More often than not, when I ask others what they struggle with the most, the topic of work-life balance comes up. Work vs. personal time, family time, the to-do list, errands, maintaining friendships, time to exercise and for self-care, downtime – the list seems endless. How to make time for it all? And what the heck is work-life balance, anyway?
The idea of work-life balance probably means different things to different people. For simplicity’s sake, let’s think of it as how we spend our time and what that looks like. Unless we are full-time moms (or dads) or retired, most of us spend a certain amount of time at “work,” be that at a workplace or on our businesses and careers. The additional time that we devote to family, household responsibilities, pleasurable activities, fitness, hobbies or community/spiritual activities makes up the rest. Fortunately, the notion that we can have/do it all seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. The reality is that most of us have to prioritize what is most important to us, and that is where the topic of personal boundaries comes in.
A personal boundary is, simply, what you choose to allow into your life, or not. If you say yes to one thing, generally you will have to say no to something else. For example, if you choose to work late two nights in a row, you end up missing dinner with your family. If you choose to sleep that extra-half hour in the morning, you won’t have time for your morning run. It’s all about choices, and the reality is that most of us don’t do it perfectly or even close to that. Here are some ideas on finding what works for you when it comes to making those choices.
- There are lots of things we can’t control in life – the weather, occasional work pressures, other people. Knowing that, focus your time and attention on things you can control. You may not be able to extend that project deadline for Friday at 5:00 pm, but you can wake up 30 minutes earlier to make sure you get your morning run in or plan a relaxing dinner out with your spouse to unwind for the weekend. Plus, you’ll have something to look forward to beyond that deadline, and that’s a mood booster.
- See the big picture. When we are in the middle of a busy day or week, it’s easy to get caught up in what is going on in the moment, and lose sight of our bigger aims. When you’re asked to contribute your time or energy to an activity, train yourself to pause before responding automatically. If you agree to put in time at work on Saturday, is there something important that you will have to give up? Are you willing to do that? Is there another option? Think of it this way – whenever you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. Is what you are saying yes to worth the cost of what you are saying no to?
- Take stock of how you are currently spending your time. Are there activities or people that continually feel draining to you? Are you wasting time on the internet or social media? That’s a common occurrence these days but is it really how you want to spend your time? Make a conscious effort to become more aware of how you spend your day, and limit or drop those activities that don’t enhance the quality of your life.
- What about those things that we all have to do– grocery shopping, laundry, errands and the like? Are there more efficient ways to use your time, such as ordering online? One person I know utilizes drugstore.com for ordering miscellaneous household necessities, and saves herself an extra trip to the store every week or two.
Many grocery stores now deliver, and there are dry cleaners that pickup and deliver, too. If you work full-time, having someone to clean your house a couple times a month can free you up to do what you love on the weekend, or create a space for much-needed downtime. Hire a handyman for a day to come in and take care of all those nagging chores you never seem to get to. The price you pay for the additional help can be worth its weight in gold in terms of the time you save.
- Little things can mean a lot. Research on happiness shows that the most contented among us share common characteristics. They have close connections with family and friends, tend to savor life’s pleasures, exercise regularly, enjoy helping others, and exhibit gratitude for what they have. Taking even 10 minutes out of your day to connect with a friend, extend a hand, or enjoy some time outside in the sunshine, can contribute enormously to your sense of balance and wellbeing.
Creating boundaries around your time and how you spend it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s more about awareness and making choices. Think about what you value most, and begin to operate from that, even in small ways. That’s the first step, because once you know what’s most important to you, making those choices gets a lot easier.
Coach’s action step: Pick any one of the above ideas and try it for a week. Notice if it makes any difference in your sense of well-being. If it does, keep doing it.