NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
Making time for yourself and your family is the top goal for 2006, according to a MONEY poll. Lack of time is really two problems: You probably are too busy, and you aren't making the best use of the spare time you have. The action plan below will help you address both.
1. Outsource a task (or two or three)
Identify your most time-consuming, least enjoyable chores, and get someone else to do them for you.
Delegate responsibility Are your kids pitching in as needed? There's stuff they have to do because they should, like cleaning their rooms and clearing the table. But you can make it appealing for them to take on a few extra chores by offering a few bucks for tasks that usually fall to you.
Look online for help Tired of spending hours every weekend at the supermarket? Services like Freshdirect.com and Peapod.com will deliver your groceries to you. Cost: $5 to $10.
Use an online community bulletin board like Craigslist .org to find a hired hand for other chores -- cleaning your gutters, say -- or place a free ad to get the help you want.
2. Automate bill paying
Online bill paying is time- and cost-effective, but getting set up can be daunting. So start with just one bill.
Head to your bank's website It'll take less than 20 minutes to sign up for the service and input the info required for that one payment. You'll need to enter your account numbers and the address to which payments will be sent.
Add other accounts Once you're past the initial setup, it's easy to do more. Aim to add one account per month or input the info as the bills arrive in the mail. By year-end you will be fully automated or close to it.
3. Take a vacation
Some 30% of employees don't use all the vacation days they have coming. Make sure you're not among them.
Put it on the calendar -- now "Planning your vacation earlier allows you to time your workload and get as much done beforehand as you can," says Joe Robinson, author of Work to Live. It also allows you to coordinate coverage with your colleagues, commits you to a plan, and gives you and your family something to look forward to.
Pay in advance Buy your tickets or put down a deposit for accommodations now too. You'll be more likely to actually take the time off if you'd be out of pocket should you cancel your plans.
4. Relax, really
Don't spend your free time the same way you spend your workdays: multitasking, overcommitting, rushing. "When you try for too much efficiency, it falls apart," says Penn State professor Geoffrey Godbey.
Lighten up Resist the urge to overschedule. Leave time on the weekend to do nothing or to engage in just one activity at a time.
Look for active rest What researchers say characterizes satisfying leisure: engaging in activities that use our skills or challenge us, spending time outdoors or socializing with people we like.
Turn off the screen Studies show that long hours in front of the TV correlate to lower levels of overall personal satisfaction. So cut out the channel surfing and limit yourself to shows you really like.