One of the most important things in life is having balance. One of the hardest areas to find balance is between work and the rest of your life. If you have a nine-to-five (or eight-to-five!) job like I do, you know all too well how much time work eats up. I spend most of my time at work or sleeping, yet I somehow manage to have a life outside of this little cubicle. How do I do it? How do YOU do it? I'm not unique in being able to find ways to balance my career, my social life, and my family. Most of us do this all the time without even thinking about it. However, considering it's a huge aspects of our lives -- this desire and attempt to balance it all -- I think it's a pretty important topic to give some thought to. After all, if we want to live happy, productive lives we're probably going to have to balance things in our lives and, for many of us, the biggest balance is between work and everything else.
It's not easy to find this balance. We want to be productive, hard working employees, but we also want to be good friends, siblings, parents, and significant others. And sometimes it's very hard to be all of those things at once. Before I discuss my thoughts on keeping it all balanced, I first want to note that it's pretty much impossible to keep everything together all the time. There are going to be times when we can't be at work because we have to care for a loved one or deal with a personal issue. There are going to be times when we miss out on a fun event because we have to stay late at work or be in early the next day. Balancing work and the rest of your life is no easy task so cut yourself some slack. We all make mistakes and we all are forced to make unpleasant choices from time to time, but the key is to do the best you can. And, to help you do that, I've provided some tips below. Check 'em out!
8 Tips For Balancing Work And Life
- Decide what's most important to you each day. Each morning (or, better yet, the night before) think about what you really want to accomplish that day. Is the most important thing completing a big project at work? Attending your child's piano recital? Setting aside some time for yourself? Try to narrow your day down to a few important tasks. After those tasks have been completed you can then move on to less pressing things. Remember to think about the day in terms of your whole life -- family, friends, you, work, etc. I'd advise keeping one planner or organizer for everything so you're sure not to miss anything important. Deciding what's most important every day helps you to gain focus and to tackle the most important tasks. There are plenty of things I put on my "To Do" lists that really don't need to done immediately. Of course these shouldn't be ignored, but make sure you do the most important things first. And, in order to do them first, you have to know what they are so take some time -- just a few minutes out of your hectic schedule -- to identify what really matters today.
- Try to keep everything very, very organized. Now, this is advice coming from someone who loves being organized. To me, organization is effortless because I've been doing it all my life. In fact, when I'm not organized I feel panicked and unsettled (yup, that's the perfectionist in me coming out!). As much as I adore organization, I understand that it doesn't come easily to everyone (or almost anyone that I know). For some people it seems like it's the absolute hardest thing in the world, but, believe me, it's worth the effort. Think about how much time you'll save if you know exactly where everything is. As a basic principle, everything in your home and at your office should have a place and you should do your best to always keep something in its place (yes, I imagine this must be much more difficult when you are living with other people and/or have children, but do the best you can). When you know where things are, when you can actually see your desk or your bedroom floor, you'll feel a lot better about everything. Trust me. Organization cuts way down on stress because you know where to find things and you don't have that frazzled, where-are-my-keys??? feeling. There are tons of great resources online for organization and I highly suggest you check 'em out if you're having trouble in this department (or just contact me!).
- Delegate as many tasks as possible to others. I am a terrible delegator. If I have to get something done -- whether it be for work, for a party, for a friend or family member, etc. -- I want to do it. I just know if I give someone else a task that I need to do that it won't be done the way I want it to be done (yeah, I have issues) so I have a hard time delegating. But delegating can be an absolute lifesaver when you're dealing with an overwhelming, action-packed life. Think about all of the tasks you do every day (write 'em down if you have to) and then consider who would be able to do these for you. Could your kids pick up some of your slack when it comes to cleaning the house? Could you afford to hire a housekeeper if it'll keep you more sane? Can you ask your spouse to take care of something that you usually handle? Is there a coworker who's always asking to help but who you always turn down? Whatever you do, don't turn down help unless you really, really need to do a task yourself. Don't feel guilty if you can't do it all yourself either. Almost everyone who's working (and that includes working full time as parent!) has a million things going on and can't do everything all the time. Look around because I bet you there are a lot of people who would be willing to help you out if you just let go of control a bit and realized that delegating doesn't mean you're not doing a job well.
- Give yourself mini-breaks whenever you can. No matter what your job is or what's going on in your life, you deserve a break. We all deserve to have a break every once and awhile. Ideally I would suggest taking a vacation from everything -- work, family, friends, etc. -- and spending a nice long time relaxing solo. However, this is probably isn't possible for most people (and for those who are very social this probably sounds like a very un-fun vacation), but there are alternatives, "mini-breaks" if you will. What is a mini-break, you ask? Well, a mini-break can be anything you want it to be! That's the beauty of it! A mini-break can be a walk around the block at lunch, a day off of work (kid-free), a night out on the town, or an afternoon spent outdoors. A mini-break can be a spa day, a weekend getaway, a stop on the way home for a much-deserved snack. A mini-break can be a quiet night alone, a small party with friends, or a morning sleeping in. A mini-break can be whatever you want it to be, but whatever it is it must be a break. You need to take a step out of your routine and relax for a bit. It may seem like, with a million things going on, you really can't afford to spend time being unproductive, but, believe me, when you take time to relax and refresh yourself you'll be a much better friend, family member, significant other, coworker, and employee.
- Make every moment of the day count. When we're dealing with a day, we're dealing with a mere twenty-four hours. And, if you're anything like me, you like to spend a lot of those hours sleeping which leaves us with not all that much to work with. Which is why it's so, so important to make every moment count. For example, let's say you have to work late a lot and you don't get home until just before your kids go to bed. You only have time to read them a story and tuck them in before you crawl into bed yourself. Sure, that's not ideal, but you can make the best of it. If you only have an hour with them, make that the best hour. Do your best to put your other responsibilities and tasks aside for that period of time and focus on spending time with them. Same goes for work. When you're at work, focus on the task at hand. Give yourself a specific amount of time to work on a project and devote all of your attention to it, pushing from your mind whatever personal issues you might currently be dealing with. We can't be everywhere at once, so focus on being where you are right now.
- Negotiate your work load with your boss. This one depends a lot on where you work and what you do, but a lot of places seem to becoming more and more flexible with the way work is conducted. Because of this wonderful invention we call the internet, people can work from home or on the road or in a different country. There are lots of ways we can be involved at work without being at work. In addition, there are a lot of books written about how we can work smarter and not harder. A lot of emphasis is being placed on working from home, working fewer hours, or working fewer days a week. If you have a boss you can talk to, try to set aside some time to discuss ideas about alternative work scenarios. You never know unless you ask! In addition, you can try negotiating household chores, tasks, and duties with the members of your household. Can your roommates or significant other take on a bit more of the work? Can you figure out something that you could offer in return for more of the chores being done by someone else (for example, a raise in allowance for a kid who makes sure the house is tidy when you arrive home)? If you give it some thought, you might find that you can negotiate with others. A word of advice: be prepared. If you go to your boss with the idea that you want to work only four days a week, make sure you have reasons why and explanations for how all of your work will still get done.
- Don't put off things you can get done today. If you can do something right now, do it. Usually things we put off are things we can get done right now. Don't put something off until tomorrow because you "don't feel like doing it." Not feeling like it is not an excuse. Some things can't be done today (such as those that require input from another person or appointments that can only be scheduled on a specific date), but a lot of the tasks we face on a daily basis can be done today and should be done today. Whenever it's possible, I try to leave my desk at work with nothing hanging over my head for the next day. If I can do it today, I do my best to get it done so that I can start new tasks the next day. The same goes for personal situations and relationships. If you want to have connections with others, you have to put in the work. Don't put off sending an email or calling a friend. Don't cancel plans if you can help it. If you aren't terribly ill or completely worn out, make sure you use the time you have after work to be productive with life activities. Spend time with friends. Snuggle with a family member. Call up your parents just to chat. Unless it's literally impossible to do it today, don't say, "Oh, yeah, I'll get to that tomorrow..."
- Allow yourself the freedom to say "no." While I personally need to work on saying "yes" more often, I think a lot of people have trouble with saying "no." When a friend or family member asks you for a favor it can be really hard to say "no." When your boss asks if you can take on another project it can be even harder to say "no." But it's okay. It's okay to tell others that you can't take on anything else. It's okay to admit that adding one more thing to your workload is going to send the quality of your work (and your sanity) down the drain. Personally I'd much rather someone say "no" to a request of mine than have my request bring added stress and unhappiness to his/her life and I'm sure you feel the same (remember this one when someone says "no" to you and you don't understand why). It's not easy to admit that we can't do something (especially when we want to), but if you become the "yes" guy or girl people will always come to you with requests and then you will completely overwhelmed and, eventually, you won't be able to handle the pressure. It's much better to say "no" every once and a while and keep yourself balanced than it is to say "yes" to everything and feel like you never have time to relax. When you receive a request, seriously consider if you can do it. If you can't, be nice, be honest, and just say "no!"
As I mentioned above, it's not always possible to have a perfect balance. Sometimes work is going to be a priority. Sometimes family and friends will come first. It's not easy to balance it all. I feel like I struggle with balancing everything and I don't have a husband/boyfriend, kids, or anyone (other than my pup!) that depends on me so I give everyone out there who works full time and has a spouse and kids a LOT of credit. Even those who don't work and have to balance kids with social and personal responsibilities have a lot more on their plates than I do and I say "Bravo!" to you for being able to keep it together day after day. As for me, well, I'm still working on learning how to balance it all and I'm hoping that writing about these tips and following my own advice will help to make the daily balance of life that much easier.
One thing that really hurts the balance between work and the rest of your life is if you hate your job. I've gone through ups and downs at my job. Sometimes I hate it and would give anything to have the freedom to quit. Other times I'm really glad to be here and really excited about the progress I'm making. I've been given a lot of really great opportunities at my company and I'm always grateful for that (even on the days when I don't feel like being here). In general, if you hate your job and you're unhappy there (and you have no other way to get a different job), you'll be facing a lot of stress and frustration in your life. It's really important to handle this situation before you work on balancing. How should you cope with a job that makes me unhappy? My advice would be to check out a wonderful website called Work Happy Now! This site is filled with great inspiration on how to make the best of your job situation. In particular, I would advise that you check out a recent article on the site called "What Do I Do If I'm Unhappy at Work?" I would strongly suggest reading this article before diving into the tips listed above. Once you come to terms with your current career situation, you can then find ways to balance your working life with the rest of your life.
[Note: Yesterday I was fortunate not only to be featured as a guest blogger on Shades of Crimson, but also to have a post up on another great site, The Skool of Life. In my guest post, "The Wright Way to Succeed," I tackle what I believe the deeper meaning is behind this Frank Lloyd Wright quote: "I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the thing you want to see happen." Click on the link above to access the post and hear all about the Wright way to success.]