Four steps to uncluttering your schedule

  1. Lose your calendar.
  2. Recall very little from your lost calendar.
  3. Have people in your life who are laid back and won’t send you reminders about your upcoming engagements with them.
  4. Don’t call anyone to see if you have upcoming engagements planned.

Obviously, these four suggestions are a joke. You should always keep a copy of your calendar — a daily backup for a digital calendar and a regular scan/copy of a print calendar — so a situation like this would be avoided.

However, I think we can all recall a time in our lives when we wished we could lose our calendars. We feel so overwhelmed by our obligations that we long for a way to be set free of obligations without any guilt.

Instead of chucking your calendar out the window, the next time you feel overwhelmed by your schedule try these steps to alleviate some stress:

  1. Say “no” to as many future offers as possible until you feel things are becoming manageable again. You’ll need to say “yes” to things that keep you out of jail and from being fired, but most everything else can temporarily be put on hold. You’re also free to change your mind, just remember there is much less stress involved with changing your “no” to a “yes” than having to back out of something you’ve already committed to.
  2. Review your schedule and see if there is anything you can gracefully back out of without much guilt or repercussions. Then, cancel the obligation. At this point, it’s probably best not to reschedule.
  3. Review your schedule and see if there are any appointments that can be moved to a better time. An early morning appointment might be more manageable as a lunch meeting.
  4. Identify the obligation on your schedule that is causing you the most dread, and make a plan to eliminate or reduce the stress surrounding it in the future. Knowing that something you dislike will be minimized in the near future often makes it easier to address in the present.

None of these steps will completely eliminate stress, but hopefully they will help to reduce it to a manageable level. Once you feel that things are back under control, you can start to say “yes” to non-essential obligations again, if that is what you wish to do.

16 Comments for “Four steps to uncluttering your schedule”

  1. posted by Kj on

    I liked the suggestion about losing the calendar. It seemed to require less effort.

    Option 2: fake your own death


  2. posted by Matthew on

    While the second set of suggestions are quite useful, I much preferred the first set. Might not work so well with upcoming project deadlines, however.

  3. posted by Organized Living Solutions on

    I just loved the suggestions at the beginning of your article. Reading them immediately made me feel calm and relaxed. 🙂
    Having said that, I did enjoy your other tips too. Thanks a lot!

  4. posted by b9n on

    While I understand that your first suggestions are in jest, this is exactly what I have set out to do over the last couple of years. I don’t keep a calendar anymore. I don’t give firm commitments. If the day shows up and I remember the event and I have time, I go. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t. The more important the event, the more likely I am to remember. But yes, I’m the flakey guy that people can’t count on. Does that bother me? not really.

    Interestingly I’ve found that the people who have been most upset by my flakeyness are the uptight overplanners who drove me crazy from the beginning. Upsetting them has left me with the group of friends you referenced “who are laid back and won’t send you reminders about your upcoming engagements with them.”

    Setting low expectations offers me the freedom to do, or not do, what I want. The stress release has been wonderful.

  5. posted by Virginia on

    I have a friend who never says no to anything. She’s run ragged by all her commitments. I joke that I’m going to make her some business cards that just say. “NO.”

  6. posted by momoboys on

    It occurs to me that the ranking system someone suggested for a to-do list would work well also to rank social/volunteer/extra commitments. For example, when asked to do something socially, rank it from 1 (must do) 2 (would like to do) 3 (don’t care) to 4 (don’t want to do) to 5 (absolutely won’t do). I think this might be esp helpful when there is a spouse or partner involved. There have been many weddings/birthday parties/backyard bbqs I feel are a 1 or 2 for me that are more like a 3 or 4 for him. So we work it out. Might be helpful as shorthand for how to prioritize, anyhow.

  7. posted by momoboys on

    As I write, I realize that I was thinking about what causes ME the most stress (family commitments and volunteer opportunities). For my work life, I *think* already do this, albeit differently. For the last 6-8 yrs I only book my day about 3/4 of the way full (of office work, appts, & meetings) so that I have wiggle room. I had quickly realized in my current workplace that booking 8 full hrs of work meant 10, or even 12 hrs of my actual time.

  8. posted by Mletta on

    by9n writes:
    “I don’t give firm commitments. If the day shows up and I remember the event and I have time, I go. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t.”

    Does this apply to your work/professional life? Because I’m finding it hard to believe that anyone can pull that no firm commitment bit when you work, even if, or especially if, you’re self-employed. I’ve always worked for or had my own service-based business and frankly, to stay in business, I have to be available as my clients need me and the staff. (It’s not 24/7 but during business hours, clients take priority over everything else.)

    It’s your life, so you get to decide how to live it, but if I were one of your friends, the issue wouldn’t be that you were “flakey” it would be that you don’t seem to care enough about anyone else to do what almost all of us have to do, which is plan ahead–and show up. Serendipity is great, but for people who work, have families and/or kids and have responsibilities and other “commitments,” there’s not much time for that. And not showing up because you don’t feel like it, well, I get it but as an adult, if I didn’t do things because I didn’t feel like it, not much of anything would be accomplished and I’d have few, if any, ongoing relationships.

    Not showing up means disappointing people I care about. It’s one thing when you have to work or are sick. But on a whim to NOT show up? especially if someone else has spent time, energy, resources to ensure we are going to get together and have fun? Wow. Not showing up is showing a lack of respect for others IMHO.

    Our interactions with those we care about do require us to adapt and modify our behavior. It isn’t always easy, but being with those we care about is worth it.

    FYI: It’s interesting that you describe people who think/plan ahead (which is actually showing consideration to others, acknowledging that they, too, have lives and other plans) as “uptight overplanners who drove me crazy from the beginning”

    Methinks you just like to go with the flow which means if you wake up and don’t feel like it, you don’t do it.

    How’s that working for you in terms of interpersonal relationships? I’m not being sarcastic. I’m being serious. I like to be with my pals and that does take effort, on my part and theirs, as most of them travel a lot. And also work a lot as I do. If we didn’t plan, and stick to plans (is that overplanning? To show up to a freely made engagement?) we’d never get to enjoy each other’s company, something we value.

    Somewhere between planning every moment and planning nothing, there is the real world we can live in and share with those we care for. Albeit, not as we would like in terms of frequency or duration.

    Personally, planning gives me freedom. Most importantly, it forces me to focus and choose what IS most important and what I DO want to do and who I want to share time/space with. Sometimes we realize that what we say is important or who we say we want to be with just doesn’t match up. I don’t commit to things I don’t want to commit to, which makes it a lot easier to “show up.” (If you and others say “yes” when you really want to say “no”, then there’s a context for just not showing up or respecting a commitment. But why make one in the first place? Most people are more annoyed than if you just said, “No, thank you.”)

    Maybe your comments were not about how you interact with your friends and I misread them. Few of us wouldn’t want to just not show up when we didn’t feel like , but we know the real price of such behavior. And it’s very costly indeed.

  9. posted by Morgan on

    I was just having a conversation with my husband about this today! I told him about how I told a friend no. I’ve had at least two offers for future commitments today and I’ve said no to both. I don’t make a ton of excuses, I just say, “sorry, but no.” And I have a feeling that they’re still going to be my friends tomorrow. 🙂

  10. posted by Nana on

    True story: I had a friend who worked for a very nasty doctor, as his appointment clerk. On the day she finally got fed up and quit…she tossed the appointment book in the trash.

  11. posted by b9n on

    @Mletta. I don’t think we’d be very good friends.

  12. posted by Jen on

    I sometimes notice that my calendar is really filling up (particularly weekends; my weeknights are not often feasible for scheduling things because we have a small child that necessitates early bedtimes). Because it’s usually my weekends that fill up, it’s often fun things that fill my time – things that really are optional, with minor exceptions of family obligations, which do have some (SOME) hints of fun in there. So there are often not many things that I WANT to say “no” to – they are all plans with friends, things like that. Because of this, when I look at my calendar and start to get overwhelmed at the number of things planned in the coming weeks, my strategy is to remind myself that most of these activities are there to help me unwind, stay connected with friends/family, and have fun. I do find that I sometimes have to remind myself that most of these things are things I WANT to do though. I’m fortunate to work part-time and have a couple of weekday afternoons to take care of the mundane errand type stuff (like doctor’s appts, DMV issues, repairmen, etc.).

  13. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    These are some great tips, and I do have to laugh and say I like the first list better, although the second is more responsible! We do tend to let our calnedar get cluttered because we don’t say No to as much as we should. Realize if you say Yes to something, you will have to say No to something that could be more important.
    The good thing you have done here is help people go through their calendar and look for what to remove.
    Great post!

  14. posted by chacha1 on

    I am the overplanner. But I use it to keep peace with myself and in my life, not to fill my life to overflowing.

    And I’m good at saying No. Because I keep a calendar, I know if I have time/space/money/willingness to add anything to it.

    The people I know who don’t keep a calendar are of two types: those who are completely go-with-the-flow, or those who are constantly frantic and stressed about what happens next. Neither type, in my experience, is very reliable, so if they brush up against my plans I don’t rely on them.

    Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of having too much on your schedule; it’s more a matter of having the wrong people involved in your activities. How many of us have had to do-over or re-schedule because someone flaked on us? Everybody, I’ll bet. How many of us let it happen twice?

  15. posted by ecuadoriana on

    Occasionally, when I’m getting that overwhelmed with too much self imposed “to do” tasks, along with too many social obligations, work tasks, etc I just simply take a whole week to do nothing except my “income generating work” (I am self employed so can be flexible with this).

    I don’t go out, don’t clean my house, do laundry, clean the car out, don’t go to my classes, my dance events, ride my bike, meet friends for coffee, do laundry- whew, just starting to write all this is exhausting! I don’t even read any of those books I have listed on my “To Read” list!!!

    The reason for all this- I do my “income generating work” because, let’s be realistic, I have to pay rent!, but it helps me get back to focusing on how much work is really needed to get by in life. I stop all social/ fun & house keeping obligations, because after a week of complete R & R I can take a realistic look at what all really needs to be done to keep my life running smooth.

    I actually realized that the bathtub didn’t get as dirty after a week as I had imagined it might. I can live with less food in the fridge, don’t need to do the laundry as frequently as I thought, less coffee dates with the girls equals more money in pocket & all we’d do is spend the time “b-ing” about having “too much to do & not enough time” anyway (ironic, huh!), & certain things I was able to reflect on & realize I wasn’t enjoying them as much as the time they were taking up in my life! (I LOVE to make quilts, but it turned out I DON’T LIKE being part of a quilting group! Two hours a week of my life I got back!!!)

    And, like stated by Erin, I don’t call people & I don’t answer my phone. That’s why they invented the answering machine/service!!! So that I don’t have to always jump for the bell like some twisted Pavlovian experiment!!! I don’t have a television so I’m not filling my time with mindless tv blather. I sit & stare out the window at my beautiful mountain view & thank the stars how blessed I am to be living where I do & having the life that I have! That’s always the best use of free time!

  16. posted by Chris Martucci on

    Great article. Saying no to future engagements is the best advice. It’s hard for some people to do, however.

    Also, there’s no better feeling in this world than canceling an appointment. Wait, no. There’s no better feeling than someone else canceling an appointment for you.

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