Two years ago, I had the honor of being part of the Washington Post Time Hack Project. I was one of a handful of coaches who were paired with readers struggling with work-life balance. It was fun to help individuals from around the world and from every age group to take back control of their time and their life. The Time Hack Case Studies and Top 10 Time Hacks provide some tangible tips to help you take back your time.

The first order of business for taking back your time is to acknowledge you have the power to do so. With a schedule packed full of work hours, childcare and household responsibilities, and a myriad of other tasks, it is too easy to feel a slave to your schedule. One of the main reasons we feel stress with a busy schedule is we allow ourselves to be the victim of time and responsibilities. What we need to do is to run our schedule, not to let it run us.

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The initial step to taking control of our schedule is to consciously create our schedule. How often during the day do you say “I have to . . .” Just changing the wording to “I choose to . . .” can move the power from the schedule to you. When you feel you “have to” to do something, you are a victim, a slave, a drone of the responsibility. When you choose to take action, you are in the driver’s seat. Blame, anger, and stress are removed through consciously choosing how you spend your day.

This is more than just word choice. Being conscious about your time is more than taking responsibility for what you are choosing to do, but it is also choosing to do – and not to do – certain things. Look at everything on your list and really consider if you are consciously wanting and choosing something – or does it feel like an obligation. I was speaking to a small business owner the other day who was overwhelmed by the amount of work on her schedule. However, when we delved into each item, we discovered that many items were actually obligations, not business necessities. She felt compelled to take on additional work for her clients, for which she was not receiving compensation. Yet, “as a good business owner,” she felt she had to do these things. Not true. Once we sorted through her actual responsibilities and removed the obligations, she suddenly had a reasonable schedule.

Once you have pulled unnecessary obligations off your schedule, look at what is left. Look for items which you feel responsible to complete, but may not be the best use of your time and resources. An example of this comes from a woman taking care of an elderly relative. She chose to help her relative, but between doctor’s visits, trips to the grocery story, doing laundry, and ordering prescriptions, her days were filled with caretaking. In this case, we looked through the list of caretaking to-do’s and separated them by things she wanted or needed to do, and those things which were more easily taken care of by others. Doctor’s visits were something she definitely wanted to attend in order to monitor her relative’s health. But there was no reason she had to spend an hour a week going to the grocery store. Peapod or other delivery services could ensure the task was done – just not by her.

Take a look at your schedule for this week. What are things you truly want and need to do? What obligations can you remove from your list? What responsibilities can be more easily taken care of by someone else? Then embrace what is left on your schedule as those things you are actively, consciously choosing to do. Notice how you feel you have more time, and less stress, throughout your day.

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