The Secret to Decluttering Your Schedule

The Secret to Decluttering Your Schedule
Reducing the amount of possessions you own is vital to embracing minimalism, but equally important is decluttering your schedule and limiting what you allow on your calendar.
House work time, meal prep, and taking care of family needs has become much more efficient, and people these days have more free time than they did in the 1960’s, so why, do we feel so busy?
Partly because we want to:

A busy schedule has now become the main indicator of high status these days.

We brag about how full our calendar is and how many people are vying for our time: “Of course I’m busy, I’m an important person!”

To see how absurd it is to value sheer activity in this manner, consider a story told by the behavioural economist Dan Ariely, about a locksmith he once met. Early in his career, the locksmith “was just not that good at it: it would take him a really long time to open the door, and he would often break the lock,” Ariely says. Still, people were happy to pay his fee and throw in a tip. As he got better and faster, though, they complained about the fee, and stopped tipping. You’d think they would value regaining access to their house or car more swiftly. But what they really wanted was to see the locksmith putting in the time and effort – even if it meant a longer wait.

Too often, we take a similar attitude not only to other people, but ourselves: we measure our worth not by the results we achieve, but by how much of our time we spend doing. We live frenetic lives, at least in part, because it makes us feel good about ourselves. To put it mildly, this makes no sense. Perhaps we’d pause long enough to realise that – if we weren’t so damn busy. ~Why you feel busy all the time when you’re actually not ~ BBC

Part of the feeling of overwhelm doesn’t even have anything to do with what is on our calendar, it’s more of what is on our mind:

Finally, though, the sheer volume of modern distractions may make life feel busier than it is. Constantly trying to do two things at once means you can feel pulled in multiple directions. You can be working a regular 40-hour-per-week job, and check work email five times at night while eating dinner or watching TV. At just two minutes at a pop, that adds a mere 10 minutes of work, but can pollute whole hours.

If that’s the case, then the key to feeling less busy may be quite simple: stop multitasking. Make the distractions less distracting and time will feel just like it always has. ~Laura Vanderkam

Learning to embrace free time and open calendar days can be challenging at first, but you will end up thanking yourself!
I recently read Essentialism and I loved Greg McKeown’s visual picture of our calendar compared to our clothes closet:
Imagine sorting through your clothes in the morning, getting rid of the excess, having your closet beautifully organized and only having what you love there. Then you leave the house and throughout the day other people come by and stuff clothes they want you to wear into your closet. By the time you come home at night, your closet is stuffed to the brim and you can’t even find the items that are important to you.
If we wouldn’t allow people to do that to our closet, why do we allow people to fill our calendar for us?

Saying Yes is Not Really Saying Yes

Saying Yes to everything means you really have time for nothing. You can’t possibly say Yes to everything, because where will you fit it all? Want to go to every meeting, every event, every coffee? Want to do every project that comes along? Your days will be crazy, and you’ll have no rest, and what’s more, you’ll likely not meet all your obligations.

Saying Yes to everything means you’re not really saying Yes — it means you’re not setting priorities. You’re not making a serious commitment. You’re not being conscious about your life. ~Leo Babauta

Take this approach: if you can’t say an enthusiastic “YES!!!” then, it’s definitely a “no.”

Say Yes to less, and simplify your life.

Ask questions before allowing things on your calendar

When you look at your calendar, don’t look at what you can remove, but rather, decide what things are valuable enough to stay.

  • Is this activity essential to live the life I want?
  • Is THIS the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?
  • Does this get me closer to my goal/priority?

Decline requests for your time

  • Separate the decision from the relationship. Just because you say no to something doesn’t mean you don’t value that person.
  • Have preset boundaries. This might mean that Saturdays are always family days, or you always save Friday evenings to work on your own projects. Be firm with your boundaries. Sure, it’s hard for people at first, but in the end, you will do more good and be respected for valuing your time.
  • Understand that being focused accomplishes more. Often times we’re asked to participate in something, and though we could “squeeze” it in, we would be rushing from one activity to another and not really able to give our all to one thing. Limiting what you allow means the things that you do allow will have better results.

But how do I say “no”?

  • “Thank you for thinking of me, I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend.”
  • “I’m sorry, that doesn’t work for my schedule, but can we have coffee/phone convo, etc. next month? Tuesdays are good for me.”
  • “I’m honored that you would like my help, but I’m not in a situation to give it the time it deserves.”
  • “This may be disappointing, but I am committed to getting ________ project done before taking on anything else.”
  •  “Thank you for the invite! Weekends are strickly family days, so I’ll have to pass.”

Saying “no” graciously is often the kindest thing you can do.

People can understand “yes” and “no”, but the “maybe”… well, it’s best to avoid that. You are not being nice or “letting them down easy” when you are vague about answering. If you have to think about it, feel free to take a day to respond, but commit to giving a yes or no answer after 24 hours.
If you know you have prior engagements and you simply can’t attend, then just say so. It’s not fair to anyone to wait for you to show up and be disappointed when you don’t, or wonder why you were so distracted when you stopped by.
Like Leo Babauta says: say no so you can say yes!
If you’ve already simplified your schedule, what has that allowed you to say “Yes!” to?

About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Daikuro @ on 02/06/2017 at 9:51 pm

    I find that putting little spaces in between your work time is all you need to declutter your mind. And once your mind is free from distractions, it gets easier to learn new things and do more.

  2. Jill on 02/08/2017 at 12:44 pm

    The BOOK Essentialism was very helpful to me. Just yesterday I was telling someone “no” and they replied…”I know you can’t add anything to your schedule right now, and I respect that.” To which i replied, “The truth is I can add things to my schedule, but I won’t.” I think there is a huge difference, and I”ve had people notice and comment on our lack of business.
    As a homeschooler, I take my job of educating my children very seriously. We don’t run off to every field trip available – instead we choose one or two a year that either contribute to what we are learning about or give us a fun, well-deserved break from our studies. Instead of becoming the norm, they are a reward and therefore special.

  3. Karla on 02/08/2017 at 2:47 pm

    One of my biggest time wasters was/is the computer. To combat that, I now schedule my computer time into my day. Morning email/blog reading between 9-10 am, Netflix or game time after my daughter goes to bed. The only other things I allow myself to do is if we need to place an order for something, I get on and off right away, or once a month bank balancing & bill paying.
    As a homeschool mom, pastor’s wife, operation christmas child year-round volunteer and avid crocheter, its more than enough. I’d much rather crochet in the quiet house while my daughter does her schoolwork next to me, than spend hours mindlessly surfing the web anyway.

  4. Trisha on 02/08/2017 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks for this reminder.
    A paradigm shift has happened when I greet people with “How are you loving in the world today?” Instead of “What are you do?” Or “What are you busy with?”
    We create expectation with our questions.
    Another favourite is “What made you smile or touched your heart today?” Cause these are answers I am more interested in!

  5. Roxanne on 02/08/2017 at 7:08 pm

    I have a friend who has her day scheduled in 15 minute increments because she’s so busy.(it’s in all caps as I type that I can’t seem to change it) it made me feel sad for her so I decided I would never be that busy. And 8 years later, I am still sticking to that. I am already busy enough with 9 kiddos, theres not much time for anything else. One thing we have done is honor the sabbath and that has made things so much better. I look forward to a day Of rest. but we don’t just lay around and do nothing,we enjoy family time, hanging out, playing games, talking, just whatever. No rushing to get ready for errands or church either.

  6. Regina on 02/08/2017 at 9:14 pm

    I love the passion planner too! 😉 I dont just use it to schedule, but also to keep track of what I spent my time on. OfteN Times I feel like I havent done anything, but by reflect on my day, I often see that I accomplished alot in what is IMPORTANT.

  7. louise on 02/09/2017 at 1:04 am

    After losing my job unexpectedly last summer, i Simplified my schedule. Since then, when a friend has said they are stressed about something, i’ve had Room in my schedule to say “Can i bring you dinnEr?” “Can i watch the kids?” and the best one “Can i go with you to that doctor’s appointment you’re worried about?”
    I’ve never had the time to be that kind oF friend and i love it. EVery no i say Leaves room for a really special, intentional yes.
    And i DECIDED to run for city council in my little town. Women rarely run and i can only assume One reason is they are too busy!

    • louise on 02/09/2017 at 1:06 am

      The random caps are cracking me up…emphasized my post in ways i didn’t mean at all, ha!

      • Rachel on 02/09/2017 at 1:20 pm

        And yes, the caps are crazy… still waiting for that to get fixed. Sorry!

    • Rachel on 02/09/2017 at 1:20 pm

      Love that Louise!!

  8. Jackie Thompson on 02/13/2017 at 1:28 am

    I recently started a blog on my journey through minimalism. The main focus so far has been decluttering, but as i get deeper into the journey, I am realizing how much of an emotional and spiritual journey the process is as well.
    I am guilty of being so busy that i am not holding up commitments as i should, and I’m just not enjoying life the way i want to. As i declutter the physical things in my life, i also need to examine my schedule. Lately, i have been feeling overwhelmed because i feel too busy to truly work on my minimalism journey, making it feel the opposite of freeing. Thanks for your input on overcrowded schedules. hopefully through my journey, I can help others who face this same issue.
    Jackie thompson

  9. Michelle on 02/17/2017 at 11:08 am

    One of the biggest time suckers in my schedule is something i cant figure out how to declutter. My 5 year old son plays soccer twice a weEk (on the 2 days hes not in preschool which means the 2 days i can actually be at home for a significant amount of tume). And my 7 year Old daughterhas swim lessons twice a week. Just the prep and travel time for all these classes, as well as time spent at the classes, is a huge time suck for me. But how can i tell my kids they cant do these activities because mommy feels too busy?

    • Rachel on 02/17/2017 at 7:38 pm

      Have a conversation about it. Give them a time-frame, like “we’re going to go through soccer this spring and then when it’s done we’re going to take a 3 month break from all lessons and classes. We’ll pick up again (later/specific date) if we decide we miss it. Talk about the benefits and what they can do with their time if they are not busy. Many times the kids will enjoy the unstructured break time where they can just play and be a kid. 🙂

      • Michelle on 02/21/2017 at 11:08 am

        Going to give it a try, thanks!

  10. Alix on 05/21/2018 at 12:36 pm

    Hey! Your article was super helpful, thank you! I have a completely random question though. I have been looking for a planner like the one in your picture. What kind of planner is that? Thank you!

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