When you want to strike a balance: 5 things to think about

I have been struggling to balance work, family life, aging parents, a child preparing for college next year, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, reading, writing, caring for our garden, volunteering, planning meals and more.

I am not sure why it seems harder in these times. Without a work commute, some of this is actually easier as I have newfound time on my hands but it actually seems harder than ever to fit everything in.

Why is that? I have the freedom to manage my everyday how I see fit. I can choose to stop work and exercise or to continue working late into the evening (not recommended). I can choose to lay on the couch watching bad Lifetime movies (sometimes recommended) or read that book I have been meaning to – Untamed by Glennon Doyle is high on my list at the moment.

I relied on the physical barrier between work and home to help me prioritize my time. I had a real dividing line between work time and personal time because of the commute. With that now gone, it can sometimes be difficult to draw artificial lines around work to allow space for other things that are important to me and make me the whole person I am.

In speaking with others, they feel the same way. When the pandemic started, there were all sorts of jokes and memes about having time on our hands to start that furniture restoration project or traveling to your living room as a mini-vacation. After months and months, I am finding the urge to do more, be more, accomplish more, and still without the time to do it all.

If I fall back on my traditional Time Management training, I would place my to-dos in a 4 quadrant graph to prioritize those things that must be done, that have the greatest impact and do those things first or at your maximum productivity range in your day. So, starting the day answering loads of emails received overnight doesn’t count. Yet, that is what I do. I think it is time to dust off some of that training and start applying what we know works.

#1: Routine

For some, this is a creativity buzz killer. I have a friend who HATES routine. Her whole life was founded on the philosophy that she could go anywhere, do anything and have the freedom of being single to do it. Now, her wings are clipped and she is struggling.

However, having a routine, or rather, a schedule, helps us frame our day and guides us toward doing what we want to accomplish. I start work at 7 am. This is new for me, but with a global team, it is best if I start early. I stop working at 4 pm every day no matter what. There are some exceptions but they are rare. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I exercise at 4 pm. Tuesday and Thursday, I just hang loose. I read or write. I still have work emails pouring in at 4 pm but I try not to answer them. Setting boundaries is difficult but if we have that power, we should use it.

#2: Downtime

While I am not a huge TV watcher, I do think having downtime to watch movies or shows helps us rest the brain or, at least, focus on something else. By 4 pm, I am brain-fried but that is usually because it has been a productive day. I am very much into crime/true crime. My partner doesn’t get why that genre is my escape. It isn’t soothing but it is interesting. Those who also watch crime shows will understand. It is an escape of sorts because it is about solving the mystery, understanding what is foreign to us, getting some sense of satisfaction when the “bad guy” doesn’t get away with it.

If you love sappy Hallmark movies, watch those. If you are totally into military movies and documentaries, make time for that. If you geek out on sci-fi, awesome. Set time to explore those new worlds.

We spent time remodeling our patio recently and I now spend some evenings out there just watching the birds at our bird feeders or noting the breeze blow through the trees. I highly recommend shifting the brain to something unrelated to you, hence, true crime for me, or on nothing at all, like a breeze or rain.

#3: Hobbies

Where I have always been challenged is that I want to do so many things. I want to read, write a blog, write a book, start a side hustle, feed the hungry, help lonely seniors, etc. On the one hand, I love that I have so many interests. On the other hand, that can become paralyzing. My list is so long that I don’t do anything. Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you?

The best advice I ever received was to pick one thing. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all that could be, all the things we should be doing. You can “should” yourself to death. Discover what you really want to do and then do that. Focusing on too many things will lead to anxiety, inadequacy and frustration. After you pick one thing, take one step. Don’t analyze what step to start with. I have spent months on something like that. Just take one step. Act. Through action comes clarity. Try something out. As you get more routinized about that one thing, you may be able to take on more. To start with a list of 10 things and figure out how to cram them all into a weekly schedule, will burn you out.

#4: Sleep

For those who may struggle with anxiety, you probably have received lots of advice on how to get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed at the same time. Listen to a podcast or white noise to help you block out other noise. Don’t eat before going to bed. Breathe deeply to relax, and so on.

Here is what I have learned about sleep. It eludes some of us some of the time, and that is okay. I often will analyze why I wasn’t able to sleep, which leads to more anxiety and more sleeplessness. Don’t fall into that trap.

I go to bed every night at the same time for the most part. I wear a headband speaker (highly recommend to avoid the pain from earbuds) that plays wind noise through my phone app called Atmosphere. I find that soothing. If I start to spin or focus on my to-do list, I breathe deeply or open up Insight Timer, a meditation app that has great sleep meditations. If none of this works, then I do the best I can. If I don’t get great sleep one night, I force myself to shrug it off. Oh well. It happens. I will go to bed early tonight. That usually works.

Now, I still struggle from time to time. Sleep is a very difficult objective to reach when you are concerned about it. But, if it eludes you, don’t stress about it. That only adds more stress.

#5: Kindness

While we should be kind to others, we really should be kind to ourselves. I am a huge WIP in this homework assignment. Have grace and kindness for yourself. Most of us are our own worst critics. Choose grace over guilt about something once a week. If you don’t go help the elderly one week, so what? Try again next week. If you don’t cut the cord to work out at 4 pm on Wednesday, it’s okay. There is always Friday to try again. If you grab takeout instead of making that healthy meal you planned, no worries.

This has been one of the hardest things to do…cut myself some slack! When we get down on ourselves, we create our own anxiety. This has taken me a while to figure out. I still fall into that trap but I pull myself out of the trap much quicker than I used to. One day, I won’t fall into the trap in the first place. Until then, I have grace over guilt on this topic every week.

I find that today, more and more of us are battling with stress and anxiety. Some days, we are fine. Some days, we struggle and lose it over something silly like your child not putting their dishes in the dishwasher (for example – smiley face). Some of us are unemployed and struggling. Some of us have an ill family member or a struggling teenager. Life still continues whether we strike a balance or not. So, we need to think about the five things above and cut ourselves a collective break!

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