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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, author of The Power of Less.
I’m a happily married man and a father of 6 kids, and many readers ask me my secret to maintaining a happy marriage and a good relationship with my kids.
Well, there’s no one secret, but a huge key for me has been: finding time to spend with them on a regular basis.
That might sound obvious, but it’s a problem for many couples and families. I know, because it was a problem for me not long ago — I was in a highly demanding and stressful job, and it often meant working late hours when my family wanted me to be home. My wife would be as understanding as possible, but it was definitely a strain on our marriage when I never had time for her and the kids. It was hard on the kids, as I would often miss their soccer games, school functions, and the like.
It was hard on me too. I hated missing out on my family, and missed my wife and kids. So I made some changes in my life, simplifying, so that I could find the time I wanted to spend with my family.
And I have to say, it’s one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made. My wife and I have a stronger relationship than ever. My bond with my kids is stronger than ever too, and I personally am happier than I’ve ever been.
But how do you free up time when you’re busy and overworked? Some ideas follow … not all of them will apply to your life, but some might do the trick.

  1. Figure out what’s essential. What’s most essential in your life? Make a long list of all the commitments in your life, all the things you want to do, then pick just 4-5. It can be difficult, but making these hard choices is crucial. My short list: spending time with family, writing, reading, running.
  2. Get out of commitments. If a commitment doesn’t line up with your short list of essentials, get out of it if at all possible. Sometimes that will mean disappointing people. That’s OK. Your family is worth it.
  3. Simplify your schedule. Other than commitments, are there other things you can get rid of on your schedule and to-do list? Can you stop trying to do everything, and make room in your schedule? Don’t pack your day full of appointments and tasks and projects. Leave space.
  4. Make dates. Now that you’ve made some space in your life, make a standing appointment to spend time with your family. That might mean 20 minutes every evening when you come home with your wife, or a weekly date when you both go out, or taking a walk or reading with your child every night, or a weekly 1-2 hour date with each kid. Put it on the schedule, and make it the most sacred appointment you have.
  5. Get the important stuff done early. Figure out what is really important each morning, and do those things first. Otherwise, they get pushed back further and further and either they don’t get done, or you have to work late.
  6. Batch the small stuff. Instead of interrupting the important tasks by doing small things, like checking email or answering phones or doing paperwork, do them in batches later in the day.
  7. Realize you won’t get everything done. A to-do list is unending. It will never get done. An email inbox is also never empty for long. So realize that there will always be more things to do, and decide you’re OK with that. Don’t try to get everything done.
  8. Do less. Along the same lines, focus on doing less and less. This will mean you’re going to focus on doing the important things, and cut down on the less important things. When you’ve cut down on the number of things you’re doing, try to cut some more. Less is better.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Think about the last 4-5 meetings you’ve gone to. How many of them were really valuable? How many of them did you need to be at? It depends on your job, but sometimes you can beg out of a meeting (or just outright cancel it if you have that power) and accomplish the same thing through an email or two. You just saved yourself 30-60 minutes per meeting canceled.
  10. Watch less TV. Many people watch hours of TV a day. You can easily save an hour a day if you cut TV out, or just watch your single favorite show each day. Don’t channel surf.
  11. Limit your time online. If you’re like me, you can spend hours a day reading online. Limit your online reading and focus on your essential tasks.
  12. Start work early. If you work before everyone gets in the office, you won’t have constant interruptions and distractions. You’ll be amazed how much you can get done between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. I used to do it when I worked in an office, and because I didn’t take a lunch break (I at ate my desk while working) I could get off at 2 p.m. and spend time with my kids.
  13. Say no. One of the biggest groups of time eaters is requests from other people. All day long we get requests, in person, on the phone, in email, through paperwork. Meetings, assignments, requests for information, requests to be on a committee or team; these are all requests that will eat up your time. Say no to all but the essentials.
  14. Stop checking email. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you can stop checking email except at one or two times during the day, you can free up a lot of wasted time. Checking email constantly takes up a lot of time.
  15. Remember your priority. When making choices, or saying yes to others’ demand on your time, remember what’s really important to you. You spouse, your family. Not other people’s needs. Always keep that in mind.

Read more about simplifying your schedule and life in Leo’s best-selling book, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Focusing on the Essentials … in Business and in Life.

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