This post originally appeared on Shine, a free daily text to help you thrive.
A year ago, my wife signed me up for a drop-in improv workshop. After just one class, I was hooked. Soon, I was taking weekly classes, going to shows, and pretty much out of the house several nights a week.
At the same time, I began hosting monthly dinners with my friends at different local restaurants, I was in the gym each morning, and I was writing on the weekends. On top of it all, I was getting more tasks to do at work.
Life was busy… a little too busy. I couldn’t remember the last time my wife and I just sat on the couch to watch TV or share a laugh together. When she’d ask, “What’s your plan for the week?” I didn’t hear what she really meant: How are we scheduling each other in this week? My relationship was suffering.
Something had to give.
I took an honest inventory of how I was spending my waking hours, and I accepted that I was doing too much. Sure, I enjoyed everything I was doing—but I wasn’t carving out enough time to help the most important parts of my life flourish.
Eventually, my wife and I added intentional us time. We planned trips, weekend getaways and staycations months in advance. We both have stressful and busy jobs, so we were intentional about getting the important dates on the calendar ahead of time. As I began to prioritize my relationship more, I told my wife that I valued her and what we were working to build. I found that I was no longer just busy; I was productive and feeling fulfilled in my personal relationships.
What I learned from all this: We simply can’t do it all. Every time we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. If we’re not careful, our relationships might suffer, our health might decline and we might end up way off our center. What’s helped me, and what continues to help me, is considering what I want to say heck yes to.
Whenever I’m doing date night with my wife, I say heck yes by turning off my phone and being completely present. I say heck yes to my health by committing to going to the gym each weekday morning. When we fully put ourselves into the things we care about, we reap greater rewards. We’re more efficient, effective, and we get to enjoy the experience. And even though it might sound counterintuitive, when we take time to focus on one thing at a time, we can be more productive.
Here are some things that help me optimize (and appreciate) my time:
1. Guard your yes and own your no.
If you commit to something, be present and show up for it. But remember: You get to say no. People respect you when you’re honest about what you want to do and know where you’d rather not put your time. You get to be selfish and pour into your own life. Give yourself permission to say no to protect your time.
2. Carve out time for mindfulness and reflection each day.
I get up early so that I have enough time to journal, meditate and write down things I’m thankful for. What time of the day would work best for you to do this? I suggest starting small and putting 10-15 minutes of you time on your calendar.
3. Protect your calendar like it’s the last bite of dessert.
It’s imperative that we establish healthy boundaries with others and make sure we’re keeping track of everything we’re planning to do. I challenge you to take a peek at your calendar right now and ask yourself, Does my schedule for the week reflect my values?
4. Be here now.
It’s so easy to get caught up in our three-page long to-do lists. We are responsible individuals who want to get it all done—as we’re crossing things off our list. I challenge myself to be present during staff meetings and one-on-one meetings. I’ll silence my phone, take notes in a notebook and practice active listening.
Being more productive doesn’t simply mean just doing more. It means doing more of what we care about. You already have everything you need to shift where you’re putting your energy and time, and to say yes to yourself more.