If I could have one superhuman power, it would be to increase the number of hours in a day. There never seems to be enough! But it probably doesn’t help that I’m a chronic procrastinator . . . And it’s led to a lot of unnecessary wasted time, guilt and ineffective life management. So, last month I set myself a goal to find a better work/life balance that fits with my lifestyle.
One of the biggest challenges I face is balancing my time and energy. I’m always checking Pinterest and emails instead of checking off my to-do list. I often finish up a task right before time runs out. And I’m always tempted to work late into the night leading to that very familiar frazzled, exhausted, blurry-eyed feeling that results from devoting too much time to work with not enough hours left over for myself. At the same time, I’ve really been struggling a bit with motivation. So it’s a weird and annoying mix.
While I can’t say the struggle is completely over, I feel like I’ve definitely made some progress in the last month and a half. I’ve learned that it’s all about prioritizing your tasks, managing your schedule with your well-being in mind, and tracking all the progress made. I really hope this post will inspire you with balancing your own life and help you find the right combination of work and play.
Keep scrolling for seven ways to help you balance your time like a boss!
Yes, you work hard—and you should take great pride in that. You put your nose to the grindstone every day in order to churn out work that’s high quality and representative of your top-notch professional identity.
But, you can only burn the candle at both ends for so long before you start to feel completely drained. We’re probably all a little too familiar with the frazzled, exhausted, blurry-eyed feeling that results from devoting too much time to work, with not enough hours left over for ourselves.
Of course work is important. But, so is maintaining your sanity. So, if you’ve been looking for ways to achieve better balance between your career and personal life, look no further. Here are six tips to help you out!
Examine your current situation.
I think the first step in finding balance is to consider what has worked for you in the past as well as what hasn’t. “Take some time to really look at your life, your state of mind, and how you’re feeling,” suggests Jasmin Tanjeloff, writer for Tiny Buddha. “Be honest with yourself and notice the areas of your life that you’re neglecting.”
Work-life balance isn’t just about your work. It’s about finding balance in your family life, your social life, and your spiritual life as well. So examine your current situation — what’s working for you and where can you improve? You don’t need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. You can build on the foundation that you already have, and make changes where necessary.
If you lack structure in your life, I do suggest you add some structure to your life. It’s totally fine to start small if the idea bores you to tears. Carving out 20 minutes a day to work on something that lights you up or gets you moving is a great place to start! Even during a hectic day, you can take 10 or 15 minutes to do something at the same time every day to get yourself in the habit of a routine.
Know your priorities.
Too many priorities = no priorities. If you have four or five things on your to-do list that must be accomplished, you will have a better chance of accomplishing your list. But if you have nine or teen tasks, chances are you’ll only accomplish as much as if you had shortened your list. Even if you only get three things done, you’ll feel more productive than getting ten things halfway done. Plus, ensuring you have enough time left over for relaxation and personal passions involves serious prioritization.
In order to make an effort of striking a balance between work and personal time, it’s important to learn how to prioritize the things you want to do along with what needs to be done. Prioritizing forces you to choose what’s more important at the start of your day, giving you perspective throughout the rest of the day to avoid staying busy just for the sake of it.
I like to start each day with a good old fashioned to-do list. I first jot down everything I want to get done for that day. This includes professional tasks (i.e., answering emails, finishing projects, etc.) as well as personal ambitions (i.e., exercise, get my nails done, meet a friend for drinks). Once I have written out my list, I go through and number the tasks in order of their importance.
Most of the time, there are several professional duties that fall towards the top of the list due to time-pressing deadlines. But I make it a point to have one personal item in the top three. This forces me to prioritize my personal needs along with my professional tasks. (Ranking frivolous tasks ahead of work might seem counterintuitive, but learning to identify what’s important to you (work-related or not) is one major key for successful balance!)
Plan Downtime Intentionally (and stop cancelling or re-scheduling those plans!)
Even if you think free-time is scarce, it needs to be there! Exploring other areas of interest will add enjoyment to your life. Make sure that you make time to attend parties that you’re invited to, schedule date/friend nights, and connect with those who are most important to you. A new hobby, dinner with friends, or devoting time to exercise are all ways to continue to learn and grow as a person independent of your career.
Perhaps planning a party for family and friend or a last-minute trip might give you something to look forward to that will also give you your much-needed down-time.
Be realistic with your commitments.
I know it feels empowering to stay busy all the time or saying yes to a bunch of projects and activities. But the stress of over-committing will eventually slow you down. Plus, filling your day with your priorities and others’ priorities leaves little room for personal time.
Forcing yourself to be busy to the point of stressing yourself out is not only detrimental to your work, but your mental and physical health as well. Not only that, but spreading yourself too thin can lead to problems in your career or with your friends and family.
Sometimes, it is unavoidable and you end up having a million things on your to-do list in one day. But it’s normal for that to happen every once in awhile — not every day. It’s important to draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to your high-priority tasks (work-related or not). It’s equally important to be honest and admit you took on too much. Most people will understand and either give you an extension or hand the task off to someone else. If there are people who take advantage of you constantly saying yes to their commitments, simply tell them you’ve taken on too much and need to finish other tasks.
So before saying yes the next time someone approaches you with a last-minute project, take some time to evaluate your current workload. If there are people who take advantage of you constantly saying yes to their commitments, simply tell them you’ve taken on too much and need to finish other tasks. Just make sure you communicate to other people who will be impacted by your newly set boundaries. You’ll have a much easier, guilt-free time actually holding yourself to them.
Limit time-wasting activities and people.
It’s important to make sure your daily to-do list truly reflects your priorities (not someone else’s). A big culprit of not having time for ourselves is simply because we take on too many responsibilities elsewhere. But you need to be honest about your availability and draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to your high-priority tasks (work related or not).
From there, it’s much easier to determine what needs to be trimmed off from your schedule. I know it feels great being that “go-to” girl that’s always available to “handle” multiple tasks. But filling your day with your priorities and others’ priorities leaves little room for personal time. Before saying yes the next time someone approaches you with a last minute project, take some time to evaluate your current workload.
On the other hand, if emails and Pinterest sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules for yourself to keep you on task. Whether that means turning off email notifications or using productivity software like Freedom, Leech Block or Rescue Time.
If you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Ask for a rain check and get a good night’s sleep. Cornered by the office chatterbox every morning? Politely excuse yourself and get ya butt back to work! If you feel that you’re getting off track, refer back to your list to bring your focus back to the people and activities that reward you the most.
Schedule your calendar like a to-do list.
I’m a huge fan of to-do lists. And I also have a little obsession with planners (in fact, I was using four different planners for whatever reason). It might seem like an unnecessary step, but putting pen to paper will help you take your guidelines that much more seriously, making you all the more likely to actually respect them. After all, studies show that people who wrote down their goals were over 80% more likely to actually achieve them.
So for tasks that must be accomplished, I schedule them in my planner like an appointment. These are tasks that are not to be pushed back or interrupted until completed. I pencil in each task that I need to accomplish that day and give it a time limit — that includes exercising, meals, and me-time. Obviously I don’t always finish on time so I like to also add in 30-minute intervals as a sort of grace period. If I was able to finish a task, I use that 30-minutes to stretch, get up and walk around, and just step away from work. This just really helps me stay focused as well as keeps me accountable.
If you’ve decided you’re going to unplug from work each evening by 6 P.M., put on note on each day of your calendar as friendly reminder to disconnect when it’s time. Do whatever you need to do to create a structure and schedule. Than, make your best effort to stick to it!
Set self-improvement goals.
The tricky thing is, our circumstances are always changing. One week can be completely from the next, and next month won’t look exactly like this month. Needless to say, this can make setting rigid boundaries difficult for anyone. Fortunately, creating boundaries between your work and personal life isn’t a “set it and forget it” sort of thing. Instead, you should reserve some time to have regular reflection periods — preferably once a month — where you can check in on how you’re feeling about your balance.
By applying the same amount of focus and diligence toward personal goals as those you set for your work life, you’re more likely to see results! So dedicate time and energy to your self-improvement goals and aspirations rather than leaving them to be accomplished in your spare time (which, for most of us, is few and far between).
The Bottom Line
This is what I have found works best for me right now. The one thing I’ve realized is you have to be flexible if you really want to balance your time well. Since switching to this method, I have noticed a tremendous increase in my overall productivity. I make sure to touch the most important areas of my life each week, which leaves me less stressed that something is being left behind.
It’s all about prioritizing your own life, getting the necessary things done, and not worrying about the rest. And try not to stress if something isn’t going the way you planned. Sometimes, life is a trade-off. In fact, the older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more I am beginning to realize that balance doesn’t always mean dividing my time equally between worthy endeavors, but instead learning how to focus all my attention on my top priority at any given time.
You just need to do you! Don’t feel discouraged if things don’t go as planned. And try not to force yourself to go about your day in a way that feels unnatural. Just strive for a little more balance to make life easier for you.