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Identifying and Scheduling Your Non-Negotiables

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 If you find yourself feeling too busy for the things that make you feel like you, then something has to change. Let’s start by identifying your non-negotiables and changing your routines to fit these in your schedule. Read on to discover some tips to help you revive what it means to be you!

identifying and scheduling your non-negotiables to decrease stress and overwhelm
With Rupa Wong

It’s that time of year which is so crazy and chaotic, and you may feel like you are just giving and giving- you’re burning the candle at both ends. It may feel like there is no end in sight and you are just trying to push through this one little hump. “Let me just make sure all of these ducks are in a row and then I can relax.” If that sounds like you, I think this episode is going to be especially meaningful and, I hope, really helpful for you. That’s a place that I think many of us are in as professional working women. Especially if you have children and it’s back to school time! What often happens is we start to neglect ourselves. I don’t want to talk about just self-care in a loosey-goosey kind of way- you know that’s not my thing. I like real, actionable strategies. So, today I am going to be discussing how to discover your non-negotiables to harmonize your work, life, and so much more. I want to teach you not only how to identify them, but also how you can find the time to put them into your calendar. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know I use a hybrid time-blocking scheduling system- I’ve talked about it before. So I really want to dive deep into some of the issues that came up in my life and what my life looked like when I neglected some of my own non-negotiables and how incorporating them weekly has allowed me to integrate work and life so much more seamlessly. And not just more seamlessly, but also without resentment towards my partner, burnout, or overwhelm. So if any of that sounds good to you and if you wanna know these tips I’m going to be sharing about how to implement your non-negotiables, then this is the episode for you, my friends. Let’s find out how to make time for ourselves so we feel like our best selves and not an empty shell of a person. Let’s dive in! 


Why You Need Non-Negotiables 


I’m really excited about this topic. I have spent so much time thinking about it, and there’s a reason for that. I’m going to backtrack a little bit and tell you a little story about…me. Pre-pandemic, I had this routine. I have two administrative days a week- Tuesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays, without fail, I would drop my kids off at school, I would park at our beach club, and run about 2.5 miles down to Waikiki. I would see all the tourists and it was just so much fun- it would remind me I live in Hawaii and not just anywhere! I would run along the beach and see all the fun people on vacation, and then I would run back, jump into the ocean, shower, and then actually work at the club while I had breakfast. That was my routine. I remember I would set aside those admin days and even set aside pockets of time so I could have lunch with my friends. And then, guess what happened? The pandemic. The pandemic not only changed so many things in so many horrible ways, but it also interrupted our routines. It made us work in a really different way. I couldn’t go out. Couldn’t meet up with friends. So I started doing what probably many of you did- I started filling that time with more and more work. More and more projects. As time went on, I realized I was feeling resentful of my husband when he went surfing- even when I wanted him to surf! It’s not like he just went out- we talked about it at our weekly meetings and found good times for him to go. But he was surfing three or four times a week and I started to feel super jealous! I thought, “Why don’t I have that time? I want that time!” When I would see friends post their fun lunches on social media, I would think, “Why can’t I go out with my friends for lunch?” The problem was, I was telling myself I was too busy. I’ve talked about this before- how we wear busyness as a badge of honor. You should listen to my podcast episode about that here because I think it’s a really good one. I was working more, adding more projects, and filling my time, all while my family and I were all at the house. I was spending a lot of face to face time with my family, sure. But, I’d fallen into a habit of spending time adjacent to my family but not intentionally with them. And then, here’s the thing, I felt it most of all in my mental space. Those runs and swims in the ocean truly offered me a clarity and peace that I don’t think I truly recognized at the time. I’m so sure many of you can relate to this. Wanting something to be better in your life and then ending up feeling dissatisfied. You might say that you crave work-life balance, but it’s more than that. What I discovered had happened over time, is that I had let my non- negotiables go and I was starting to feel overwhelmed, dissatisfied, unhappy, and I was starting to pick at everybody! I had piled so much on between work and activities, but as we started to ease out of the pandemic and life started to open up, I continued with those routines and habits I developed in the pandemic. And I felt it was so challenging to extricate myself from that. “Everybody’s depending on me” and “I’ve got to do this- there’s no way I can’t” were all thoughts I had. Raise your hand if that feels familiar, because I cannot be the only one that started doing this! Having these routines and habits that weren’t exactly…great. I started to not understand what I needed to be doing, and what I didn’t. I remember over-hearing my husband telling my daughter, “Mommy works so hard, I wish she worked less.” I kind of snapped at him! I asked if he wanted me to be a stay at home mom- there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I want to do. He told me that what he wanted was just for me to be happy, and that I didn’t seem like I was. What a wake-up call that was for me. Maybe you have had a similar wake-up call. This is why I am so intentional about re-assessing constantly. Checking my mental and emotional states and asking myself if I am feeling satisfied with the things on my plate. I know how easy it is to slide into a routine that isn’t good for you- it happens so gradually. It can make us stressed out and anxious. But here’s the thing- these are things that are not imposed on you, you are imposing them on yourself. That’s why it’s so hard to see the forest for the trees. When you’re in the thick of it and you’ve piled all this stuff on your plate, you feel like you are at the center of everything- like life cannot function without you at home or work. That is a problem! I found myself there, so I did what I do. I sat and read a lot of books! I find a lot of really great information in business and leadership development books because if you want to continue to be a leader in your job or home, a lot of the same skills are necessary! 


Identifying Your Non-Negotiables


So, I sat and thought about it. What are my non-negotiables? What do I need to do to be the best wife, mom, physician, friend, and community member? And, I did what I do- I made lists! If you know me, you know I like lists. I made a list of the categories I could no longer neglect and I came up with 9 spheres. Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order): home, family, partner/spouse, physical, mental, friendship, community, spiritual, and work. I actually have a workbook that steps you through how to identify your non-negotiables. Go ahead and grab it here. Each of these categories might not be super important to you, but to me they felt all encompassing and I needed to at least check in with myself regarding these. For example, you might not be spiritual, so you can neglect that category altogether and that’s totally fine. That’s what I do in the workbook, is step you through it to tailor make it to you. If you’re at the point in your life where you’re thinking “Is this my life? Is this all there is?” and not in a good way, then this workbook is for you. You have to decide if you want this chaos, burden, and feeling of overwhelm to continue. I’m thinking you probably don’t- I certainly didn’t! So that’s why I came up with these 9 spheres. 


My 9 non-negotiables are not just about self-care, but about what needs to get done to help me feel like my best self. So I have certain areas I feel awesome about! I feel really good about work- I’m my own boss, I have autonomy, and despite the daily headaches I don’t feel dissatisfied at all in my work sphere. But there were areas where I had fallen into bad routines and habits that I needed to address. For me, one of these spheres was family. To feel like I am on top of family stuff and I know what’s going on, I need to meet our non-negotiables. One of our non-negotiables is family meeting time- I know you’ve heard me talk about it when I talk about organizing my family calendar. We use this time on Sunday to look at the week ahead and all the activities and we include our kids in this time as well. My daughter loves it. She, as well as most kids, loves to know what’s coming up. For my son with ADHD, it helps to have it all laid out. So, I get the dry erase calendar and we do our family meeting time and review the week and the calendar. The other non-negotiable is having time set aside for individual time with each of my children. That is something that helps me connect with the kids. I mean, I’ve got 3 kids and sometimes, especially in the summer, they drive me crazy. And they drive each other crazy! It can be really easy to be focused on their fighting and yelling but, when I take them out individually, I get that focused, one on one time with them. And it doesn’t need to be anything big- sometimes I just take my son out for bubble tea, or stay home for a “spa day” and me and my daughter do our nails. It doesn’t have to be big, but it is a non-negotiable because it is really important for the way I interact with my children. 


Another example is exercise- and not just any exercise I’ve realized. That goes under the physical sphere. I have my Peloton, you guys know I love my Peloton. It’s easy and I can get it done in the morning. But, as I became so jealous of my husband and his surfing adventures, I realized I need to be exercising outdoors. That fills something within me. It fills my soul in a different way. Now, that’s a non-negotiable for me. Outdoor exercise. Even if it’s just a walk, a jog that’s great, a swim that is wonderful. Doesn’t matter what it is, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter the amount of time I’m putting in. But it’s on there- twice a week. Non-negotiable. 


For me as well, mental. I love having my coffee outside on my lanai, which is my back patio, with my morning journaling time. It’s not a lot of time. I try to get up early, because lord my daughter gets up so early- she gets up at 5:45. So, I have to beat her and get up earlier because I need some space for myself. That is my time that helps me get my day started. It’s now included in my morning routine block. I’ll go more in depth about my hybrid time- blocking system in a different post, so if that interests you, stay tuned. For now, you should check out this video to get some insight into mornings with my daughter. 


What else? Well, for the home sphere- menu planning. That helps us stay tight as a family. When I make a menu plan, I don’t come home from work stressed and overwhelmed, scrambling to find something for dinner. Another non-negotiable is date night with my husband. We try to go out to a restaurant twice a month, but doing something just the two of us is back on my list. It used to be on there, hard and fast, but I think with the stay at home orders and working side by side, we let that intentional time of just the two of us connecting go. So that’s back on my non-negotiables list. 


I’m also something of a clean, organizational freak. Wait, did you now know that about me? So I have to have clean living, kitchen, dining, and home office areas. If you listen to my episode about the 80/20 rule, which you can do here, it’s all about doing the 20 percent of activities that have 80 percent of the results. So for me, cleaning that 20 percent of my house and keeping it organized helps me breathe better and function better. I don’t like to look at clutter- it drags me down! And my kids are old enough that they can be involved in all this. So, these are all things that are part of my non-negotiables. They’re listed in the workbook, too. I used to do these things on Sundays, then I realized I like to be lazy on Sundays. I like to not have much to do, especially since I work clinics some Saturdays. I was starting to dread Sundays a bit thinking about all I had to get done- I mean, it is work! So, now we do it on Fridays. I put this in my Trello board, in our calendars, and my husband does too. We decide when he’s going surfing, and all of these activities. We have 3 kids and with 2 working parents there’s just a lot of moving parts. We have to make sure these things are getting done and that these non-negotiables are getting scheduled. Yes, you’ve got to get them scheduled! If you don’t put them in your Trello board, your project managing software, your paper planner, Google calendar, or whatever you use, it is not going to get done. That’s just the bottom line. I mean, even schedule a nice, luxurious bath with no interruptions from your kids if you know you’ll need it to get your mind at ease. Sidenote, we have this beautiful bathtub and my daughter used it recently. She loves using our bathtub. So she comes out and says “Ah, just what I needed. Some space away from the boys.” She’s eight! But let her remind you- if you need a bath, just schedule it! Put it in your calendar and make it non-negotiable. It can be that simple! 


How to Schedule Your Non-Negotiables 


Okay, so how do you actually schedule it? You might be thinking “Oh that’s all great Rupa but I am too busy for that- I have no time as it is!” If you think there’s no way you can schedule time with your partner, exercise outside, or have bath time because there’s just not enough time in the day- read on. First, everybody has the same 1,440 minutes in a day. We all have it. Think about how much time you truly need to feel reset. To feel more yourself and for these non-negotiables to occur. Is it 30 minutes? An hour a day? Start small. Don’t try to hit 9 non negotiables every week in the beginning. Start with one or two and grow it from there. 


Tip 1: Set a Bedtime 


So, there’s 2 things I’m going to tell right now that are an easy way to get that 30 minutes. I’ll even add a bonus third tip! First, set a bedtime. I know it sounds crazy, but you need a bedtime as much as your kids do! What often happens, myself included, is we love to binge watch. If you set a bedtime then you know what time all your devices get shut off. Once you determine that, you can use something like Ero to turn your devices off at a certain time. So I’m not watching episode after episode and then all of a sudden it’s midnight. Set a bedtime. That in and of itself is going to help you because if you go to bed earlier, then you can wake up earlier. I know not everyone is a morning person like I am. They talk all about chronotypes and when you’re at your peak energy, so you need to figure out what schedule works for you. I still think it’s important to have a bedtime, even if that bedtime is one in the morning, it’s still important to decide when devices get shut off. I guarantee you if you stick with that, you can save yourself at least 30 minutes, if not an hour every day. Maybe you workout in the evening, and you go for your run with your little light up vest, not in the morning like I do. Figure out when your energy peak is and when you are at your maximum. It’s an easy thing to do- set that schedule and turn off devices. 


Tip 2: Limit Your Screen Time 


The second thing you can do is limit your screen time, specifically social media. I know I’m a big fan of this. Even though I’ve built a lot of what I’ve built through social media, I’m very intentional about the amount of time I spend on it. I have an entire episode on this that you should check out here because I think it’s really important to be intentional about your screen time. You can check the apps and all that- you guys know this. I actually got a message from an ophthalmologist that I did a round table discussion with, and he mentioned that he was so impressed at the amount of work I put in to get a good balance in life and enjoy Hawaii. He felt like sometimes he didn’t optimize his time enough to protect his home life. I know you might look at me on socials and think I’ve got it all down, but that does not come easily. It takes intentionality and it can be hard. There are a lot of other things I might want to do instead of getting up early and working on my journaling. But I know that once I do these things that I’ve listed as my non-negotiables, I feel a lot more centered. I feel like I’m the best version of myself. But it’s not easy and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. There are so many other things vying for our attention that are easy and distract us from doing things that are harder, but better for us. Start small. Find your extra time by just cutting some binge watching and setting a bedtime for yourself to help create some intentionality around your bedtime and morning routines. Start cutting your screen time with social media. If you do those two things, you’re easily going to find 30 minutes, if not an hour, in your day to start incorporating your non-negotiables into your weekly routine. 


Bonus Tip 3: Outsource

I said I would have a third bonus tip for you as well and that is to outsource. How much would you pay somebody to have that extra hour to workout? I guarantee you are doing some tasks that you don’t need to be doing, that you could outsource to a virtual assistant or in person assistant. That’s another way you can find that time so that you can start scheduling your non-negotiables and revive what it means to be you. To feel less stressed, like you aren’t giving everything away. Stop being an empty shell and find what you need to be the best version of you. Don’t forget to grab the workbook on discovering your non-negotiables and, as always, be sure to share this information with other professional women so that we can change the narrative of what it means to have it all. Until next time, it was good to see you!


I'm Rupa Wong.

Hi! I'm Dr. Rupa Wong. Physician. Private Practice Owner. Mama to 3 kids. Managing Partner. Educator. Textbook Author. Conference Co-Founder. Mentor. I am more than just one thing, even as a doctor and I bet you are too. I would love to help you envision the life you want, and then get after it. What are you waiting for?


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