I think that this is the question I get asked more than any other.

I run my own consultancy, I run a non-profit. I’m on the board of another non-profit. I co-organise a conference, and that’s before we start on the being a wife, mother, friend roles.

So, how do I do it all? Do I have a Hermione-esque Time Turner? Sadly not, let’s break it down.

I don’t “do it all”, it’s a myth

Let’s just get this out of the way up front, I don’t do it all. I barely even do a little bit of what I could potentially be doing. I do what I need to be doing and for the most part, I do what I want to be doing.

Some time ago I realised that trying to “do it all” was a short route to madness. No matter what the media told me growing up, “having it all” did not seem like a great goal if I was going to have to “do it all” as well. Who has the time for that?

Which is when I started to turn away from what other people thought I should be doing and explore what I actually wanted to be doing.

Choose only what you really want to do

Realising that I didn’t have to do it all was revelationary. Of course, there are things I need to do, basic survival needs still have to be met. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy doing those things.

If you look at your to-do list, are the things on it moving you closer to the life you want or further from it? Trust me, deciding what you will and won’t do gets much easier when you view it through that lens.

Do I want to do my accounts? No, honestly, not really. Accounts in and of themselves are boring to me, I am not a numbers person. What they represent, though – financial freedom, lifestyle choice is very interesting to me and as such I will choose them because they move me closer to the life I want. Which, as it happens, is a life that includes outsourcing the most boring parts of my finances to a bookkeeper. Eyes on the prize people.

I say no, a lot

Really, a lot. As a recovering chronic people-pleaser, it has taken years to get to the point where I can confidently say no to the things I can’t do in order to say yes to the things I can.

I didn’t get there overnight. I said frequently said yes, when I really meant no. Then, for a time, I squirmed in my seat, and smiled tightly and made non-committal “uhhmm” noises. Before, finally, I realised that not only was I making myself miserable but I was doing a horrible disservice to the people around me. I strive for honesty in everything that I do and I wasn’t being honest. Not with the people I was saying yes to, or with myself.

Telling people yes, and then following it through with a heavy heart or a lack of skills is not honest. You are not offering them the best solution for them. Say no. Even if people are disappointed, even if they really, really want you to. If you know it isn’t right for both of you, say no.

At first, I used other people’s words to say no until I found the confidence to say no in my own words. If you would like to try doing the same, I recommend starting with this video from Marie Forleo and this article from Alexandra Franzen. Then try practicing a couple of times with a trusted friend until you can screw up your courage enough to say no to other people.

I’ve embraced a “whole life experience”

This is the evolution of my first point, that I don’t do it all. When I let go of the “doing it all” myth, there was still the “work-life balance” myth to bust through. For me, as a mother, wife, friend, daughter, business owner, colleague, the idea of balance in the traditional sense is utterly redundant. As Shonda Rhimes says in Year of Yes.

Whenever you see me succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.”

— Shonda Rhimes

That’s what the work-life balance myth does, it sets us up to fail. Over and over again. Now, I am not anti-failure, I accept failure as a necessary part of life and growth. What I really hate, though, is setting myself up to fail. As it turns out, my life is not designed to be weighed out into equal little boxes, perfectly balanced on top of each other. Whenever I’ve tried to do that, all I’ve managed to achieve is depriving other areas of my life as I focussed balancing one area against another.

Life isn’t meant to be balanced, it is meant to be experienced.”

— Me

Which is why I switched my destination and I am now running headlong into a whole life experience with all its mess and adventure and failure and joy. I’ll make cookie dough, then take business calls while it’s chilling in the fridge, then stop working so my son and I can bake together. I’ll pick my son up from school each day. I’ll work on weekends because I choose to, not because I have no choice. I will take account of my family and my friends when I am planning how much work to take on each year. I will focus on joy, knowing that the path to it may be messy. I’ll fail, and I’ll get up so I can do it again only this time, better.

Schedule like a ninja

Of course, all this is great in theory, but how do I actually do it?

Scheduling. Like a ninja.

I have calendars for everything, I do annual planning, quarterly planning, monthly planning, weekly planning and daily planning. I have calendars which sync with my husband’s, which integrate my client’s and a giant whiteboard calendar to help my son stay on track.

I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. You’ve tried it, it didn’t work. You’re a rebel, you need spontaneity. Any and all of the above. I get it, planning isn’t exciting no matter how many journals you buy or how much washi tape you use. Even so, the results are in, planning does work and if you want to create time to do the things you want, then you have to plan for it.

Where people mostly go wrong with planning, as I did in the beginning, is filling every second of their day with “stuff”. That’s never going to work, you have to build in time for flexibility, for things going wrong and yes, for spontaneity. You have to know that if you ditch the client report to eat ice cream and play on the swings in the park (kid: optional) then you still have space to get it done before it is due. Give yourself breathing space, and when your schedule fails, because it will. Get up and start over again.

So, how do I do it all?

I don’t.

Except, that actually, I do.

My way, on my terms.

What about you?

Originally published at www.emmymccarthy.com