How to Create Time When There’s No Time

“How do I make time for (marketing) (writing) (business-building) (the escape plan from my day job) when my schedule is already packed?”

It’s a question I hear a lot from coaching clients, from workshop participants, from friends.

A colleague recently asked me this question on behalf of someone she knows—a mother of three who couldn’t imagine carving out more time to plan the future of her business, in between the day-to-day demands of her job and her kids. This busy mom wondered what scheduling techniques would add time for long-term planning to the plates she’s already juggling.

While the answer is different for everybody, the elements are pretty much the same. And, surprise: the big issue isn’t usually “What tools should I use?” The bigger question underneath is more along the lines of, “How can I give anything up? Everything feels equally important! I’m about to burn out here, but it doesn’t feel safe to rest!”

So here’s what I suggested to my colleague.

• Step back.

Before you can schedule with any sanity, you need a little mental space around your commitments and obligations. Otherwise, you’ll be thinking about them from a sense of urgency and trappedness, and it’ll be hard to make decent decisions.

How do you get that mental space? For some people, it’s a hike or a run, or a quick walk around the block. For me, yoga-type breathing helps a lot. Sometimes, bravely taking a day (or a weekend or even just an afternoon) off, away from email and any other reminders of work, is key. In other words, do something time-limited that calms you down and clears your mind. Then…

• Give yourself some empathy.

It’s hard to meet the demands and expectations of contemporary life! For parents, it’s exponentially harder. Most people, no matter how pressed they feel, are actually doing a pretty decent job of keeping it all together. Acknowledge yourself for that.

• Look for the wiggle room.

Ask yourself some questions: What is bugging you the most, and/or bringing you the least gratification? That’s a good place to start.

Another question: For your various commitments, what are your imagined (or feared) risks if you were to let some of them slip a little—by postponing a few of them, or doing them less often, or less well? How real are the risks, and what are some ways of dealing with them?

People get stuck if they think they have to drop their commitments. It’s often less threatening (and more productive) to create space by delaying, or reducing frequency, or doing something less perfectly, or getting some help.

Once you’ve done that—gained perspective, allowed some empathy, asked yourself questions to find where the wiggle room is—the scheduling part is usually pretty straightforward.

If you just throw Prioritizing Techniques at the problem, at best you’ll create temporary change. What most people need, more than scheduling tips, is permission to back off a little and acknowledge the need beneath the scheduling question—the need for sanity and space. Then the solutions get clearer.


  1. I love this. Thank you for this permission slip to go on a hike whenever I need to.

    If you get a chance, I’d love it if you could expand on this a little- “What is bugging you the most, and/or bringing you the least gratification? That’s a good place to start.” With tackling or giving up? Or just bringing attention to?


  2. Janet, you are so right about these…but they’re so counter-intuitive, they’re hard to remember. (“What? Take the time to step back when i already don’t have enough time?”) I resist that first one in particular–but whenever I’ve forced myself to do it, I’ve never regretted it.

    Why does wisdom have to be so paradoxical so much of the time? 🙂

  3. jenny says:

    I love this post, as always.

    I like the middle ground between stopping completely and just doing less.

  4. Thanks for this short ‘n’ rich post. A calm, clear mind works best, yes!

    On the first point under Wiggle Room, do you mean to leave aside or to tackle first what’s most bugging you?

    Thanks, Janet!

  5. Janet Bailey says:

    @Megan, @Heidi – Glad you asked—sounds like this point didn’t come across as clearly as it did in my mind. I meant that those low-gratification, more-annoying commitments are the ones to start with when you ask the next question, about whether you could let them slip by doing them less often or less well. You get quicker relief that way.

    @Jenny – Thanks! Yes, there’s a lot of wiggle room there in the middle.

    @Michelle – I know, those pesky paradoxical concepts!

  6. […] out Janet’s super-helpful blog post on how to create time when there is no time, and let me know if you found it as helpful as me – and my client – […]

  7. Priacta says:

    Completely relate to the ideas offered in your post. I used to be someone who’d resist to acknowledge that I’ve put my best foot forward in time of crisis. But I now realize that for any job to be finished in time, we need the right frame of mind first. Then comes the time factor, right guidance, right tools, a right plan and its perfect execution. Thanks Janet for sharing.

  8. Phil says:

    I like your thinking Janet 🙂

    I believe it is critical to take the time to stop, think and clarify what you want to achieve in the near future so that you can best prioritise your commitments and reduce/eliminate those that don’t serve your goals…

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