“The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life,
acknowledging the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that
and live that way, you really are a wise man.” — Euripides
In Part I of this series, we discussed the abundance of life today and the vastness of the subject of creating a life in balance. How we spend our time is a matter of personal choice. No one can make those decisions for us. Even if we work for someone else, we still have the choice whether or not to be there and how best to do our job. Something to remember is that some things are more important than others. Everything does not have the same weight in our lives.
My idea when I decided to write this series on balance was to learn about balance so that I could be productive, have fun, include my loved ones in my life, take good care of myself and not go crazy trying to do all of this. As I began my research, I was struck by how many experts found this topic difficult. I was relieved, because I, myself, had thought it almost impossible. Especially since I have so many interests and a desire to include most (if not all) of them in my life.
As we begin to explore the actual work of creating more balance in our lives, we need to first expand our awareness of how we currently spend our time. What is satisfying? What is not satisfying? Awareness is having knowledge of ourselves, being informed, being conscious. If we do not have this conscious awareness, we will have a hard time knowing what we need to change and what we need to keep.
Next, we explore our desire. How do we really want to spend our time? If we have written a statement of purpose and a vision of what we want the next chapter of our lives to look like, then we can develop a list of priorities. What needs to change? How do we feel about these changes? Do they excite us or fill us with fear? Again, we are expanding the awareness of ourselves. It does no good to try to make changes if we really do not want to do it. What do we want to keep the way it is? These are important decisions, and we need to be honest about our desires. If we are not, we may not be able to balance our lives in a way that feels successful. We ought to understand what pains us and what we find pleasant and rewarding. We might find something painful because we honestly have not yet thought about a way to do it that really works for us.
The job of understanding the obstacles that might stand in our way comes next. It is important to be prepared for how to deal with them. We can design the perfect day or week with the perfect allocation of time to bring us utmost fulfillment and joy. The problem here is that life is not stagnant. It is constantly changing, and, at any time, something can happen to disrupt our plans. How we deal with these changes is crucial to creating balance in life. Here is where acceptance and perseverance come into play. We need to pursue what we think is right for us but also to accept and let go or suspend what we’re doing temporarily if something changes and an unforeseen event takes precedence. Then we need persistence to return to our plan. What is important here is to use our resources to strategize about how to deal with any disturbance in the most effective way so that we can return to our original plan. It helps a great deal to think about the obstacles that might get in the way before they actually happen so that we are prepared.
When thinking about creating resources in our lives, it is important to remember that we use these resources to help us leverage our time so that we have more choices. For example, hiring a part-time assistant or someone to clean the house are two ideas of creating resources to provide leverage for us in our lives. Another is hiring a dog walker. We cannot do everything and still have the capacity to balance our lives.
When approaching balancing life, it is important to remember that we need to balance ourselves within and without. By within, I mean feeling balanced; the ability to feel calm and fulfilled in most areas of our lives. We might need meditation in our daily schedule. The actual working out of our priorities and scheduling them, while making certain that we do not waste too much time, is what I mean by balancing without.
In order to succeed in creating a life in balance, we need to be as organized as possible, which is another way of leveraging our time. Most people find that time management is the biggest challenge when trying to create balance. There are not only big events and moments to organize, but also small ones. I have found that everything that is re-occurring in life needs a system.
Some examples are: bill paying; mail sorting; exercise; laundry; house-cleaning; managing the garden or watering plants; balancing the checkbook; and preparing meals. All of these things need to be dealt with. Of course, we have our resources (such as a housekeeper or gardener), but what about the things we need to deal with ourselves? If we are organized, we will know where we keep our keys, our watch, when we shop for food, do the laundry or deal with our mail.
Make a list of your priorities first, and put it aside. Next, take a week and write down everything you do as it comes up. Then log in the time it takes you to do it. Be sure to pay attention to the things that eat up your time, such as television or telephone. I found it really challenging not to answer my cell phone whenever I’m working, even if I am working by myself on a project. When I take a break and check messages, I write down the calls I need to return, and unless it’s crucial to call immediately, I set it aside for when I am in my car (with a hands-free device) or when I am able to schedule phone time.
At the end of the week, check your log and see where you have wasted time. Create a plan to minimize time-wasters. You might find that you have a lot of them. That is actually good news because it means that you can gain a lot of time in your life to spend on other pursuits.
Next, it is time to plan your weekly schedule. Remember, there are only 168 hours in one week. However, if we are efficient about our use of this time, we will be amazed at how much we can accomplish. Once the general weekly schedule is done, plan a daily one. I like to plan on the previous day so that I know when I go to bed what the next day holds for me. It helps me to focus. Another thing I find helpful is to leave some extra time in the day for the unforeseen things that inevitably come up as the day progresses. Now, all of this might seem boring and uncreative. However, structuring anything as challenging as our lives is very creative, partly because we are making room for more creative time but also because we are not spending a lot of time figuring it out as we go along. This tends to minimize worry.
Pay attention to who you are. Are you someone who gets more done in the morning or in the evening? When is your energy the greatest? I know that, for the most part, I need to do my exercise in the morning because there is less chance of my getting too tired and skipping it. Whenever it is that you exercise, there are two important things to remember. Exercise is great for managing stress, and stress can interfere with our productivity. Exercise helps us sleep better at night so we drag less during the day. Also, exercise improves energy levels over time.
Most of us run more efficiently when we keep our blood sugar steady. Generally, several small meals help to keep the blood sugar steady throughout the day. You might want to plan your meals to give you maximum efficiency. Certain foods are energy food, such as lean protein and veggies, yogurt, whole grains. Junk food is heavy and tiring. Drinking plenty of water is not only healthy but also efficient. Dehydration causes fatigue. You may not think you are dehydrated, but apparently it happens.
Setting boundaries and being able to say no are two very useful skills. When someone asks us to take on a new commitment, it is helpful to think about it in a couple of ways. First, will this commitment honor our values, and will it fit in with our vision of how we want our lives to be? Having done that, we are ready to realistically assess the time it will take and whether or not we need to find something in our schedule we no longer need or want that it can replace. If it does not seem a good idea, we need to calmly, firmly and politely say no.
Email can be a huge time-waster. Lately, I have found that I need not participate in every joke and story that goes around the Internet. It takes too much of my time. Additionally, I have begun to unsubscribe from various Websites. I find it hard not to try to read most of what is sent to me, but the truth is, there is no way this is possible. Also, I can preview my emails and delete the ones for which I don’t have time without having to read them. Scheduling time to read emails is valuable as well.
Beliefs and attitudes play a large part in the success of anything. I have found that if I want to accomplish something, one of the greatest tools I have is the belief that I can do it. This works in a couple of ways. If I put my intension out to the universe that I can balance my life and have the time to do many things, it somehow works that the universe provides me help. This is an age-old thought, and I really believe it because I have seen it succeed many times. Another part of this is to visualize myself actually succeeding at the task and having fun doing it. I use affirmations to help me along the way. Affirmations are “I” statements in the present tense that I repeat several times a day to help myself with a new way of thinking, believing and behaving. The best thing about affirmations is that we need not necessarily believe the statement in order for it to work for us. These positive statements work best if we repeat them regularly. Eventually, they change our very thinking, as well as our self-confidence.
As our lives unfold, we want to be able to move from one thing to another with focus and with flow. That really is a tall order, but then managing our lives is really important and deserves our attention and our hard work.
Creating a life in balance is a process. It begins with knowledge of our most important values, a statement of purpose, a vision of how we want our lives to be and a desire to do the work to achieve our goals. All this teaches us wisdom. My experience is that it is good for the soul.