The 21 Day Timehacker Project matches readers with coaches who help them find time for their most important goals.

DAY ONE: Cristina Diaz De Lezana, 43, who was born in Spain, feels exhausted and overwhelmed and often very unhappy most days. She works part-time as a patent examiner in Munich Germany. She rushes her three kids to school, gets to work, wolfs down lunch at her desk, then races to pick up her kids and settle in for a busy evening of activities, chores and homework supervision.

Her husband usually cooks. But after a bout of gestational diabetes with her third pregnancy, and watching her mother and two grandmothers deteriorate with Alzheimer’s Disease, De Lezana wants to find time to cook healthy meals for herself. On nights her husband cooks dishes with sugar or carbohydrates that she shouldn’t eat, she’s so busy with other things, she winds up eating handfuls of nuts or an avocado.

“Genetics are not in my favor,” she said. “But I just feel so busy all the time. It’s always do do do do do. I have too many things on my plate.”

[The sudden back-to-back deaths of her mother and husband taught her 13 ways not to grieve]

THE TIMEHACKS: De Lezana worked with stress management coach Melissa Heisler of It’s My Life, near Chicago. Heisler suggested five Timehacks:

1. RECONNECT WITH YOURSELF: “Cristina is a typical mom who has completely lost herself in the service of others. She also correlates ‘doing things’ and ‘work’ with safety. She is exhausted, depleted, and does not reach out to others for support,” Heisler said.

“Cristina needs reconnect with herself and her needs,” Heisler continued. “She needs to release the idea that her worth and security are only available through doing. She also needs to release her fears and start actively living her life again.”

2. CREATE A REFLECTION ROUTINE: Heisler suggested that De Lezana begin to look for time to reflect and reconnect with herself on a regular basis. Since De Lezana is a morning person, Heisler encouraged her to take some time in the morning, since she’s already up, to meditate, or think.

“Take time to think about how you want to be and what type of role model you want to be for your children” Heisler said. “If I gave you a magic wand, what type of day would you create? Start when you wake up and end when you go to sleep and really describe how your day would be and how you would experience it.”

She asked De Lezana to think of herself as a detective and, in that reflection time, ponder what stresses her out, what’s at the root of her fear, and what’s most important to her. “That way,” Heisler said, “she can start working to prioritize the way she uses her time to match what she values.”

3. GO POSITIVE: Heisler found that De Lezana’s motivation to find time to cook healthier meals was motivated out of fear – fear of diabetes, of Alzheimer’s Disease. But fear is often a drag on the motivation to change habits, Heisler said. Instead, she suggested De Lezana shift her focus to the positive, the benefits of adopting healthy habits, and how taking good care of herself, rather than “neglecting” her family, as De Lezana saw it, would actually give her the energy to take better care of them.

Heisler also suggested De Lezana, who has frequent headaches and often is so tired she lacks energy, stop beating herself up for not exercising as much as she thought she should. “Stop pushing yourself. Don’t do any sport or exercise or any task if you have a headache or are tired,” Heisler said. “Take a bath, a nap, or take care of yourself in some way.”

4. MAKE A PLAN: To really have time to cook, Heisler said it was a matter of making time to plan. She suggested De Lezana research diabetes menu plans, and to talk with her husband about how they could, together, come up with meals that would work for the family. Heisler also suggested finding ways to involve the children in chores, which would help lighten De Lezana’s burden at home, and to think of making them a fun time for the family to share.

5. BE THE ADULT YOU WANT YOUR KIDS TO BE: Since De Lezana was having a difficult time making time for herself, Heisler suggested she think about what she wanted for her children and their lives. And then to imagine what kind of role model she was being.

Heisler said De Lezana’s fears were holding her back, keeping her small, and she encouraged her to exercise her muscles of courage by forcing herself to take small risks everyday.

DAY 21: When I caught up with De Lezana, she and her family were on vacation, and she’d just finished making a healthy meal of tortillas with eggs and vegetables. She was out of practice, and the eggs stuck to the bottom of the pan. “It didn’t turn out so well,” she said, laughing, “But at least I have the energy to do it. That gives me hope.”

De Lezana had also been taking time in the morning to reflect, to meditate, and to write about what would make for an “ideal day.”

“I’ve been in detective mode, trying to be aware of how I feel, what I’m thinking or feeling when I’m stressed out, and to see whether it’s really true, or just my fears and negative thoughts,” De Lezana said.

She also has had long talks with her husband about the chores and meals. They’ve decided that they’ll plan meals for the upcoming week together, to shop for groceries on Friday, and spend Saturday morning cooking meals they can just heat up during the busy weekdays. “At least we’re discussing it,” she said. “Normally, we’re so busy, we don’t even have time to talk.”

Her biggest revelation through the time hacks, she said, was realizing that she didn’t give herself time, because she didn’t value herself. And her biggest motivation to change that, she said, is recognizing the kind of role model she wants to be for her children.

“I see that, when I’ve been feeling anxious, I just do, do, do, to cover it up, or to show I’m a ‘good girl,’ that I really do deserve this family, or I deserve to be loved,” she said. “So the time hack has gone from cooking and planning meals to self worth. I realize I want to be courageous in order to be a good role model for my children.”

She’s trying to “build the muscle of courage” by taking small risks. So, at a fair with the children, the usually timid De Lezana forced herself to jump on a ride with the kids.

“I’m really trying to show up now, instead of hiding,” she said. “I want to be courageous. I want to be the kind of adult I want my children to grow up to be.”

Melissa Heisler’s TOP TIP:Create a daily routine to point you toward your goals. When we want to change our lives, we need to build new muscles. Think of it like training for a marathon. You can’t go from a couch potato to finishing a marathon in one day. There are weeks of training. Preparing your body and mind. Building your muscles and stamina. The same goes for creating a new way of going about life.

Create a morning routine that sets the foundation for the new life you want. Check in with those goals throughout the day.  Are you acting, thinking, and experiencing the new way you want to? If not, what can you shift to make things a little bit better? Over time you can create the life you want.”

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