A Key Lesson I Learned About Managing a Busy Schedule

September is here. Fall is almost upon us. And for many of us, we find our whole beings just groaning with the thought of the back-to-school frenzy.

New schools, new routines, back-to-school shopping, and the emotional roller-coaster ride as our children find out who they have as their teachers and classmates.

There are mixed emotions for many of us parents as we may secretly be pleased to have our days back while outwardly mourning the loss of another year of childhood.

For myself, it’s all that AND the need to ramp up the productivity of the household and manage my time more efficiently.

My whole body resists the realization that I have to be productive and efficient again and is already missing the late afternoon summer cocktail hour that seems to come more often than a Friday afternoon during the summer months.

My life that had been a fine-tuned machine in June (so I tell myself) has all gone to mush over the summer.

No more sleep-ins for the kids and being able to leave the house for work scot-free.  Now it’s back to making sure they’re out the door with lunches packed, and the frenetic after-school schedule resumes.

Every mom I know (not most dads – sorry – they seem to either escape this gene or just don’t get themselves emotionally involved like us moms do) seems to go into a state of overwhelm and emotional turmoil as all the demands of fall hit like a ride at the fair gone wrong.

“How am I ever going to get this all done?” you might be asking. “How can I possibly add all this to my schedule and stay sane?”

This past week, I found myself reaching for a book that I read a couple of years ago called “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown.

What is so refreshing about this book is that it’s not about doing more with less, it’s about just…well…doing less!  Taking some of those things completely off your “to-do” list. Deeming some things essential and some things completely non-essential.

I find myself thinking back to a former VP of mine who one day came to work to the same news we all had — we needed to purge unneeded email to make room on the company’s server.  The rest of us underlings started diligently reading and sorting and filing through emails to make sure we kept the most important ones.

My boss? He simply deleted his entire collection of emails. Done. Over. Kaput. We looked at him incredulously, and he looked at us and said, “Sure, if I need any of them, someone will come looking for me!”

The rest of us were in CYA mode and didn’t want to risk it.

But I often think he probably had it right – it is so very rare that anyone ever comes looking for that email that you may have diligently filed away.  So it was the most efficient use of his time to simply delete them all.

Which brings me to this novel way of managing your “to-do” list. What if you just didn’t do it? What if you deleted it completely? What would come back on your list because it really needed to be there, or what would you simply forget about?

What would happen if you didn't do your to-do list?Click To Tweet

This goes for work and home, folks. You can use this strategy anywhere and everywhere.

Let’s take a look at Greg McKeown’s approach.

The essence of McKeown’s philosophy of Essentialism is this: We can’t do it all. We simply can’t fit everything in. It’s about asking ourselves: Is this is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?

It’s about learning to filter out the essential from the non-essential. Being conscious of our choices and how we spend our time and who we spend our time with. “Living by design, not by default,” as McKeown says.

But where do we start? “Everything’s important!” you may find yourself crying. And that’s where McKeown will step in.

An essentialist mindset:

  1. chooses their actions and activities
  2. pauses to decide if they are investing their time appropriately
  3. feels in control of their time
  4. gets the right things done
  5. experiences joy along the way

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” says McKeown.

A nonessentialist mindset:

  1. is all things to all people
  2. feels they have to do certain things vs. chooses to do certain things
  3. says “yes” to people without really thinking
  4. reacts to situations vs. plans for them
  5. takes on too much and often feels overwhelmed and exhausted

So, what’s most important to you? What’s essential and what can you deem nonessential? What has to stay on your “to-do” list and what can come off?

As you move into what will likely be a busy September for you as more demands on your time come fast and furious, I challenge you to ask yourself the following questions before taking on more:

  1. Is this the best use of my time right now?
  2. If not, does it fit with my personal priorities? (i.e., will it help achieve a greater good I care deeply about?)
  3. Does this activity bring me joy/do I absolutely love it?
  4. If I say “yes” to this, what am I saying “no” to? Is it worth it?
  5. Am I in the best state of mind to make a decision about this right now? (i.e., am I tired/hungry/angry/stressed – make big decisions when you are in a healthy state of mind to do so)

I find that being grounded about what’s most important to me, and knowing where my values are and having a purpose to my days will help with these decisions. The more you know yourself and the goals of your organization, the more you will be able to make decisions aligned with that.

When you know what's most important to you, you can make better decisions on how to spend your timeClick To Tweet

So, as you march into September and all the back-to-school and back-to-fall requests of volunteer commitments, new projects, and other decisions that impact how you spend your days, I encourage you to think about what will bring you the most joy, and bring about the most impact, and do that.

Because as Annie Dillard once said: “How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives.” And of course, we want this life to be exceptional.

How about you? What are you going to leave off your “to-do” list? Let me know!

Susan Elford

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Personal Balance Equation Workbook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a PR Strategist & Leadership Coach who especially loves to work with people who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a balanced life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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New from @susanelford: 'September Doesn’t Have to Equal Overwhelm If You Do This...'Click To Tweet

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