractions and our demanding schedules, one must learn to cultivate the practice of taking time for yourself.

So Much To Do, So Little Time

According to the 2014 American Time Use survey, Americans spend their time in three major clusters: (1) Work and work-related activities; (2) Sleeping; and (3) Remaining activities including sports and leisure. Work and work-related activities receive the first chunk. This activity, including travel and commute, gets an average of 8 hours and 45 minutes. Sleeping gets the second bulk, which is an average of 7 hours and 50 minutes. The remaining 7 hours and 25 minutes cram most of our additional activities with leisure and sports getting about 2 to 3 hours. Eating and drinking receive a little above an hour. Housework consumes about an hour as well. Shopping and caring for household members, both get 30 minutes per day.

Typically, a workday starts between 6:30 to 7:00 in the morning. The surge of activity slows down around 10:00 in the evening, slowly shifting to personal care before going to sleep. Essentially, our busy lifestyle has made it challenging to set aside time for ourselves. As the saying goes, there is so much to do, and so little time. However, as the famed psychiatrist Donald Winnicott puts it, our capacity to be alone with ourselves is one of the greatest markers of psychological health. Finding some time for yourself, even if just a few minutes, can create a world of difference.

Why You Should Start the Quest for Quiet

Self-awareness occurs when we are truly alone with ourselves. Being constantly around people exposes us to a barrage of stimulus. Here are some good reasons we should seek quality quiet time:

  • Allows us to listen to our own thoughts and acknowledge how we truly feel. Quiet moments give us the opportunity to attend to our own needs.
  • Helps us de-clutter our mind. A clear mind can help us make better judgments. While it is helpful to seek the advice of other people, it all boils down to our own decisions in the end. It is best to set aside quiet time alone to put things in perspective, especially when making crucial choices.
  • Allows us to recharge and replenish our energy. Unfortunately, we have difficulty embracing slowdown. We are used to having a jam-packed schedule and we fill our days with a list of to-dos. This on the go attitude can deplete our energy. Slowing down, even just for a few minutes, can help recharge.
  • Can help us have a calmer demeanor. Moving from one task to another increases our cortisol levels and glucose in the bloodstream. This can result in headaches, muscle tension, and increased heart rate. Taking a few moments to stop and breathe may help relieve these symptoms.
  • Can lead us to independence, emotional strength, and resilience, markers of personal growth and maturity. We can help nurture these qualities by setting aside time for ourselves. With self-reliance, we become more comfortable with being alone as much as when we are with other people.

Where do I Start?

man at computer with hands on head being bombarded by people who need him

Spending time alone and allowing our mind to wander contributes to our well-being. It helps us understand ourselves better, recharge our batteries and be more independent. Studies even show that people tend to be more creative when alone and less busy. With all these benefits, here are four steps we can take for some quiet time for ourselves:

  1. Start by looking inward. Are you a person who gets energized by being around people? Or are you the type who gets drained after socializing? Knowing where you fall in the introvert-extrovert spectrum will help you decide how much or how often you need to dedicate time for yourself. But whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, one thing is certain, everybody needs a breather.
  2. Review your schedule. Look for downtime and turn these moments as pockets of solitude. For instance, a quick walk around the block during your lunch break will do the trick. Assigning specific quiet time throughout the day will help you be more focused on the next task at hand.
  3. Ask for help with tasks. There is a limit to what we can accomplish with our time and energy. Learn to delegate tasks and seek help. Sometimes there is just too much to do in a day. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from friends or family on simple tasks. With the help of others, you can accomplish tasks more quickly and have more time for yourself.
  4. Learn to say no and to deflect distractions. We will never run out of things to do—there will be tasks to complete, meetings to attend and social functions to observe. So, it is important to set priorities and learn to decline politely to the activities which may tip off your schedule. Be firm with your need for alone time.

We live in a time when being busy is equated to productivity. Author Tim Ferris states, “the default mode of Type-A entrepreneurs is to do more. If I have a problem, do more. If I am feeling stressed out, do more.” But doing more isn’t always more productive. In fact, this compulsion to do more is making us all tightly wound and exhausted. It is important to carve out a time for yourself to relax and recharge. This will help you become more focused and productive.

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Ellen Madden studied Communications and Women & Gender Studies at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. She is navigating motherhood while working and celebrating life in Tampa, FL where she grew up. Ellen is a food lover and is learning the art of writing as she goes along.

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