6 Ways to “Have Time”


Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici @ Freedigitalphotos.net

“I don’t have time to exercise…eat healthy…pack my lunch for work…get my hair or nails done…buy groceries…save money…read…watch TV or movies…see friends…write…draw…”, and so on.

These days it is tough to have time to do anything, especially if you work, have a family, have kids involved in activities, etc. With so many responsibilities, sometimes competing with one another, self-care typically becomes our last priority. And with a long list of things we have to do, taking care of ourselves is often seen as optional and doesn’t happen.

But I always tell people, failing to take care of yourself is like not doing maintenance on your car. If you keep driving but don’t change the oil, something bad is going to happen. Your car will run poorly, but your engine may even seize up! And for you, not taking care of yourself may lead to feeling overly stressed, resentful, depressed, angry, lonely…or you could develop health problems, like: being overweight or obese; gastrointestinal issues; diabetes; high blood pressure; insomnia; addiction; and more.

Whatever your situation or reason(s), here are 6 ways you could make more time for self-care, along with examples of how you could make each work for you. I use exercise as the main example, since I hear that one the most, but you can apply these ideas to anything else, too.

  1. Plan ahead. If you don’t, you’ll be flying by the seat of your pants and likely to waste whatever time you do have. Planning ahead takes a little more effort on the front end, but pays dividends later. It also helps to save money.
  • Make a grocery list so you can cut down trips to the store, buy healthier food, or have what you need when the time comes.
  • Pack lunches the night before, including your own.
  • Set out your clothes for work or the gym the night before.
  • Either write down everything you need for a given occasion (sports equipment, musical instruments, sneakers, snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, etc.) or at least do a mental check the night before.
  • Plan your running or walking route; make a playlist; download new music, podcasts, or books; or charge your devices beforehand.
  • Combine trips- rather than go out for gas, groceries, prescriptions, dry cleaning, or to pick up your child each in separate trips, try combining these outings, and plan your route in a way that makes sense.

2. Let go of rigid rules. If you’ve decided that you can only do something if the right set of circumstances present themselves, then you’re not going to find yourself doing it very often. With a busy schedule, you will need to be flexible to create any consistency- and you will need consistency to see results.

  • If you prefer to exercise in the morning or not at all, consider exercising whenever it’s most convenient.
  • If you have to exercise in the morning, to it first- before you get into other things that will interfere.
  • If exercise only consists of a certain type of class, going to a specific gym or location, when the temperature is within a specific degree range, or only with a certain person (i.e. running or walking partner, gym buddy), try something new or accept that you can exercise some other way if that’s all that is available at the time.
  • If you subscribe to ideas like “you can’t exercise or eat after 8pm”, you might want to rethink these. It may be ideal to work out in the morning, and of course it’s not the best to eat a big meal right before bedtime, but it’s ok to be flexible. As long as you’re not getting immediately into bed after running 5 miles or eating a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers, you will probably be ok.
  • If you think self-care is selfish, think again. If you get enough sleep, eat well, get some exercise, and manage to do some of the things you want to do, don’t you think you’ll be a better parent or partner (than if you’re tired, angry, feeling resentful, or feeling and about yourself)?

3. Accept that some is better than none. That 2 to 4-hour block of free time you would love to have is increasingly hard to find- which you know already, so accept that 20, 30, or 45 minutes may be all you’re going to get sometimes- and make the most of it.

  • If you like to go to the gym for 2 hours but you only have 45 minutes or an hour, go anyway!
  • If you prefer to run, but don’t have the proper clothing or shoes, go for a walk. Some people keep a pair of comfortable shoes at work to walk at lunchtime.
  • If you prefer to run or walk outside but it’s too cold for you, hit the treadmill or elliptical, or take a class. Or, bundle up and go outside anyway!
  • If you like to go to the gym but have overslept or can’t fit it in, do some pushups, ab exercises, stretching, or yoga poses…at home, in your office, or in a park.
  • Work out more than once in a day. Go for a walk or run in the morning, then hit the gym on the way home or at lunch if you can. Some people who are trying to get running mileage in will take two short runs, if a single, longer run isn’t possible.

4. Be creative.

  • If your kids are old enough to be alone (with their team or group) at a sports practice or at a rehearsal, take a walk or a run around the fields or facility. Or, if your gym is close by, get in a workout then. Games or performances, yes- but there is no reason why you have to sit and watch every practice! Maybe your spouse, other children, another parent, or your dog will even join you?
  • If you have a gym at work, one nearby, or you can get in a run or walk outside, do it during lunchtime. You could even join one that is close to (or sometimes housed in) the same place where your kids practice!
  • Wake up before the rest of the family and exercise.
  • Exercise after the kids are in bed.
  • Exercise (i.e. run or walk on a treadmill) while watching TV or a movie.
  • If you struggle to find time to exercise, do active things with your family- take walks or runs, play a game of whiffle ball or basketball, or go to the gym together.
  • If you get bored easily, try to mix up your routine. Walk, ride a bike, take different classes, or try trail running (instead of just running on roads).
  • Sign up for a race. Many people who do find that they’re more motivated when they have a goal or they’re accountable to be training so they will be ready when the time comes.
  • If you crave socialization and want to exercise, take group exercise classes, find a workout partner or running group, or join something like Crossfit. This may make exercising more fun, and helps with accountability as well.

5. Recognize how you’re wasting the time you do have- and commit even some of that time to taking care of yourself. 

  • What do you do when your kids are at sports practices or rehearsals?
  • What do you do with the 30 minutes to an hour you have before your child’s sports games?
  • How much time a day do you spend on your phone? On social media?
  • How much TV do you watch per day?
  • How much time a day are you spending on work (outside of work)? Checking work e-mails?
  • What do you do on lunch or on breaks at work? Do you take a lunch or breaks?

6. If you don’t succeed, don’t damn yourself, just try again. Don’t waste time beating yourself up because you didn’t meet your goal today. That only makes it LESS likely that you’ll be successful tomorrow! Think about what went wrong, and try to do it right tomorrow.

Life isn’t all-or-nothing, black-and-white, or pass or fail. It’s a process, so if you’re not doing it “right” today, keep working at it, learning and refining as you go along, and you will get it. And recognize progress when it happens- when you fit in a workout you may not have before, when you do manage to pack a healthy lunch, or when you do successfully arrange a get-together with friends. Seeing success (even small victories) is reinforcing, and it will make you want to do more- while failing to see progress can be frustrating.

As always, if you have been through this and can’t seem to get beyond a particular point or you get too frustrated, consider talking with a professional about it. Counseling, coaching, or consultation with other professionals could prove to be invaluable. Here is an article about how counseling could help with self-care. If you’re interested in finding a therapist such as a psychologist, click here.

Take care!

Dr. Matthews


What Self-Care Looks Like

Self-Care in Therapy

A Simple Guide to Self-Care

The Importance of Self-Care (TED Talk)






About Dr. Jesse Matthews

I'm a private practice psychologist and director of Matthews Counseling & Coaching in Chester Springs, PA. I provide counseling and coaching services to people ages 18 and up. My specialties include: depression; addiction/substance abuse; relationships; anxiety; ADHD and behavioral issues; and Autism/Asperger's. Our group works with individuals of all ages, families, and couples, and we help people with a wide variety of life issues. Check out the practice website for information on other clinicians and their services: http://matthewscounselingcoaching.com .
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