Do you feel overwhelmed by life, or that you’re being asked to do more and more, while getting less and less done? Is your family frustrated with you? Does it seem like you never get around to the things in life that truly matter?

When my sister and I spoke recently about how crazy our lives sometimes get, she made a statement I never forgotten: “When you say yes to something, you automatically say no to something else.”

It may seem obvious, but what cut me to the bone was something that most of us don’t realize. You may say that you desperately want more time for yourself, or that you would like to exercise more, or that you’d like to spend more time with your child or with precious friends, or that you’d finally like to find the time to pursue a meaningful goal you’ve had in your heart forever.

Susan BialiSusan Biali M.D.
is a medical doctor, wellness expert, speaker, life and health coach, author and flamenco dancer. Formerly clinically depressed, Dr. Biali took back her own life and health by extensively studying how to create a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. Today she draws from her wide range of expertise and experiences to offer hope and practical tools to people worldwide.

An award-winning physician and general practitioner in part-time practice, Dr. Biali holds both a Doctorate of Medicine and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of British Columbia.

Editor: Arman Ahmed

Yet every time another “something” comes along—another obligation, another invitation, another request for a favor or for your time—when you say “yes” and allow that new something into your life, you give away that possible downtime, or time with loved ones, or time doing something you love.

It’s gone.

Does this happen to you? It happens to me. We often, inadvertently, trade that precious, priceless time we need for something that pales in value by comparison. Without realizing it, that’s what we’ve done. And as we try to get through our commitments, we are left overwhelmed and wondering why we can never find the time we say we want for ourselves, or for the important things in our lives.

To change this pattern, try these three tips to change the game and shift the odds back in your favor:

1. Practice saying, “I’ll get back to you on that.”

When someone asks for a commitment of your time, whatever it might be, it’s wise to develop the habit of saying, “Let me think about it and check my schedule. I’ll get back to you.”

Still, if you’re like me (and many others), you’re more likely to get caught up in the moment and enthusiastically say yes without really thinking about it. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, do some damage control. Call, text, or email the individual and let them know that in your enthusiasm you overlooked the reality that you don’t have room in your schedule for that commitment (or forgot that you haven’t seen your children in a week).

They’ll most likely understand, or get over it quickly if they're disappointed. More often than not, you can undo the damage and back out, especially if only a short period of time has elapsed since you said yes.

2. Stop having a magical sense of time that isn’t realistic or possible.

I’m a terrible people-pleaser, and like many of my clients, I suffer from what I call a “magical sense of time.” I seem to think I will magically have many more hours in a day or week than I really do. If I’m not vigilant, I’ll insanely plan a list of activities for a typical day that wouldn’t be possible even if I didn’t stop to eat or have any other sort of break. Sound familiar?

3. Know your top priorities and live by them—ruthlessly.

What (or who) are the top-five priorities in your life? Have you had time lately for any of them? Do you feel guilty about how consistently these key people or activities are pushed aside while you race to meet other commitments, week after week?

Write those top five priorities down right now. Memorize them, in order. The next time someone asks you for a commitment or tries to add an item to your to-do list, ask yourself if you’ve got enough time available for your top priorities. If the answer is no, then say no to the new request if at all possible. If people push back, explain that you would like to help but simply can’t because you haven’t seen your spouse, haven’t been able to get to the gym, haven’t had enough free time to sleep, etc. You get the picture. If someone doesn’t care that you don't have enough time for life’s essentials but still expects you to meet their demands or request, perhaps you need to rethink that relationship.

As a rule, you should examine how you’ve been ordering your life. I know that I need to, on a regular basis. There are so many demands on us today, so many options and choices, that one continually needs to check in and regroup.  

Again, what are your priorities? Are you giving them sufficient time? And if not, what needs to change? 

Reviewing your life choices from this perspective is a discipline, a practice to repeatedly implement until it becomes natural. Don't beat yourself up if you find yourself overwhelmed or distracted from your priorities yet again; it happens to the best of us. The pace of life is a vortex that will continually suck you in, so you need to catch yourself and reprioritize, over and over again.

You'll see that it's absolutely worth the effort. Imagine having time for what matters most, especially the people who matter most to you. At the end of our lives, these are the decisions that we look back on and are glad we made. Living life this way makes for far fewer regrets in the long run.