I once heard it said that trying to achieve the right balance in your life is like walking a tightrope: you’re either effectively moving across the rope, or you’re falling off of it and trying to figure out how to get back on.
The former instance represents those rare but wonderful times when everything goes smoothly, because you’re spending neither too much time nor too little on any one part of your life. This is balance. But the latter represents times when the different parts of your life are not in synch. Instead of striding gracefully across the rope, you find yourself flailing into the net below, and having to start your routine again.
How can we up our chances of spending more time on the rope, and less in the net? Consider the following strategies to improve your work/life balance:
Stick to a schedule.
As a life coach, I see many clients bite off far more than they can chew at work and in their personal lives. One way people lose their balance is by failing to plan. Instead, they go to work with an open-ended timetable, with no clear cut-off point to help them mark when work should end and personal activities should begin.
Some end up sacrificing their daily lunch break-perhaps five hours a week that really belong to them. Some work into the night, long after others have logged off and returned to family and friends. And some continue monitoring work e-mail and Blackberry messages into the night, blurring the line between their time and their employer’s.
To correct this problem, set a schedule for your day and stick to it. If your work hours are nine to five, don’t start checking work e-mail at seven in the morning. If your company lunch break is to be taken between noon and two, pick a time to regularly sign off from work so that you have a chance to rejuvenate.
Keep priorities realistic.
Each of us can only do so much in our 24 hours. One way we lose balance is by setting our priorities too high on what we want to accomplish in a given time frame.
take a piece of paper and map out your average day in hourly increments. Include time that you need to sleep, eat, shower, exercise, commute, work, do personal projects, and socialize. You’ll quickly see that once all of your mandatory activities are penciled in, such as eight hours to sleep, 45 minutes to commute each way to work, eight hours to work, and so forth, you have very little “free” time left for other activities.
This realization can be liberating, if you let it be. Once you realize, for example, that you have only two hours on weekdays that aren’t taken up by necessary activities, you can take a more realistic approach to what you might be able to accomplish. And knowing you have a short window can help you figure out how to prioritize.
Don’t skimp on basics. In our workaholic culture, jobs often end up trumping personal time, leaving us stressed and frazzled. Part of that harried feeling arises because we don’t give ourselves adequate time to address our own needs.
Be sure to schedule in time for personal maintenance. Getting enough rest, staying physically fit, and eating healthy foods are necessary to ensure your top functioning at work. By skimping in these areas, you’re “stealing from Peter to pay Paul.” So notice your patterns. Honor your needs. Define your boundaries. By doing so, you’ll find it much easier to master your work/life tightrope.