There are many definitions of the word “balance”. According to Collins dictionary:
If you balance one thing with something different, each of the things has the same strength or importance.
My fellow musical theatre lovers will have noticed the “Avenue Q” reference in the title. However, this post is not about musicals but about the important topic of balance and managing that fine line between “work” and “life”.
Back to the Collin’s definition of balance, two key questions come to mind:
- What things do we give importance to in our life?
- Do we place the same strength on the other parts of our life as we do on work?
Over the past year, I have completed law school and have been working for about 6 months. It was an overwhelming year and one of the key ways I tried to maintain some semblance of “balance” was by taking a step back from this blog.
However, now I am back online to share some of my experiences and the key practices I have implemented over the year to attempt to “have it all”. Hopefully it will be helpful for anyone regardless of what stage you are in your life or in any event, just an interesting read.
Figure out your “why”
Life can be really hard sometimes. There are days when I spend a crazy number of hours in the office. Others when I have to cancel plans because something urgent has come up. But mostly, I am just exhausted.
I am sure these are feelings many of you can relate to. However, a key way I manage to stay positive even on the not-so-good days is because I have figured out my “why”. I know why I am doing what I am doing and I know what it is all for.
Take time to figure out what your “why” is. How did you get to where you are now? Why did you make these choices? What is the bigger picture? What are your priorities?
Keep checking in with yourself on this and use it to inform your decisions, what you place importance on and what you spend your time doing. This will help you to feel more like the protagonist in your life story rather than a side character who things are just happening or being done to and ultimately, make you feel more balanced.
Two things a week
Every week, I have a rule that I must do two fun things a week.
If you have a busy job, are managing a hectic family life or are just finding yourself struggling for time for whatever reason then having a fixed goal is such a helpful way to find time for yourself.
This could be anything that you find fun. It doesn’t matter what it is or whether you spend a long or short amount of time doing it. The importance is setting that time aside.
I am not sure the psychology behind it but knowing that you have this rule (i.e. you must do two fun things) means it forms part of your life’s structure and becomes a habit. Therefore, no matter how busy I am, I always manage to fit two things in.
Likewise, it also gives you two things to look forward to every week which is also a great way to keep focused whilst you’re at work.
One for me, one for us, one for health
In achieving balance in your life, it is really important to spend time thinking about how you spend your free time.
Every weekend, I make sure I do one thing just for me which I do by myself, one thing socially and I do that with friends and I do one thing to stay active. My two fun things a week rule also feeds into this.
Spending time with yourself gives you time to reflect, making time for friends keeps you connected and I cannot begin to stress the importance of staying active.
An example of how this works in my life in practice: this weekend I am going to get my nails done which is my thing for myself, I am going for a run and I have a dance class which is my thing to stay active and then I am playing mini golf with a friend which is my social thing. This also ticks off my two fun things a week rule.
It is okay to say No
It is important to limit time-wasting activities and people. Before committing to a plan, I always consider what value an activity/situation would bring to me and also what value I would bring to that activity/situation.
Manage people’s expectations by being honest and realistic with what you can or cannot do. My friends and family know that the default position is that week days are not a great time to speak to me. I am clear with people from the very start about my availability and I let people know as soon as I think I am going to have to cancel or be late.
It is so tempting to want to say yes all the time and bend yourself backwards to accommodate people. However, thinking through what you say yes to and keeping people in the loop on what is going on takes the pressure off and gives you room to breathe.
Be present / Unplug
Make sure that you are fully present in every moment you are in. When you are doing work, fully be there and in that task. If you are catching up with friends, fully be in that conversation.
Of course, sometimes you might have to take work home but set clearly defined parameters for down time. For example, if you are going to call a friend or family member for a catch up, make sure you have set aside enough time to properly listen to them.
Avoid parallel activities as much as possible. Likewise, there are times when you should just turn off your phone off and enjoy the moment.
Prioritise / Ask for help
Instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you are good at and value most. Then try to delegate or outsource as much as you can of everything else. For example, at work I now probably save about an hour of my day by properly utilising the support staff with admin related activities. Likewise, at home, me and friends have chipped in to get a cleaner which means less time on the weekends doing house chores.
Overall, the idea of “work life balance” and “having it all” is still an aspirational goal for me. However, it is important to use best efforts to focus more on the “life” aspect of “work life balance”.
I understand that often sacrifices need to be made and it will not always be easy. However, we should always aspire to have ‘it’ all. What ‘it’ is will depend on who you are and what you want from life. However, hopefully the tips I shared above can be of help in your journey in feeling more balanced.
It’s just me, Dammy, finding balance where I can