Last Sunday, a neighbor’s dog gave me a gift.

I first met Rico at the halfway point of my morning walk with my dog Jasper. I had never seen him before, but he seemed friendly and harmless as he ran up to Jasper, sniffed him, then greeted me with a body-wag and a smile.

As Jasper and I started walking back home, I expected Rico to hang back. But he instead, he ran beside us, ahead of us, and around us for the entire mile and a half walk home.

I had no idea where Rico had come from, or how far he was from home. I wanted to make sure he got back safely to his owners.

So, I coaxed him into my garage (this was not hard—he bounded ahead of me), set him up with some water and soft place to rest, and called his owners.

They didn’t answer. It was 7:30 am on a Sunday morning….maybe they were still sleeping.

This was a problem for me. I didn’t want to leave the house while Rico was in my garage, but I had things I thought I HAD to do.

I had an über-full schedule planned for Sunday morning. I was hosting a brunch at 1:00 pm, and needed to start cooking by 11:00 am. I had planned to go to church at 8:30 am, then for a quick swim afterwards before starting to cook.

(The irony in this is that my schedule was fuller on this morning because I was too tired to go for a swim the day before… perhaps this should have been a hint to me to slow down.)

In order for my plan to work, Rico’s owners needed to come pick him up by 8:15 am. Sharp.

Rico’s owners didn’t contact me until 9:00 am, and didn’t pick him up until 9:30. My plan for the morning was blown.

It was awesome.

I had planned my schedule so tightly that had I been able to follow my original plan, I would’ve been rushing from one thing to the next with no buffer or transition time, not really enjoying any of it, just checking it off the list.

Instead of rushing, I ended up drinking coffee, catching up on a few emails, and leisurely making preparations for my brunch.

(And don’t worry….I ended up getting my church-time in later.)

I had it in my mind that if I jam packed my schedule at the beginning of the day, I’d be able to relax later.

My unplanned 2 hour dog-sitting stint helped me avoid running a schedule that would’ve been so intense, I would’ve ended up in “energy bankruptcy”.

When I hit the energy bankruptcy point, I end up spending WAY more time recovering—time I normally feel that I don’t have— than I do when I just need normal rest from a non-crazy schedule.

Last Sunday reminded me to pay closer attention to how I schedule my activities so I don’t drift into energy bankruptcy.

When I am looking to avoid energy bankruptcy, I start by looking at my schedule and asking myself honestly, “Does this HAVE to get done?”

Often times, I apply a label of “mandatory—must get done” to tasks that I think should get done. And designating something as a “should” frequently makes me overlook the fact that it’s still optional.

Rather than truly mandatory, my “should” tasks are often a mix of things that I: (a) want to do but don’t really have time for; (b) don’t want to do but feel like I should do; or (c) don’t do very well but think I will somehow muddle through, even though it will take me more time than I want it to.

Martha Beck has a great technique that I use to pare down my to-do list to just the essentials. She calls this “Bag It, Better It, Barter It”.

Here’s how each part works:

1. Bag It: This is for tasks that don’t really have to get done immediately. For me with my Sunday to-do list, I bagged swimming. I was still kinda tired from the day before and had already gone for a walk (see above) to get some exercise in for the day. I decided to push my swim to the next day. There are days when going for a swim is way more important than other things on my list, but for that day, it didn’t make the cut.

2. Better It: This is for tasks that can be made better by tweaking them in some way. I decided to “better” my church time by going later in the day. If I had gone in the morning, I would have been rushing in and out, looking at my watch to make sure I didn’t run over time. The time pressure I felt in the morning would have worked against the peace and spiritual connectedness I was hoping to gain from going to church.

3. Barter It: This is for items on your to-do list that are better done by someone else. The day before the brunch, I decided to “barter” making muffins. Our gourmet grocery store, Central Market, makes delicious muffins and I decided to buy them there. When I planned the brunch, I really wanted to make all of the food myself. But as Sunday approached, I realized that I could relax more and be a better host to my guests if I didn’t have to worry about making muffins on top of the other things I was preparing.

Important Note: After paring down your schedule, DO NOT replace any of your “bagged” or “bartered” items with another task.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have fallen into the trap of “there is free time—get more sh&t done!” more times than I am comfortable admitting.

Taking the time to audit your schedule and use these 3 strategies to create more free time will not only help you enjoy your life more, it will help you avoid energy bankruptcy. And with our busy lives, we could all use some more energy in the tank 🙂

What activities will you Bag, Better, or Barter on your schedule today?