The pot of gold at the end of a rainbow
If life balance is important to you, there are probably times when you become frustrated about never seeming to achieve it. Often the promise of balance in our lives seems like the pot of gold under the rainbow.
Sometimes the end of the rainbow is on the horizon and the gold is impossibly out of reach (who hasn't had days like that? or weeks? or months!!) Other times, the rainbow is tantalisingly close and you know the gold is just an arm's length away - but no matter what you do, you just can't seem to get close enough to grab it!
Don't buy the BS
One of the reasons people are so frustrated about their lack of balance is that so many others around them seem to have it - or at least so they say. Everyone is talking about balance - but how many of them are actually getting it?
Honestly, do people usually boast about having crappy little lives - or do they atually go the other way and 'gild the lily' a bit? If they are going to err in the way they describe their life, which side do they err on? Making it sound worse than it is or making it sound better than it is? Many of the people who you look at and wonder how they got so balanced are facing exactly the same battle as you are. Balance is tough. There is always more stuff to do than there is time. There is always someone who wants something that drags you out of balance.
Balance is more than a pot of gold but you need good strategies and lots of discipline to get and maintain it.
Work life balance is part of the BS
How many times have you heard this phrase - yet it may actually be causing you more grief in your pursuit of balance than anything else. If you want to see all the reasons we dislike this phrase, read this article about why it is preventing you finding balance.
For now a brief summary: think about the phrase carefully. So I am trying to balance my work and my life, right? Does that mean work is not part of my life? In fact does that mean that work is the thing that is preventing me having a life? No wonder people have a hard time getting excited about their work if it is stopping them living!
We always talk about Life Balance - balancing all of the things in your life which includes work. For many people, work is a sizeable chunk of their average week so we better make sure that we make that time as rewarding as possible.
What does life and balance mean?
Our definition of balance is that everything important in your life gets the attention it needs. Some things need lots of time, others much less. You may spend 40 hours a week at work, 6 hours exercising, 15 hours of family time and only 2 hours on one of your hobbies. If that is the time that each of those things need and you regularly spend that time, then you are in balance.
Of course, spending the time is not the real measure - it is the outcome that will indicate true balance. The two aspects of the outcome that we suggest you consider are:
- Are you getting the enjoyment in this area of your life that you want
- Are you getting the results in this area - and is this aspect of your life 'healthy'
Of course, all this requires you to be 100% clear on something that is absolutely critical. There are three simple (but not easy) steps you can take - two of them right now as you read this article.
1. What are you trying to balance?
What are the important things in your life? What is it that you are trying to allocate time to? Very often people are looking for balance yet have never sat down and actually listed the things that are included in that balance.
If you haven't already got one, make a list now! You can either make your own list or use this free planner as a starting point. It will take a couple of minutes maximum. Follow these steps:
- Write down everything that is really important to you
- Now look at the list and cross out stuff that you should do but that isn't important
- Knock out other people's priorities - unless they are important to you as well
- One final check - ask how serious it would be if you allocated no time at all to each thing. If the answer is 'someone would be pissed off' or 'no-one else would do it', cross it off unless it is genuinely important to you as well
Remember, we aren't suggesting that you don't do things that aren't on the list - they just don't define life balance for you.
One final question: are you currently spending as much time on each of the things on your list as you want to? Are you getting the enjoyments and results you want - and is this area of your life healthy? OK, that was more than one question but they are all important!
2. Make the things on your list your genuine priority
We don't just mean priority in that you talk about how important these things are. We don't mean priority in terms of your intentions. We mean priority in terms of action. There is a simple strategy we use to move from intention to action.
Take out your planner now - doesn't matter whether it is paper based or something electronic. If this isn't a good time to do this, when would be? Sometimes we need to do things at our inconvenience!
Now, take each item on your list of priorities and schedule some time in during the next week. When are you going to spend some time with your partner (no, watching TV together doesn't count)? When are you going to exercise? When will you lock some time away to be with the kids? When ....oh, you get the idea!
Is it hard to find time for all those things? Absolutely! But what is your choice? Staying out of balance is always an option if it is too hard to find time. This step works on the simple principle that you should allocate your best time to your priorities - not your left over time. Set aside time for these things before your time gets sucked up by all that other less important stuff. All you are doing is prioritising the priorities.
Prefer spontaneity over planning? How's that working out for you so far? Use this planning as the baseline and be spontaneous as a top up or bonus!
3. Protect your priorities
There is always someone who wants something from you. It will only take a minute, I wouldn't ask if it weren't important, I know you won't mind - ever heard any of those before?
You can't blame the person asking - they have their own priorities and you just happen to be part of their plans right now. That doesn't mean you have to say yes.
Every time you make a commitment or agree to take something on, ask yourself this question first: what impact will this have on my priorities? Am I going to have to give up on some time I have allocated to one of my priorities to do this thing? OK - again, that was more than one question. Perhaps there is a pattern forming here! The critical point is that you should never compromise your balance to take on something less important. If you can take on the task without getting out of balance, go for it.
Try this - when someone asks you for something, have the courage to say to them directly: NO. I am taking my son fishing/ I am going to a movie with my partner/ I am working on another project. Could we work on that next week? I bet that most times they end the conversation with increased respect for you - someone who knows what is important and has the courage to prioritise it!
Free tool to help create balance in your life
A phrase we use a lot at The Real Learning Experience is that it is simple but not easy. To help you take the three actions in this article and make them a reality we have created a free 'My Life Planner'. Download it, read this article on turning goals into results which includes some simple instructions for using the planner and then set aside some time to use it.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on July 2014 and has been revamped and updated for comprehensiveness and better readability.