I have received, and if we’re being honest, I’ve given so much reductive advice in my lifetime. It’s easy to do, and on the surface, that advice seems to make sense. But it doesn’t take into account all the factors it needs to. If you’ve ever heard people make time for what is important to them, then you know why that’s shitty advice.

a white alarm clock on top of a pink notebook with scattered pens and the text "People Make Time for What is Important to Them (but Sometimes They Can't)"

That isn’t to say that maybe that phrase hasn’t helped you focus. When I was younger, it worked for me. But it’s worth noting that the only thing I had to clear from my schedule to make time for what was important to me (writing) was partying. And even then, I didn’t take it off the docket completely.

So, if you found this post from a Google search or you’re a long time reader who is struggling to make time for all the things, I’m glad you’re here. Let’s talk about why this advice is terrible and why sometimes people can’t make time for what is important to them.

Why We Think People Make Time for What is Important to Them

If you believe that time is simply a math equation, then you can believe people make time for what is important to them. It’s all a matter of taking one hour and doing what you want with it rather than wasting it, right?

On the surface, that makes sense. And yes, sometimes it’s the truth. Sometimes writing your life into existence is as simple as picking a time block in your planner, penciling something in, and working on it.

If you’ve been spending your time on something that isn’t important, it definitely makes more sense to focus on spending your time on something that is important. And if you’re the type to have one thing that’s important to you, this advice is good.

So if you want to make art but you find you spend all your time watching Netflix or looking into your phone, it’s time for a switch. Sure, it will be difficult to build up the habit, and you shouldn’t expect to be able to work on your art for hours on end at first. But overall, cutting back on Netflix/phone time will make space for art.

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But what if you want to make time for what’s important to you, but you can’t drop the stuff that’s taking up your time? This is definitely where this advice falls apart.

The Privilege of Making Time

If giving up one thing to make time for another is a simple one-to-one transaction, I think you have a very specific privilege that you should be aware of. Because most people? It’s not just one thing that’s taking time away from the thing that’s important to them.

Some people have jobs that require so much of their time and if they try to pull away just a little, they’ll lose that job. Others have obligations as caretakers to others. Many people have both those things weighing on their time.

Before I worked for myself, I hated my work schedule. When I had the office job, my time was eaten up by a commute, hours in the office, and another commute home. By the time I was settled in my home office, it was impossible to work because I was so exhausted. Plus, I had Chris and the dog to think about, and I wanted to spend some time with them before I hopped on the hamster wheel again the next day.

When I was teaching, I never got to choose my schedule. The senior members of my department were very well-known for taking classes that would work for them, then leaving a terrible schedule for the rest of us. So I’d find myself teaching night classes two to three times a week, with some early morning classes as well. There was no way to make my schedule functional, so I lost hours of the day on campus killing odd increments of time between classes.

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Now that I work for myself, I set the schedule, and that’s something I will never take for granted. But I also know it’s a huge privilege to be able to make time for what’s important to me.

We Have More Than One Important Thing in Our Lives

Most people have more than one important thing in their lives. So, working on their art? Super important. But so are their children or their homes or making sure there’s food in the fridge.

In some cases, they can outsource for help. Like grocery delivery or finding a babysitter. In many cases, people don’t have that kind of money. In other cases, they don’t want to take time away from their kids.

Even if you don’t have kids, you may have a partner or family that needs your attention. You may have a pet that wants to spend time with you too.

I mean, have you tried catching up with friends lately? It’s almost impossible because there’s two full lives to account for when scheduling.

And it’s really easy for some people to read all that and think the answer is to not build any attachments in life so that your time is always your own. But I don’t think life works that way. And it’s likely that you’ll build an attachment and be the person that throws all that emotional labor mentioned above on your partner so you can always have time to do what’s important to you. But your partner? They’re screwed because they’ve picked up your slack.

Even now, as a self-employed person, I find myself wanting to work on various passion projects. Because guess what? Even if your work fits under one category like writing, there’s different writing you want to do. Writing for this blog takes time away from fiction. Working on fiction takes time away from journaling.

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It’s always a push and pull. Always.

People Make Time for What They Have Energy for

Sometimes, you can make all the time in the world for what’s important to you but you can’t bring yourself to focus on it. As a chronically burnt out person, I get it.

There have been many occasions where I tried to write after carving an hour of time for myself only to realize that I couldn’t make it happen. What I needed was some rest. And when you need rest, that need will always push out what you think is important.

And if you’re dealing with mental or physical health issues, there’s no energy when you have time. Time isn’t the only thing that matters in this equation.

It’s Never as Simple as Making Time

Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make time. If you can make time, recognize what a privilege it is.

And if you’re the sort of person who likes to give advice about how everyone can make time for what’s important to them, consider adding context to that advice.

If reading this depressed you and you worry you’ll never get to work on your creative projects, take heart. You can still make it happen, but you now have a fuller picture of what you’re up against. That means you’re not going to work with bad advice, get burnt out, and then beat yourself up for it.

You know better now, and you can work with this information how you need to.

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