One thing to change your year

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We could all use the same thing this new year. Whether you’re old or young, married or single, a believer in Jesus (like me) or not, adventurous or boring (no offense), try this first. Whether you want to lose weight, have more fun, meet “the one,” or change the world — five bucks says this is bound to lead you to a happier, healthier, more productive year.

Reclaim Your Calendar

If you’re like most Americans, and you’re honest, I bet one of the words (or emojis) you use most to describe your days resembles some form of busy, tired, or stressed. I’m convinced that our most wasted, finite resource are the hours of each day. I don’t know what your life looks like, but we have a toddler and a newborn. My husband and I both work full time. We’re in the process of rehabbing a historic building in our “free time.” So I know how it feels when life gets a little crazy. To go to work with spit-up in your hair because, well, showering everyday feels like a luxury of the past. But I’m slowly finding breakthrough, and I’d love the same for you.

I want my life to have impact. As a result, I can inadvertently fill it with activity, but it doesn’t always equate to the level of purpose I crave. Sometimes, the faster I run, the more I feel like I’m just going through the motions. From the outside, it looks like my capacity is increasing. I’m juggling more balls and checking more boxes than ever, but my fuse is much shorter. My emotions leap from either entirely on the surface or too buried to find. My creativity is lower. I laugh less. That’s not what I want to repeat in the year to come. I desperately need space if I’m going to be kind, healthy, or wise for anyone else. A girl can only run on thin margins, sheer willpower, and coffee for so long.

Maybe, like me, you cram too much in, allow too big a load to rest on your shoulders, or require too high of expectations of yourself. Or maybe you have lots of time, but it’s not well spent. I’m looking at you, Netflix and Instagram, you sneaky time-suckers, you. Perhaps the best pre-req to all other new year resolutions would be to learn to use our time well. To wield it like the powerful tool it can be. No other resolutions will stick without focus. That usually means cutting something out. Sometimes even good things.

Ruthlessly Prioritize

Dropping something from the calendar can seem impossible. The ways we fill our time can sink in so deeply it feels like they’re a part of us. Who even am I if I don’t lead that thing? Update my feed? Hang out with them? Most of the time, we believe we’re “fine.” I’m not that busy. The kids really wanted that new sport that consumes our lives. Or, they invited us. Wouldn’t it be rude to say no?

During a recent schedule cleanse in our house, I was enormously relieved (and fairly shocked) at how freeing it felt to walk away from a few rhythms. As soon as we pulled the trigger, our shoulders felt light, like we’d been carrying a backpack of bricks for so long we’d forgotten we were wearing it. Sometimes we don’t know how heavy something is until we put it down. We ended a weekly tradition we’d been hosting for three years called “open house.” It was a deep core value. We loved the friends who came (which was about 20 per week), but we had to make peace with the fact that we were in a new life stage that involved much less sleep, and that there were deeper things God was calling us towards. We needed margin to prepare for them. We decided we could not keep up with acquaintances. We wanted to have fewer great friends than lots of casual friends. I even took a different job that would give me back some of the mental space I’d grown used to just not having anymore. Let me tell you, it is amazing to find new space in your brain again.

Eliminate Black Holes + Embrace Limits

Then we applied a couple of rules to our time that we’d previously used for money. When we were getting out of debt, a huge breakthrough came from eliminating the frivolous spending black holes in our life. Target and Amazon, you make taking my money dangerously easy and so dang enjoyable! When I finally realized that, I knew that I had to stop going. Like an addict needing to avoid the bar, for a season, I wasn’t allowed to go there.

The other breakthrough was designing limits. Our biggest battle in our quest to eliminate debt: the grocery budget. So for two years, when I walked through the store, I had two apps open on my phone: my list and a calculator. Every time I put an item in my cart, I subtracted that total from the budgeted number on the calculator. If I came close to zero before I was done shopping, I’d literally tell myself (sometimes out loud, in the store, like a crazy person) “I can’t afford this,” as I made myself physically put it back.

Now, of course, we could afford Pretzel Crisps and wine that isn’t made by Charles Shaw. The extra $12 was not going to break the bank. Technically, we had the money. The key was wanting something else more. If we wanted to get out of debt, we had to start drawing lines. Acknowledging our limits was humbly, but so healthy. As long as I was pretending a few more dollars didn’t hurt, I was stuck. And you know what? While it felt silly and unnecessary at first, soon it became a game. I may have high-fived a cashier once or twice when my total came within pennies of the budget at the end.

When it comes to time, we have the same black holes, and we need similar limits. Better yet, we need better goals. The five minutes in the morning on social media (that somehow really becomes more like twenty.) That one show we watch at night to unwind (that can become an accidental marathon). That thing we commit to because we don’t know what message it’ll send if we say no. Sometimes it’s a person, or even a text thread, that sucks way more time than we intend. Whatever they are, find them, and replace them with something better. You know, like sleep, or quality conversation with a human in person.

Weigh The Worth

Not sure you’re with me? Review your calendar, and with each event, ask if it’s worth it with a few questions:

  1. Does it give me life?
  2. Is it taking me somewhere?
  3. Why would I keep this on the calendar? (Is it a good reason?)
  4. Where are my black holes?
  5. Is this the best use of who I am and the limited hours I have to give? (What would be?)

The last question may take some digging to really answer well. Maybe the first thing on your calendar for January should be a retreat. Some time away to get back in the driver seat of determining where your time is best spent based on who you were made to be. Give yourself back the gift of time. Literally put rest on your calendar instead. A day off, a weekly date night with your spouse, quality time with your kids or friends. Time to read or be creative or work out. Plan a fantastic vacation. Make those the big rocks that everything else has to fit around, and see if your year doesn’t feel better.

Whatever you believe about God, I’d feel like I’m plagiarizing not to site my source. For all sorts of reasons, the God of the Bible has gotten a bad rap. Some think He’s a tyrant who wants mindless obedience, but the one I know actually wants us to enjoy our lives and have purpose. He told us to rest, have a vision, be wise with how we spend our days, because he knows it’s good for us. When we’re being swept away in cultural pressures, the daily grind, FOMO or just the subtle busyness creep, we can ask Him to remind us who he made us to be. Because His intention in creating us was that we would flourish wildly. These ideas come straight from Him, and the more I tap into them, fresh energy emerges. Creative juices flow. Belly laughs return. Vision becomes clear. Our capacity for whatever else is on that resolution list dramatically grows when we take the time to rest, play, and recreate. So, reclaim your calendar in advance of (or in lieu of) your other goals, and may this year be your freest year yet.

Written by Rachel Reider on Jan 2, 2018