How to carve out quality time for your loved ones

Dear Dr. Rachel,

I have amazing friends, but it so complicated to try to spend any quality time together. Between jobs, family and travel we all have such busy lives. There’s so much back and forth when we try to coordinate getting together it makes my head spin. Even when something does get scheduled it falls apart half the time. How can we stop the madness so we can get to the real joy, which is actually having time together?


Amen. Quality time with others is hard to come by these days. Plus, with social media no one really has to engage face-to-face to know what others are up to anymore. When we actually do get together in person, it is most likely due to a lot of planning or simply having proximity on our side. If only it were as easy as when we lived in college dorms.

The most common issue I’ve heard my client’s struggle with over the years is feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. If I had special powers I would wave a magic wand and have us live in a world where everyone had more quality time to spend with their loved ones. (My other special powers would be more selfish but I’ll keep those to myself.)

If only it were that simple. The irony is that not only have we become disconnected from actual (as opposed to virtual) community, we’ve also become more disconnected from our own selves due to our hectic lives, feeling fragmented or lost from our interests and our essence.

You have two issues: your life is overcrowded and you miss your tribe. First, ask yourself what work-life balance looks like to you. Then after envisioning it, ask yourself what it would take to have more free time in your life. Next, put forth some of that extra time or energy to be the initiator with your group of friends. It requires work to connect and you have what it takes to be the leader among your comrades. If you value something you find a way to prioritize it. Most anything in life that is worthwhile takes work.

Here are some practical tips: have a regular schedule for gatherings to save yourself the hassle of coordinating calendars. For example, make a set plan that every first Friday of the month you dine out together or every President’s Day weekend you go to a cabin; combine your exercise time with your social time. Together you could even choose a race or event to train for; if you’re at a stage in life where you are raising little ones, have play dates so the grown-ups can chat while the kids are distracted with one another.

Recognize that busyness comes in different shapes and sizes. Sure, there’s a time and place for gritting your teeth, hustling and getting lots of work done or times when the focus is all about small kids. Beyond those situations, ask yourself what motivates your schedule to be chronically busy and why you have let it get so out of balance? Notice if you are busy due to financial scarcity, avoidance of your home life, or filling some inadequacy within yourself. This is very different from being busy because you’re inspired, passionate about a project or driven to fulfill a life purpose.

Many years ago when I first started my private practice at the wellness center I currently work at, I met a colleague who didn’t over-schedule herself with her acupuncture clients. I asked what her secret was and she answered unapologetically, “I don’t like to work too hard.” It was as simple as that. I had just come from working in a hospital setting and been running a ragged pace so what she said felt radical and refreshing.

In order to give myself permission to receive what I needed for so many years, it had to be modeled for me by people I respected. It wasn’t until I was surrounded by a community of individuals who valued health — not just talking the talk but walking the walk — that I learned it was possible to actually have a balanced life.

Just like my colleague, you can be the person to model life balance and true social connection to your community of friends. Stop your role in the glorification of busyness in our culture. Spread the gospel about how you unabashedly walked around the lake at a leisurely pace, took extra vacation from work or lay in a hammock reading archives of the Ask Dr. Rachel column. As Gandhi stated, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Dr. Rachel Allyn is a licensed psychologist in private practice. Learn more about her unique style of therapy at Send questions to [email protected].