These days, I often wish I could make time: as in create hours, manufacture minutes. It seems there are always so many tasks to do, so much work to be done. By the time I get through my daily to-do list (ye gods, when did I get so overwhelmed that I had to get apps that will remind me to do the tasks and tick the boxes?) there’s barely time to relax and shut my brain off before it’s time to get up and do it all over again.

Some days I feel like I’m drowning. Some days I think I’ll never check all the boxes fast enough and won’t be left with the time I want for other things, like painting, and writing, and gardening, and seeing my friends.

So here’s the thing I’m learning: I have to make that time. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. What’s easy is getting lost in the little tasks: make dinner, wash the dishes, do some laundry, vacuum, get gas, answer emails, post some new online content, check book stats, schedule some promotions, read that new submission that came in last week, post a few things to social so readers know I’m still alive and interested in saying hello to them—and so on.

Some days, it’s true—this is a procrastination technique. Some days, if I do all those little tasks, then I “don’t have time” to do the hard thing, which is edit that damn book I have to finish in a month. But some days, I just want an hour to paint some birds, and sometimes that feels like it’s too tall an order.

So I’ve had to re-prioritize some things. I’ve had to carve out bits of time each day (and even—gasp—a chunk of time on the weekend) to do some little things that bring me joy. I started with an hour a day. Some days I read. Some days I paint. Some days I plant some succulents. (I might have developed a bit of a problem there, since I discovered I can order them online, and they come in like, literally a thousand different varieties for about the cost of a latte. The fella, though, assures me this is not a problem. “You can order more until we run out of window sills,” he said. “But really, I think people who take care of live things have more empathy. So I support this hobby.”

He’s a good guy. I’ve placed a jelly bean plant on his window sill.

The point of all this is that just taking an hour a day to do something that doesn’t feel like work, like a task that HAS TO GET DONE, DAMMIT actually helps me recharge. Some days I feel like every waking hour is devoted to someone else, and that gets tiresome. But to have a little time to do something fun or creative, or relaxing—to do something just because it makes me happy for a little while—that helps me maintain some balance. It’s always been hard for me to find balance. I never thought of myself as a workaholic until recently—and I realized that’s not who I want to be. Sure, I have dreams, and goals, and high expectations for myself—but I’m not unique in that regard. Lots of us feel that way. But the trick, I think, is to not get to the point where we lose track of the little tasks that bring us joy and solace—those tasks don’t make it onto the to-do list. They don’t get ticked off every day. But I think maybe they should.

What really set me on this path was when my fella surprised me with a new set of paint brushes last week for my birthday. I was a little bummed at turning 41, thinking, “Where on earth did the last ten years go? What have I done with all of that time?”

The answer was: not quite all the things I wanted.

And then when the fella gave me brushes, I was surprised and delighted. But the best part was the reason he chose them: “I want you to spend more time doing what you love,” he said. And I thought, I want that, too. So I’m carving out a little more time each day to use those brushes, and plant some spring flowers—and even write that book I’ve been putting off. After all, doing what we love helps us cultivate balance and gratitude, and I don’t think we can have too much of that.

So how do you start? I made a list. If you had all the time in the world, what are five things you’d do for yourself—just yourself—we all want to spend time with our friends and most-loved people, but we need to think about ourselves for a minute, okay? Here are mine:

  1. Write novels
  2. Practice painting with new techniques
  3. Carve wood blocks to print
  4. Exercise
  5. Gardening
  6. Read
  7. Do something outside

That’s how I started. Five, plus a couple bonus items. So go ahead, make your list. Once things are written down, it’s easier to make them happen.