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Space for Change: Time Planning for a Better, Happier Life

There are ways to plan your time to accurately and satisfyingly reflect your values.

I grew up with lots of space around me, and I loved and cherished it. We had a small house in the country on the outskirts of Grapevine, Texas, surrounded by my grandfather’s 125-acre farm. My brother and sister and I could hardly wait to get outside after school. We would disappear to the back pasture and play and scream at the top of our lungs, knowing that no one else could hear us.

As my parents divorced when I was eight years old, I quickly learned how wide open spaces could feel really good to a cramped-up soul. Having that space was therapeutic for me. I rode my bike up and down the long road that went by our house, and I spent many hours investigating the outdoors. As an adult, I still hunger for that space and the adventures of nature.

Space and Time; Managing and Planning

Last year, as I spoke to a group of fitness professionals about time management at the Inner IDEA® Conference in Palm Springs, California, my inferences about people, space and time were confirmed. Many people today feel hemmed in—trapped. They feel as if they can’t think or breathe. Recently, when I asked a returning coaching client what her top goals were for the next month or so, the first thing she wrote in her answer was “finding time to breathe.” That just about sums up what all of my coaching clients have been voicing for the last few years. Time management is as much about space as it is about time.

Since everyone I know needs help and encouragement in the area of time management (and we are all burned out on the usual tips and tricks for staying organized), I am going to help you visualize and plan your time from a different perspective. We are going to create space. As opposed to “managing” our time and everything that needs to be squeezed into the day, we are going to learn about “planning” our time. Instead of filling the calendar with what is expected, we are going to learn to make space for the people and things we want—by planning for that space.

Managing is about “shuffling” and “juggling.” Planning, on the other hand, is about thinking through what we really want and putting that first. Planning is about choosing. Think of it this way: Managing is juggling all 14 of the fruits we have on our plate. Planning is about choosing how many fruits we want and what kinds. By examining the types of space we need and how we can better plan our time to fulfill those needs, we are going to learn time planning that has a heart and a conscience and that breathes. In the end, I hope you will discover a new way of planning your time that will give you a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction.

Space Needs

If you live in a bustling, affluent area, time may always seem crunched and crowded. When I was a young girl, life felt so much more relaxed. Now I coach and train adults who are busily whisking their kids from one activity to the next, interspersing these events with demanding social schedules of their own. It makes me tired just thinking about it. And it reminds me how much my husband and I like relaxing in our comfy chairs at the end of a long workday, enjoying a simple home-cooked meal and a great book or movie. It seems as if all marketing is focused on constant entertainment and stimulation. No wonder we are all frazzled!

Do any of these feelings resonate with you? “I don’t have room for change because my life is already full with things and events,” “I want more out of life—happiness, relaxation, fun, meaningful relationships—but I don’t have any time to plan it,” “I want to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, but I don’t have time!”

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of time planning, we need to acquaint ourselves with the types of space that will enable us to be successful and to function at our personal best. Without adequate space we cannot fully appreciate and organize our time. There are three types of space: distance, freedom and privacy.

Distance refers to the distance that we need between ourselves and other people or things if we are to remain comfortable (both physically and emotionally). We all know how disconcerting it is when a client or an acquaintance invades our physical or emotional space. That space can vary from one person to the next and from one culture to another. We also need distance with regard to modern communication technology. When should calls be screened, or when should personal digital devices (PDAs), computers or phones be turned off? Additionally, how much space do we need at our home or fitness facility in order to feel comfortable? Does the space you have feel crowded and stifling, or can you breathe and live in it?

Freedom is the opportunity to assert or experience our identity or needs freely. Have you ever met a personal training client, coaching client or friend who did not need and enjoy personal freedom? Are you experiencing that freedom and space in your life right now? Your clients also need that freedom to make decisions about their exercise programming. If they are actively involved in the process, they will take ownership of the program and their results.

Privacy is our opportunity for privacy or “alone time.” This is the most significant area of struggle for most people. With such huge demands on their time, most people allow their personal time to evaporate. As a result, they grow frustrated and their stress levels rise to overwhelming levels. When I have a week with little or no time to myself, I become irritated and edgy. Are you getting the private time you need?

Time Needs

Let’s now manipulate time. When conceptualizing time, we need to understand the difference between chronos time and kairos time. Chronos refers to chronological time. It is the concept of time we are most familiar with—time that is linear and sequential. The clock dictates our lives, and every second is assigned the same measure. Kairos, on the other hand, is about appropriate or quality time. Time is something to be experienced. It is about how much value you get out of those minutes rather than how many minutes you commit to a person or event.

Although kairos time still has to fit within the bounds of chronos time, you need to begin viewing time differently. Start planning your time so that at the end of most days you can say, “Wow, that was a good day.” It should feel like having lunch with a really good friend; when you glance at your watch, it’s a shock to see that over an hour has passed—it only seemed like 10 minutes because of how much you enjoyed the experience. How can you plan your life and days to gain more happiness rather than just filling every minute with a “to do” item?

The Four “Rs”

To learn time planning that is values-based and space-conscious, you need to create goals and events in four areas: responsibilities, roles, relationships and renewal. By planning time this way, you will learn to breathe a little more easily because you will be more satisfied with how you spend your minutes, hours, days and months.

Responsibilities are the many essential things we have to take care of regularly to fulfill our obligations. Many of these items are just mundane day-to-day living: go to work, pay the bills, do the laundry and ironing, buy groceries and cook, clean the house, take the kids to school, etc. If you own a fitness studio or in-home business, all of those essential responsibilities must be included as well.

These items need to be regularly scheduled in your week instead of crammed into the leftover minutes of the day. For example, I usually write new client programs on Mondays plus clean the house. To lighten your housekeeping load consider hiring outside help if you can afford it, or divide up the responsibilities with your family. Create a schedule of when these things are to be done and follow it. If you’re falling behind on your basic responsibilities and your home always looks like a wreck, it’s time for a change.

Roles are your titles: wife, husband, housekeeper/cook, bookkeeper, business owner, family member, friend, mother, etc. Limit yourself to six or seven roles; more than that is just too much. Everyone I know and have coached who tried to fill more than six or seven roles (committees, clubs, etc.) was almost crazy with stress until we weeded out the unessential ones. How can you use roles in planning your calendar? First, write a short mission statement for each role (for example, “housekeeper/cook: keep the house reasonably clean and picked up on a weekly basis, and plan and cook nutritious meals 4–5 nights per week”). Second, score yourself for each role on a scale of 1–10 (with 10 being “great at reaching that goal”). Next, create specific goals for each role (for example, plan menus on Sundays, buy groceries on Mondays, clean the house on Saturdays). Finally, use these goals to plan your week.

Relationships are the most important part of our lives. Although we must fulfill our responsibilities and roles, the people we love deserve to be at the top of our time commitments. It is so easy to fill the day with just responsibilities: cleaning, running errands, etc. But at the end of days like that, most of us rarely feel satisfied. Make a list of the five to 10 people most important to you and do a quick evaluation of the quality of each relationship. Make it a priority to spend quality time with each of those people daily, weekly or monthly (depending on the relationship). My husband and I do very well making time to spend together, but I realized that I wasn’t spending as much time as I would like with my mom and sister. Because of that, I now plan outings with them more often. When planning your time, make space for relationships.

Renewal refers to taking care of yourself—a struggle that many of us face. But as we have all discovered, when we take care of everyone else first, and we leave the crumbs for ourselves, we start falling apart emotionally and physically. You can’t shove your own needs to the bottom of the stack year after year without eventually facing the consequences. Making space for your own needs is crucial if you are going to thrive.

Apart from scheduled work hours, put you on the schedule first when planning the week and month. Look at the four areas of need (physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual) and set a goal for each. “Mental needs” refers to learning, so maybe take a cooking or gardening class, or set aside time each week to read a good book. The other three areas are self-explanatory.

Making Space for Time

I love days that feel relaxed and somewhat open. The older I get, the more I treasure them. I remember when I booked every hour of every day with something. I felt constantly pressed and in a hurry. I rushed from one client to the next and then spent the weekends doing everything I didn’t have time for during the week. My life was flying by. When I decided to change that way of operating, I slept so much better!

My life now is much more relaxed and calm. I have learned to create that space in my life that I so loved as a kid. I have also become much better at taking care of my needs first and then having my best self to share with those people in my life whom I most love and treasure. I have eliminated roles that are not important to me, and I have focused more strongly on those that are. Interestingly, and expectedly, my life is calmer and happier. The way you plan your time and create space affects all those around you—your immediate family, clients and friends. It is a real eye-opener to realize that most of us create our own stress through the choices we make and the way we plan our time.

Decide to make peace with time this year by clearing out and making space—for the people you love, the things you enjoy and the core values, beliefs and convictions that guide you. Go after what you really want and leave the rest behind. That is time planning that will make you happy.

How to Make Space

Begin creating the distance you need between yourself and other people in order to feel more comfortable and relaxed.

  • Declutter your home and workspace.
  • Look for opportunities and ways to increase the freedom you have in your life and business and to express your unique skills and desires. For example, take an hour each day to do something you enjoy—reading, listening to music, painting, cooking, gardening, etc.
  • Carve out time each day for complete privacy. To start with, a good amount of time is 30 minutes.
  • Take a close look at how you spend your time, personally and professionally. What would you like to eliminate? Give yourself permission to put aside some of those activities or commitments, and thereby create more space.
Time-Enhancing Skills

Here are some time-tested strategies to help you stay on track with the things that give your life value and meaning.

1. Think Backward. For example, if I know I have my first client at 9:30 am on Tuesday, this is what goes through my mind: I want to be in the shower by 8:00, so I need to start my cardio workout no later than 7:30 to get in a 30-minute workout, which means I have to walk the dog no later than 7:00. That means I need to get up at 6:30 to eat breakfast. Voilà—set the alarm for 6:30. Thinking backward helps you avoid unnecessary stress and keeps you from running late. It is one of the best time-planning tools there is!

2. Manage the Beforehand. As much as possible, get everything ready in advance. Look at your week and identify what needs to happen when. For example, if I have a Thursday client who is due for a new workout, I write that program no later than Tuesday night. Set your clothes out, get your lunch ready, put the dry cleaning and your briefcase or bag in the car the night before. This beforehand planning makes the next day easier, and it’s a fantastic skill to teach your kids.

3. Refuse to Do Things in a Hurry. Learn to live in a calm and relaxed manner, not on a constant adrenaline rush. This will drop your stress levels exponentially. Perhaps it’s time for you to take up yoga, meditation or progressive relaxation.

4. Put Important Things First. Throughout the day, there are things that must take precedence. Do those first.

5. Block Out Time. Block out time for important activities and goals. If you need 2 hours to clean house, block it out on your calendar. Don’t expect an extra 2 hours to show up miraculously when you need it; you must plan for it.

6. Give Up “Busyness.” Do you know people who are always busy? Vow not to be one of them. A lot of “busyness” is about trying to look important or like a martyr, neither of which is flattering. If you want to enjoy your days, slow down and breathe. You will get happily adjusted to it!

7. Put Yourself on the Calendar First. To work on your own needs, you have to make time for yourself—no one else can do that for you.

8. Do Not Fill Every Hour of the Day. The people who fill every hour of every day are the most overwhelmed and stressed. Why? Because they leave no room for the unexpected. Leave space in your calendar for unforeseen events.

9. End Your Workday. Quit dragging your work into your personal life. Pick a cutoff time for work and close the door.


Covey, S. R., Merrill, R. A., & Merrill, R. R. 1994. First Things First. New York: Free Press.


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