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Making time for what matters

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by Allison Vesterfelt

Allison is a reader, writer, dreamer and author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life With Less Baggage. She lives in Nashville with her husband. You can follow her daily on Twitter.

Sometimes I feel like there just isn’t enough space in my life. There isn’t enough room to see all my friends, finish all of my work, attend every significant event, volunteer at every charity, keep my house clean and functioning, to eat (something other than string cheese or rice krispies) and to still end up sane at the end of the week, month or year.

Do you ever feel like this?

Recently I met a friend who helped me see my dilemma in a way I had never seen before. From the moment she and I met, we had decided we were kindred spirits—the kind of friends with whom you sense a friendship has formed secretly somehow, before you even met.

So we immediately decided we wanted to spend some time together. We started talking days and times, and I did what I always do—I busted out my calendar to figure out when I could make it happen.

I glanced down at my phone and flipped through my iCal. I told her I was traveling this week, and next Tuesday and Thursday were really busy for me, but that Wednesday could work.

“Friday would probably be better, though,” I said. “How does next week look for you?”

“It’s full,” she said, “but I make time for the things I care for.”

When I write it here, it almost looks a little like she was trying to slam me with those words, but I can assure you, she wasn’t. In fact, her words made me feel incredibly honored. It made me see how she placed a high price on the time we were planning to spend together, and how she was going to make it a priority to fit me into her life.

But her words also made me realize something else. They made me think: She isn’t the only one who “makes time” for the things she cares about.

I do, too. We all do.

Our schedules and and our iCals and our Google reminders say a lot about what we really value in life. We may not even realize it as it is happening. If you’re anything like me, a calendar feels utilitarian and necessary—not like something deeper.

But if we were to go back and look at our schedules from weeks or years before, they would act like a little time capsules, holding the treasures of our hearts.

And if we were take a step back, and take a close look at what we saw on those pages, what would we see? Would we be happy with our priorities? Would we feel satisfied with what they say about us?

I’m not sure I would. For one thing, my calendar is always full, and it’s also a little scattered. If a stranger were to look at my calendar from last month or last year, I think he or she might wonder, “What is this woman doing with her life? What is she about?”

It could be a little hard to tell. My calendar would probably give away my lack of focus.

And yet, there’s no room for shame or guilt here.

Because if our calendars really are a reflection of our priorities, then the truth is, our priorities are as limited as our calendars are. In other words—the latest event or program at church, the newest non-profit fundraising dinner, so-and-so’s cousin’s bridal shower—these all might be worthy things to care about, but we can’t feel guilty for not caring. We can’t care about everything.

There are only seven days in a week, 30(ish) days in a month, 365 days in a year. If we try to care about everything, we’ll end up caring about nothing. We’ll eventually kill ourselves.

Ever since I had this conversation with my friend, I think really carefully before I add something to my calendar. I consider if I’m adding the event because I think I “should” go, or because I really want to. I ask myself about priorities, about what I want to create with my life, and measure every single event against that.

Slowly, but surely, more space is opening up. I’m learning less is more.

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Comments

  1. I am an aspiring entrepreneur and well i can say that i am struggling between balancing life at home and life at work. This blog post is a good guide. You are right and I agree with the tips suggested here.

  2. Great post! It’s interesting to look at what we unintentionally prioritize, and then look at the rest of our schedules and see how many things don’t live up to that prioritization. It’s easy for me to identify what’s important to me- they’re the things I do while my son naps! I almost always make that time sacred for writing, because I know it’s when I’ll get the most uninterrupted focus time for the day. But I’ll also be happy to take that time for my favorite gym class or breakfast with a friend if I have a babysitter, or take a nap myself if I feel I need extra self-care. Conversely, I’m not willing to do chores during that time- I can do that while he’s awake. I’m not wasting my golden free hours on dusting!

  3. Good stuff! As someone who mainly lived a life out of obligation (the “ought to’s”) for too long of a season and burned out because of it, I am continuing to learn more and more about this. It was a way of life that leads to resentment of people and things, among other things. In this particular season I am in, and part of this journey of decision making about what I do or don’t want to invest time and energy into, I am constantly reminding myself that there are a lot of GOOD things to invest in/get involved in, but that I really want to choose BEST things. I will probably have to remind myself of this for my entire life! (as a side note, I’m also learning that there are times to do the things I may not WANT to do, but really just should do. I don’t think you’re suggesting that we only do things we really want to do all the time, b/c there are some “should’s” in life. However, I agree that our lives shouldn’t be ruled by the “should’s.”)

    “We can’t care about everything.” Great reminder! Thanks for the post.

  4. “Because if our calendars really are a reflection of our priorities, then the truth is, our priorities are as limited as our calendars are.”

    This can’t be any truer, Allison.

    I’ve got the art of multi-tasking down to a science (or at least I think I do), but what I’ve lost is the art of “not-tasking.” I just finished reading a brilliant post from Joshua Becker over at Storyline about silence and I’ve been reminded this morning how crucial it is.

    Great stuff, I feel like you’re basically writing my life story with everything I see from you. Maybe that’s why I related to a lot of what you wrote about in Packing Light.

  5. So very good, Ally. Years ago I was talking with a close friend who said she had recently met someone she really liked but hadn’t been able to spend as much time with her as she would like. I couldn’t help but think how sad it was her life was so busy that she didn’t have time to invest in people she cared about and let them invest in her. It’s something I’m really passionate about. Activities are just thought but really investing in people…that’s the good life.

  6. We are in a very full season of life (husband going to school and actively auditioning for orchestra plus working) and this advice has kept us sane-ish. We have time for what is important and that list has been pared down to tending to our family’s needs first, involvement in our church community and a few close friends. Its hard to say no at first but the peace in our home shows us that it is worth it.

  7. A few years ago, I used to be involved at several different programs at church. So many, in fact, that I was there four nights a week. And while these were absolutely worthwhile ministries, there came a point that I realized that I wasn’t spending time with my husband and children like I should be. I stopped doing the ministries and started paying more attention to my #1 ministry- my family. Now, I love to be at home- most of the time. It can be overwhelming with 10 kids in the house and another one calling for favors all the time, so I do allow myself a few times a year to spend time with other women. Last night I went to a women’s event at my church, and my two oldest daughters went with me. These are the things I want to spend my time on.

  8. What a great post! Thanks for sharing, Ally!

  9. Love this challenge, Ally. This sentence really resonated with me: “If we try to care about everything, we’ll end up caring about nothing.” After reading your book and Tsh’s, I’ve been working at saying no to the things that just don’t line up. Not bad things, just not what I’m called to focus on right now. And, like you said, guilt can rise up within us. But it shouldn’t. We simply just cannot do everything and care about everything–we’re human. And how freeing it is when we let go, shame-free. Thanks for this reminder.

  10. Awesome – I can’t count the number of times a friend said they’d get together with us, and then at the last minute cancelled, or forgot because of something that came up or because they had so much on their plate. Most of them reported always feeling guilty for dropping our hangout time and for not making up for it. We have learned not to be holding onto whether or not people come, but just enjoy the moment we’re given. Our family tends to naturally leave lots of space for things that most people would consider “interruptions.” I can’t imagine having my calendar so full that it wasn’t open to some spontaneous moments!

  11. I’m currently in a busy part of my life, and trying to remember this advice as often as I can. It’s true–we can’t do it all, but finding time for the things that are really important to us is necessary, and it’s telling what those things are.

  12. This is spot on, Ally. I live on a teeny British island, where you kinda know everybody, all the churches are connected and it’s not unusual to bump into old high school friends and extended family on a weekly, sometimes daily basis! This means lots of events and invites and ‘we should catch up!’. We try to see our calendar as a way of investing in ourselves, others and the things we are truly passionate about. This way we don’t just go to every church and social event, no matter how good they may be.

  13. I was just sitting in a deli for my big indulgence of the week grilled tuna on rye with tons of melon and strawberries and writing my horizons of focus… ala GTD. This has to be the best article I could come across to realize that maybe I have been working on my major goals in life all along in many areas but also working on random to do’s that really have nothing to do with what my purpose is in life. My purpose is to raise my family, have a strong happy marriage and to give back when I can as well as help my parents when the time comes that I need to be the shoulder they need to lean on. If I fill in my life with needless TO DO’s then how in the world can I accomplish all of this. I think it is about time I created my -unlist. Great now I am crying, but it is a good cry.

    May God bless you and keep you,
    Pam

  14. I was reminded of Mary and Martha when I read this post. Martha is so concerned that she must do EVERYTHING with so little help, and Jesus calls her out on her frustration and anxiety, advising her to just REST in his words. I like your advice, but I feel that it’s important to add: NOTHING comes before spending time with God. When we try to figure it out without first listening to Jesus, all our priorities end up wrong. It may seem obvious, but I think too often this is forgotten in our busy, good-deed-filled lives. But God’s work flows out of a grateful heart that rests in his peace. Lives may feel hectic, but Jesus just says “stop and listen to me, and all your worries are taken care of.” When we listen, he will direct us as to when and where to act, or when to take time to just be alone with God.

    Luke 10:38-42:
    As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

    “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

  15. Another thought just came to me: While I think it’s a good thing to work towards goals in life, remember that God’s will for you is about much more than just fulfilling your personal “calling.” His will is that every moment of every day, you are faithfully loving him and his people. Never put your own dreams ahead of loving someone. You never know where God might choose to use you.

  16. I agree that you will make time for what (and who) matters to you. When my husband was commuting an hour to a 9-5 job, then working at home at night, he rarely had time for my daughter and I. Now that he is a full-time entrepreneur working from home, he can be there for even the smallest things for our family. One of the most important people to make time for is the person you call your spouse! Making Time for the Person You Married

  17. While I do think there are times when we need to do the “should’s,” I get that you’re saying that we can’t be ruled by them. As someone who lived a long season of my life mainly out of obligation (and burned out because of it), I can’t agree enough that it’s no way to live, for so many reasons. I became resentful of people and things and who God made me to be got lost in the should’s. I will probably always have to be cognizant of these things and am currently learning a lot about choosing the few best options over the many good options in life.

    “We can’t care about everything.” YES. Thanks for that reminder. Great post!

    • So sorry a 2nd comment from me showed up! This has happened to me twice … I post once and it never shows and then the next day I post again and then somehow they BOTH show up. Sorry to be the annoying double-commenter (with the same comment). :/

  18. Such a beautiful post — and right on! Now that I am retired, I find my calendar is even fuller than when I was working, because when I am ready to make time to do an important thing, I need to get it calendared before some inconsequential thing hogs all the space. Thank you for a thoughtful post. – Fawn

  19. Can’t tell you how much I’ve loved following this blog. It’s quickly becoming one of my faves! Can’t wait to order and read the book! Xoxo

  20. This was completely relatable for me! My name is Ali and I am the Marketing Director at Instacart. Instacart is a grocery delivery service that delivers in as little as an hour! We connect you with Personal Shoppers in your area who pick up and deliver your groceries from your favorite local stores. Just one quick way to save time in your busy day!

    http://www.instacart.com

  21. I found this post completely relatable. That’s why I use Instacart, so that I can save time and focus my energies on the things that are important to me.

    Instacart is a grocery delivery service that delivers in as little as an hour! We connect you with Personal Shoppers in your area who pick up and deliver your groceries from your favorite local stores.

  22. Oh, this post echoes something that has been surfacing in my life over the past several months. Around the holidays, I felt overwhelmed and suffocated by the noise and pace of technology and social media. I took a little break from those things, and I just kept hearing the words “making space.” I started making space for things that I knew would really rejuvenate me and give me energy, and things that I cared about. I’m not there yet, but words like these are good reminders for me.
    Thank you for sharing.

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