If you’re cruising a sweet balance between your work life and the rest of your life, stop reading now. Congratulations! You don’t need this post. If you’re struggling to find a schedule that works for you and searching for ways to feel more satisfied in life, then this post is for you.
People come to me all the time seeking help with creating a work/life balance. There’s a pretty limitless amount of reasons why people have a tough time creating this balance. Most people can look at a few aspects of their lives and modulate them.
First, make a list of the things you have to do (like earn money, take care of your kids, chores, etc.) and the things you want to do (school, art classes, travel, hobbies, etc.). Sometimes this isn’t as clear-cut as it seems. Like, if exercise is critical to maintaining your emotional and physical health and you’re just not the same without it, it wouldn’t go into the “want to do” pile; you’d put it in the “have to do” pile. So, it’s important to look at your values and unique needs when organizing these lists.
Next, identify your obstacles and their possible solutions. For instance, if you know that watching television before you go to bed regularly tempts you into making it to bed too late making you wake up zapped and sluggish before work, set a cut-off time for an hour before you want to be in bed. If your schedule requires you to work late one night and then turn around and be back to work early the next morning, plan for it by making your week’s worth of lunches at the beginning of the week or some variation of that. Invest in some dry shampoo to significantly cut your shower time for that day. Ask your partner to help make sure the daily chores get done. The most important part of identifying obstacles and solutions is the cognition around it. Maintaining awareness of your obstacles and how you want to handle them tempers your stress because you’re aware of your choices and what you’re doing to address the stress. It feels less like life is just happening to you.
Time management is another important aspect of finding balance. If you know, you often get distracted at the beginning of or during tasks, identify what happens for yourself and how you can rectify it. Some of this will inevitably require some willpower; you’ll have to wait to go on social media sites or not get coffee with a coworker or stop cuddling with your dog so that you can make dinner. Time management is more than just making sure you do what needs to be done when it needs to be done in the order that it needs to be done. It’s also about what’s happening for you emotionally and cognitively. If you’ve just worked out, and now you’re walking your dog before work and you start thinking about how the dog still hasn’t pooped, and you have to do a million and one things at work, get the oil changed, come home and make dinner, take a shower… you’re not managing the time you’re in right now which is the present. You’re stressing yourself out when there’s nothing you can do because you can’t speed up time and you can’t make your dog poop faster than he’s going to poop. Part of successful time management is mindfulness so, keep bringing yourself back to what you’re doing right now. You’ll get to that other stuff.
Learn how to say no and stick to it. This will give you oodles of time and relieve you from so much unnecessary stress. Say no to Steve at work who always asks you to help him with his reports. Say no to meetings that you aren’t required to attend. Say no to the neighbor who wants to talk for 20 minutes when you are just coming home from work. Say no to the millions of distractions online or on T.V. when they are trying to suck you in. By saying no to other people and things, you’ll get to start saying yes to your peace of mind (which is what this balance is about in the first place).
Create a daily schedule for yourself and stick to it for four weeks so that you can see how it feels to use a routine. Keep the integrity of the schedule by sticking to whatever you have assigned for each time slot. You can always go back to your free-form schedule if you find a routine too confining. This is helpful both at home and at work. (It is especially helpful if you work from home where the distractions are plentiful and insidious.) Keep in mind that you’re going to have to leave the office before you’ve finished every single task on your to-do list. I know it’s stressful to leave work knowing you have more emails to answer, phone calls to return, and reports to write. But there will always be more. You will always have more work to do. You can finish your emails, but more will appear in your inbox. More calls will come in. More reports will need to be written. It’s up to you to decide where the day’s cutoff is, and it’s up to you to stick to it.
This brings us to using a flexible mindset when something interferes with a previously scheduled block. Maybe your car breaks down, or your kid’s school calls you to pick them up for some reason or your computer crashes. You will drive yourself crazy if you freak out too much about unforeseen problems. This is not a time for freaking out. This is a time for mindfulness and identifying the obstacles and their solutions.
And finally, cut yourself some slack. You’re a person, and you’re going to make mistakes, run into snags, and might be dealing with other challenges like anxiety, depression, grief or something else. Remind yourself that you’re doing a good job. And maybe read Sarah Knight’s The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. It’ll bring you some much-needed levity and insight into learning to let go.
Love and Be Loved,