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Commit to Under-Scheduling in 2016

Dec. 21, 2015 Harvard Business Review

“Oh, no!” I thought as soon as I spotted the email in my inbox. The message that prompted my sense of dread wasn’t a cancer diagnosis, a huge financial loss, or even a missed deadline. It was an email from a good friend, inviting me to attend an event that evening — a night I had planned for “me time,” including doing some cleaning for a party, running errands, and writing Christmas cards.

To be clear: I’m far from antisocial. I am usually out with people three or four nights a week. I really did like this friend, and the event sounded interesting. I am open to spontaneous invites, and I had accepted about three of them the week before. But on that particular day, my innate emotional response told me that I needed to keep my evening free to preserve an overall sense of peace, spaciousness, and order in my life.

But another part of me felt guilty about declining the invitation just to have time to myself. It felt like telling a guy you can’t go on a date because you need to wash your hair. So I went back and forth all day about it: Could I get my to-do list done before events later in the week? In my rank of priorities, friends are more important than my home, so was I being a bad friend?

In the end, I didn’t go to the event. I let my friend know I would be open to attending the event in the future but I already had some plans for that evening. The decision led to a peaceful evening and nice flow to the rest of the week.

This situation highlights a truth I’ve been exploring with my time-coaching clients over the last year. To feel most joyful and satisfied, you need to not only accomplish certain priority items but also prioritize certain experiences of time. In this case, I needed the experience of “breathing room.” I wanted to savor tasks like writing Christmas cards instead of feeling like I was working on an assembly line where efficiency was the only goal.

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