I was a mess: a stressed out, unhealthy, time bomb just waiting to explode.

As the family’s sole breadwinner, I let my responsibility to provide for my husband and 2-year old son weigh too heavily on my shoulders. Simply loving your job doesn’t always translate to a stress-free existence, especially when there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. The tension twisted my thinking and instead of cherishing time with my family – I started to resent it.

Something had to change.

The realization hit me one evening as I stormed through my front door, too tired to read my son his favorite Dr. Seuss book for the 80th time. If life stayed like this, I’d continue to miss out on my son’s childhood and further damage my marriage.

I had to change, but how?

As an editor at Early to Rise, I read every essay before we publish it.  The daily advice that Craig and the other ETR authors deliver make so much sense, and they also make it look so easy…but it seemed that life kept getting in the way when I tried to apply it to my own situation.

I had a choice: either reject this valuable advice or tweak it so I could finally live the life I wanted.

So here’s what I did:

By putting together Craig’s theory of “magic time,” listing my priorities and blocking my schedule based on what’s vital to me, I have been able to make the most of my 24 hours. And I feel far more energized and productive while I’m doing it.

What Matters to You?

Each and every one of us leads a unique life with our own priorities, values and quirks. Though this is what sets us apart, it is also what makes us the same, because we all have them. Take a moment and write down what is essential in your life. This can include the responsibilities and the priorities that make your life worth living, this could be family, friends, work, spirituality, reading, or anything you value.

Here’s what my list looks like:
1.    Family
2.    Health
3.    Community
4.    Financial security
5.    Intellectual growth

After writing my list I had not only determined what is vital to my well-being, but also what is not crucial. I always thought an active social life was a priority, but after writing out this list without much thought, I realized that it was not a necessity, not even close.

The simple act of writing down these priorities helped me develop a schedule that would allow for the fulfillment of all of these needs. But before I got down to the time blocking, I first had to identify my “magic time” that Craig kept talking about.

When is Your “Magic Time?”

Magic Time is an important facet of a productive life, and it is imperative to find out when you’re literally three times as productive as any other point during your day. (Familiarize yourself with the principle of Magic Time here, if you need a refresher.)

Unlike Craig, and most of the early to risers, my “magic time” comes two times in a day, neither of which is “early.” I find myself the most creative and energized at 11 a.m. That’s when I get the bulk of my daily work done. Since I have identified this strength, I make sure that the important tasks of my day always get started at that time, if possible.

Now, don’t interpret this as me just lumbering into the office at 11 a.m. Instead I get my easier, robotic tasks done earlier in the morning, and save my big ideas and creative juices for my magic time.

This may not happen for everyone, but I have a second “magic time” that occurs at 9 p.m. This second burst of creative drive, right after my little one has drifted off to sleep may have been a trained response out of necessity, but I get so much more done because of it.  During my “second shift” as I call it, I work on projects that fulfill my need for personal growth, including writing for my own website, business planning, or doing any required research.  Capitalizing on my second “magic time” has led to an improved sense of self and intellectual growth, something that is incredibly important to me.

Put it All Together and Build YOUR Day

Mark Morgan Ford, Craig Ballantyne and many other time-management experts have suggested that scheduling is one of the most effective ways to properly use your time. I was resistant to this one at first, how could I possibly plan so far ahead when being a parent throws so many curve balls? It seemed so unreasonable. But I realized, just because your write something in pen, doesn’t mean that it’s permanent. Scheduling your time is a fence to keep out time wasting activities, not a cage to confine you.

After I figured out what meant the most to me I then took a few minutes to block out my time in a way that allows for maximum productivity. I keep my time blocks flexible to allow for the unpredictable without throwing off my entire schedule. Keep in mind that my work day gets broken down into a separate chart, but that’s another essay for another day. Here’s how my weekday looks:

6 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.: Family time. This includes breakfast, play time, conversation, day planning, budgeting or anything else that needs to happen, as long as it’s family focused.
7:30- 8:15 a.m.: Get ready for the day
8:15 – 9:00 a.m.: Commute (I haven’t figured out how to manage this time yet. Someone needs to invent a teleportation device already).
9:00 – 11:00 a.m.: Time sensitive or daily work
11:00 a.m. – 12 p.m.: Magic Time, reserved for creative thinking
12:00 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Daily work, meetings or whatever else it takes to get the job done.
5 p.m. – 7 p.m.:  Commute and Gym
7:15 – 8:45 p.m.:  Family time: This includes dinner, play time, bath, conversation, reading stories, etc.
9:00 -10:00 p.m.: Magic Time, reserved for intellectual development
10:00 – 10:30ish – Spouse time
10:30ish – Bedtime

Rather than designating my blocks of time to specific tasks, it worked best for me to reserve the time slots for my priorities, and now I have time for all the things I wanted to enjoy.

Since I implemented this new schedule I now have time to play baseball, read “Horton Hears a Who,” eat dinner with the family, hit the gym, write a blog post and chat with my husband all with enough energy to enjoy these activities.

But, of course, things come up that ruin my planning, and that’s one of the joys of being a parent, the unpredictability, but making this loose schedule has allowed me to regain my freedom.

I finally feel like I’m living my life rather than merely surviving it.

It took me a while to finally realize that nothing in life is static, everything can be modified to fit specific situations.  When I figured this out I crafted something that has truly improved my life and relationships. When you’re reading through the amazing, groundbreaking and sometimes daunting advice that Early to Rise delivers daily, keep this in mind, because you too can change your life, all it takes is a little tweaking.

[Ed.Note: Nicole O’Reilly is the web editor for Early to Rise and helps out any way she can behind the scenes. Her favorite ETR entity is the Transformation Contest, as she loves seeing the bonds that are made while making dramatic and life altering changes. The voting for the TC winners is live now. Hop on over, create an account and vote for your favorite transformation.]