One of the most pervasive and significant ways I observe women losing power and energy everyday comes down to something surprisingly simple: how a woman spends her time.

I spend many hours each week with women in my office who are suffering from stress and shedding deeply valid tears about how they feel trapped in jobs, relationships and responsibilities that are not fulfilling or supportive of their growth. Although these may seem like very privileged challenges, a far cry from issues of basic safety and survival, the pain of feeling disempowered in relationship to the activities of daily living takes a serious toll.

Even if a woman is fortunate to have relative freedom and privilege in her life, the experience of not feeling in charge on any level has profound links in the female psyche that conjure the painful legacies or present realities of limited options, fewer rights, discrimination and silencing that women have endured throughout time.

Our schedules and daily activities are a mirror for us as to what degree we are taking ownership of our own lives, and to what degree we are getting swallowed by the mire of perfectionism, people-pleasing and subordination. All of these factors are symptoms of patriarchy that even in groups of the most privileged women where there is the right to vote, ability to own property, capacity to be economically independent, etc. still grip and shackle the female psyche and sense of self. 

How you spend your time matters and demonstrates your priorities. If you are chronically agreeing to spend time on activities and people that do not actually nourish, uplift and replenish you on a deeper level, most likely you will experience some form of feedback from your psyche or physiology such as resentment, anxiety, depression, fatigue, dullness, a lack of fulfillment or a sense of meaninglessness.

If you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms and/or are feeling resistant to things that are coming up on your calendar, it is usually a good indicator that something is off and deserves careful consideration. Below are 4 creative approaches to reclaiming your time and ultimately your sense of empowerment in day to day living.

  1. Honor your calendar as the gatekeeper to your life

However you keep track of your responsibilities and schedule, whether it’s a paper calendar, an electronic app or something else, take on the habit of imagining this medium as the gatekeeper to a castle. Your schedule is the sacred boundary and protector of your time. Before something is permitted to enter your orbit, a thorough assessment, evaluation and consideration process is required.

  1. Create a stop gap for yourself

In the digital age, the speed of communication has increased dramatically. This means most people you engage with are holding a high expectation around fast responses to text and email, you may even hold that as a standard yourself. Although technology has many amazing benefits, one of the drawbacks when it comes to staying empowered and clear about how you spend your time, is that this speed can create an internal (or external) pressure to make fast decisions about invitations and requests people send you.  

If you are someone who tends to over schedule yourself or who gets yourself into commitments that are not totally aligned for you, I encourage you to adopt a basic and standard response such as, “Thanks so much for reaching out. I’m not sure yet if I’m available then, but I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

This quick and easy response minimizes any confusion for the other person who may be wondering why they haven’t heard back from you, while also creating a non-pressured space and time for you to thoroughly consider whether or not you are a “yes” or a “no” to something.

Often times as women we have a habitual pattern of saying “yes” which is typically rooted in a fear of disappointing others or losing connection. With this little pause in the communication process it grants you permission and space to respond with an authentic answer and hopefully without falling into your habitual defaults.

  1. Get clear on your priorities

What we prioritize creates the foundation of our lives; the overall flavor of our day to day reality. The complicated thing for so many women is that we have spent so much of our development learning how to be “good,” “nice,” “like-able,” and “pretty,” that often times we have a thick layer of rubber cement suffocating who we truly are and what we authentically value and love.

Of all the steps I am suggesting in this article, getting clear on your priorities is by far the hardest, most in depth part. A good starting place is to spend some time free writing in response to these questions:

What gives you energy?

What do you love?

What are you passionate about?

What inspires you?

This may be enough to help you gain clarity about your priorities, and if it’s not, you can consider asking a friend for reflection or seeking out a therapist, coach or counselor for additional support.

Once you feel more clear and confident about what your values, goals and dreams are, then you can focus on creating the infrastructure in your daily, weekly, monthly and annual calendar to make space for and to fulfill these priorities that are unique to you.

  1. Observe, reflect, learn, repeat

The power of experience, whether it is positive, negative or neutral, is typically the most influential force when it comes to behavior change. Once you start implementing some of these steps into your everyday life, observe what happens.

Do you feel more fulfilled at the end of the day? Do you feel less resentful or drained? Take the time to reflect on what might be working better and what continues to feel strained. And finally, give yourself permission to change according to what you learn.

If you discover that seeing a particular friend a little more frequently leaves you feeling inspired and energized, make sure to prioritize it and keep it up. If you find that waking up early to get an extra workout in felt good in the moment, but then had you crashing while you still had work to get done, maybe try something else. This process of observation, reflection and learning is priceless for any area of life whether it is personal or professional.

If we don’t take the time and space to reflect in this way, it can feel as if we’ve boarded a bullet train and the momentum is so fast we can’t possibly get off, even if we try. This leads to resentment, burn out, over extension and intense feelings of disempowerment as women.

Although time spent may seem simple on the surface, each moment of our day and how we take ownership of what happens, accumulates over the life cycle and culminates either in an experience of chronic disempowerment and frustration or a triumphant completion of empowerment, knowing that you met life and it’s challenges the best you could.

As women, we must seriously commit ourselves to the conscious distribution of our time and recognize that our time is not only a precious resource, but it is also a powerful mechanism through which we can reclaim the reigns of our own lives and shape the course of our future.