5 Steps to Declutter Your Schedule and Live Your Desired Life

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Mike Burns of The Other Side of Complexity.


“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to’.” ―Lao Tzu

15 years ago, I was overwhelmed.

I was working a ton of hours, trying to establish myself in my career. I was juggling relationships with my wife, my 6 kids, neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers. My schedule was pretty cluttered. There was a lot of stuff going on, and not enough time to do it.

My intentions were good. My heart was in the right place. But my life was a whirlwind. I couldn’t catch my breath.

Something had to change. I knew I needed some help.

So, my family began a journey to figure out how we could manage our time well and focus on the things that were most important to us. This pursuit has lasted 15 years (and counting). And it has paid off tremendously!

I can’t say that every day goes exactly according to plan. That’s not even possible. But, I can say, with confidence, that we now live the kind of lives we want to live. We focus our efforts on those things we value most.

We still don’t get everything done. We drop the ball sometimes. But we’re headed in the right direction. We have close, meaningful relationships with people that we love and we’re using our talents and experiences to do things that (we think) have meaning.

Each person’s life looks different. What’s important to me may not be what’s important to you. The “plan of attack” for regaining control of our schedules won’t look the same.

However, if your schedule feels like it’s a bit out of control, there are some universal steps you can take to begin finding a tailor-made approach.

5 Steps to Declutter your Schedule and Live Your Desired Life

1. Acknowledge the fact that you can’t do everything.

We can only do so much. We have unlimited options, but limited resources. We have to make important decisions to eliminate some things. When we’re feeling especially productive and superhuman, we struggle to admit this reality. But, we can’t do it all. We have to remove the clutter.

Clutter is the stuff that interferes with the life we want to live. It slows us down from doing the things we value most. It’s that unnecessary stuff that we entertain, but doesn’t help us get where we want to go. And it needs to be removed.

2. Clarify what’s most important…to you!

The things that are important to you will affect how you make decisions and how you spend your days. If you don’t know where you’re going, why bother establishing a path? Before you start developing a plan, you have to know what you want to accomplish and what rules you will play by. You need a what and a why before you figure out how.

You’ll need clarity in at least 3 important areas:

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What relationships are most important to you?
  • What do you want to accomplish?

3. Determine what you have to do to live for those things.

Once you’ve identified your objective, you can begin to think about how you’ll get there. It is incredibly important to identify your goals and values. But if you don’t take the second step and think about your plan to live up to them, then they are only dreams.

You have to map out a route to your destination. You have to figure out the best way to be and do what you want to be and do. You have to determine what actions will be required and what tools you’ll need to accomplish them. If we don’t, we run the risk of just wandering around through life as a slave to our circumstances.

4. Say “no” to other stuff that hinders you.

It’s not enough to know what things you should do. You also have to get clarity on the types of things you should not do. We’ve already established that our time is limited. We will have to make choices about how we spend our time. We will have say “no” to some things so we can say “yes” to others.

Inevitably, we will face circumstances that could throw us off course and make us want to give up on our dreams. Sometimes, these hindrances are caused by unhealthy behaviors. Sometimes, they are caused by people who want to see us fail. Sometimes, they are caused by good things that aren’t best.

Regardless of what causes the hindrances, we have to pay attention to them and make some decisions about what activities need to get the boot!

5. Find what motivates you and use it.

Study yourself and figure out what makes you tick. What makes you come alive? What makes you feel human and reminds you that you are not just a robot with a job and a checkbook? What tugs at your heart? What reminds you of the things you value most?

It may be: listening to music, blogging, dancing, painting, singing, jogging, lifting weights, or something really random and strange that you just love to do.

It’s okay if it isn’t related to your “greater purpose” or if it even makes sense to other people. If it motivates you (and it’s legal), do it!

Life’s too short to spend our days in constant frustration.

Don’t allow things of lesser importance to rob you of the life you could be living. Take a good look at your life and be honest. Do the work and declutter your schedule. You can do this!


Mike Burns blogs at The Other Side of Complexity where he encourages others to live well and focus on what’s most important. His new book is Time Well Spent: Gain Control of Your Schedule and Live the Life You Want to Live. You can also connect with him on Twitter.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

Follow on TwitterLike on Facebook


  1. says

    Mike deals beautifully with what I call the Second Stage of decluttering and living more lightly – the intangible side. The first stage is usually letting go of unnecessary material things (clothes, gadgets, supplies, books, etc.) This First Stage frees up some time by clearing out things that take time to organize, shop, and clean. The Second Stage, however, is to directly deal with the issue of how we spend our time and this is the bigger challenge for me.
    The steps that Mike outlines are pretty basic and obvious, but that does not make them easy. I’m still working at learning to say “No” to good projects when they don’t align with my most fundamental priorities – family and faith. Even these criteria have to be pruned, however, to figure out what my unique contribution can be or should I delegate it or trust that others will pick up on what I can’t do. I can’t save the world. Jesus saves; I don’t have to. Thanks for an reminder of ultimate truths.

    • says

      Thanks, Susan! I appreciate the kind words. I often talk about getting rid of unnecessary material things (what you refer to as the First Stage). Recently, I’ve been compelled to write more about the intangibles…the why behind the what. It’s so important for us to know what we want out of life. That way, it’s even more clear what has to GO to accomplish them. Thanks, again.

  2. says

    Great article, Mike. I’m so glad to see so many people coming over to the minimalist side and go after the things that they are honestly passionate about and truly fulfill them.
    Clutter is a dreadful thing. And it exists in more shapes and sizes, the worst of all being the brain clutter, which is often caused by clutter in physical surroundings, but let’s not forget that there is also digital clutter. Just too many things standing in our way.
    Like George Carlin once put it, “a house is just a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”

    • says

      I agree! Mental clutter is a problem. If our minds are all jumbled up with random things, we become stressed, frustrated and lack focus and creativity. And it’s SO easy to accumulate digital clutter! :) We have to make daily decisions about what is most important to us and what has to go.

  3. says

    Thanks for sharing all 5 steps. At the end of them all, the 5th step counts the most. The challenge is to remain pure in all my motivations . . . to make sure that I do not step on the heads of others and that I would remain a delight to them!

  4. says

    Thanks for this post Mike and Joshua. Mike, I’ve been following your blog for a few months and really love the way that you try to strike the balance between being a mindful parent and a mindful individual, as this is something that I personally struggle with. Number 2 and 5 are my favourites on this list – learning to truly identify and be motivated by what is really important to you, but also understanding that it is totally ok for this to be different from everyone else around you. Not fitting the norm can be socially isolating, so it is always refreshing to read the words of like minded people. Thanks.

    • says

      Thank you! I can relate. For me, decluttering and simplifying is not about impressing the “simplicity police.” :) They don’t exist. But we sometimes act like they do, worried that they might stop by for a visit when there are toys on the floor or a mess in the living room. That can be stressful and it’s an awful burden to bear.
      Decluttering is a means to an end. It’s a tool that I can use to achieve what’s really important to me, personally. If that’s the case, then it doesn’t really matter what the next guy does. His life isn’t mine. …. and ….. now I’m rambling….. :)
      Thanks, again!

  5. says

    Thanks for the great reminder! Due to some health struggles, I have found I HAVE to be better at minimizing my commitments. I must say though, that it’s been well worth it. Now rather than feeling obligated to go out with every friend on my list, I can choose just one or two to really dig into a deeper relationship with.

  6. says

    I have just started the journey that you are writing about, Mike, so I really appreciate some starting advice. I guess that since it took 30+ years to get here it will take some time to change it as well. 15 years sounds like such a long time, but I´m thinking that we need to look at it as an ongoing journey and not as a project with an end date :)

  7. Cincy says

    Me and my best friend were skiing together today in Vail,Co. where we are lucky enough to live and work and play. During chairlift rides up the mountain, we often get into discussions about things that we think are important to us. Today happiness came up. We wondered what exactly is happiness and if we had ever been really happy at any time in our lives. We both agreed that the only things that can really make us happy come from within ourselves, not from other people or things (The Wizzard of Oz). We finally concluded that, for us, moments of happiness occured during the act of giving something away, especially our time. My friend then suggested that I check out this web site. Wow! Thanks!

  8. says

    I recently cut out a number of commitments and associations to focus my time on something I really wanted to do. I was filling my time with meetings and groups that made me crazy and kept me from working on my dream. Making those changes has caused real peace in my life. I finally feel like I am acomplishing something with purpose. Your post has renewed and strengthened my resolve to keep at it and keep saying no to distractions.

    • says

      Great! It’s not always easy to cut things out. But, when their time has past, and you make the tough choices, it’s worth it. Congrats!

  9. says

    Great post! I believe that each time commitment comes with an inherent burden/obligation. Not all burdens are bad, but having too many burdens can demobilize even the best of us! I agree that it is important to balance our time commitments so that we have scheduled enough to be productive and feel alive and relevant and not too much so that are frantic and spinning our wheels. Sad to say, I learned this the hard way. I have experienced an amazing amount of freedom when I was able to say no to the commitments that were past my “health” mark.

  10. says

    It’s really a cool and useful piece of info.

    I’m satisfied that you shared this useful information with us.

    Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  11. says

    It is really a nice and helpful piece of info. I’m
    happy that you shared this useful info with us.
    Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  12. says

    Great article! Most people’s priorities are deep down, not set by them, but by the society. If one was to have the courage to act spend sometime to get in touch with their true self, they’ll realize that their true goals and values are easily attainable. But it isn’t easy as it’s been hard wired into our brains that life has to be some kind of a struggle, and that free time implies you’re being lazy. The only laziness is not following your genuine goals and dreams.

  13. Deb says

    Thank you for this, Mike. So glad you found your calling, as it speaks volumes and with great sincerity and passion. I, too stumbled upon Leo Babauta’s blog – one day while googling something like, “how do I simplify my life?” Your simple Facebook posts help keep me grounded and striving for continued de-clutterization! It’s helping me “steer” that vehicle down a road less traveled but with intangible beauty and peace. Thank you!

  14. says

    Somebody essentially assist to make critically posts I would state.
    This is the very first time I frequented your website page and thus far?
    I amazed with the research you made to make this
    actual put up extraordinary. Great job!

  15. Bilie says

    But if we are supposed to not say “i don’t have time”, how do we adhere to #1? Example: going to your childs one time event, or going to some other event that we am not really attached to, you can truthfully say I don’t have time, because you have already committed “your time” to an event that’s more important to you. Why is that so bad? Really what this should explain is, do what matters to you most and leave the rest. If you are about to get your power shutoff, maybe go to work first…

  16. Fiona says

    I resigned from one of my jobs this morning. I just read this which confirmed I did the right thing. I’d rather spend time with my family than spend money on them to fill the void of them not having mum here for them. Thank you.

  17. says

    To me, this is the hardest part of minimalism: learning to not always want to please others by saying yes (and getting some of your time back), but it’s so worth it in the end.

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. After the Before Time | Zouxzoux | February 17, 2014

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *