Sometimes my husband says to me, “You need to go on a walk. Now.”

He is familiar with my “Eight Kinds of Time,” and can sense when one of them is low. In this case–time alone, away from home. I leave, choosing one of my familiar 2-3 miles routes around my house. When I come home, everything is somehow more manageable.

Every life is different. In mine, work takes up the prime hours. In my discretionary time, being at home with family is my default. But I learned a long time ago that if I don’t carve out these 7 other kinds of time, I am grumpy, unproductive, disconnected, and lacking creativity. I can’t hear my own voice anymore, I don’t have much fun, or I just don’t feel grounded. This is one of the things that made Covid challenging—my 8 kinds of time were whittled down to a few. (Although I definitely have some wonderful takeaways from those limitations, including “Say no whenever I want to,” and “Being alone is interesting.”)

Plenty of things come along to rattle us—job changes, financial insecurity, broken or novel relationships, health issues, global threats. Which makes it all the more imperative that we are intentional with our time. We can’t give what we don’t have.

As a mother, I’ve paid special attention over the years to the ways mothers deny themselves these kinds of time. Somewhere along the line we got the idea that we are somehow less dedicated if we pay someone to watch our kids while we take a nap, get away for the weekend, or write our novel. And even worse, we begin to expect less and less of our partners, maybe giving them 5 or 6 kinds of time while we take the scraps. I am very blessed to have a partner whose work in our household is equal, and we wouldn’t settle for anything less.

One of my secrets to happy motherhood has been that I get away a lot. My neighbors say to my daughter, “Your Mom is away on another retreat?” Yes. Yes, I am. And everyone is better for it. I remember taking my breast pump to a convent when my son was a few months old, preparing bottles for him before I left, leaving pages of instructions for grandparents. You don’t have to be going on a work trip or friend weekend to justify this. Maybe you need to save your own life.

I just returned from a glorious 5 days at Hollyhock Retreat Center. I went with my friend Heidi, I got tons of time alone while we were there, and I met strangers (one of my favorite things). So I got three kinds of time, and I’m returning home with energy, new ideas, and having missed my family (which is another great reason to leave home).

Your life is different than mine. Maybe it’s community you really want to make time for. Or maybe you are never home, and there are some things you want to lean into there. Maybe you’re camping out in one or two squares because you are scared of the other ones. Maybe you’ve been self-absorbed, or maybe you’ve neglected yourself. Maybe you want to trim down the number of friends and acquaintances in your life, or maybe you’re lonely and want to take some risks. Maybe work is taking up so much of your time that there are no other squares left.

When I start to notice, when I make room, a 9th kind of time emerges—SPACE.

I keep my Friday afternoons free. Last Friday, I went for a swim at the little lakeside beach by my house, and my friend Taylor rode by on their bike. They stopped, we talked for an hour in the sun, neither of us having to be anywhere. Those moments feel like the reason we are on this planet together. Not to get things done, not to beef up our resumes, not to improve anything, not to endlessly plan, but to just BE.

Have fun with your own little inventory—let me know how it goes.