The concept of maintaining a healthy work-life balance has gotten increasingly more inviting since technology has made all of us on-call at all times anywhere in the world. We have tons of demands that require our time and attention, with only “X” amount of energy, and only have the same 24 hours in a day to get everything done. So how do some people seem to get more done in a day than others? Is there some cheat code they have that grants them extra hours in the day? The answer is no, there are no more hours to give. However, there are things we can actively do to get important things done we need to in the time we are given.
First, we need to unpack the myth of “work / life balance". There is no such thing. Striving to balance these things will burn you, run you crazy, and pretty much guarantee that you don’t succeed at either of them. Exceptional results don’t come from things being in balance. Balance requires your attention to be in one area more than any others for breakthroughs in whatever you are working on. Putting your attention more in one place than others will naturally cause things to go out of balance. The key I have discovered is to counter balance correctly. After spending time at the edge, coming back, and countering that energy in the areas that were lacking. Envision a see saw going up and down. This brings me to...
Priorities. Write down your top Priorities in your life, in your work, with you family and loved ones, your spiritual and emotional health, and your physical health. These are the essentials that you need to identify, and no matter what, these things aren’t compromised. I say write them down because that in itself is a cathartic exercise. So many times I just carry around all this stuff in my head going over it again and again. The act of writing it out allows me to stop my inner monologue loop. Seeing it in physical reality loses some of the immediacy and urgency. Sure, at times you will have to devote more time to certain things than others but at some point you will have to get back on track or everything else will fall apart. For me, my sobriety is at the top of my list, I have been in drug and alcohol recovery for almost 5 years and there are things I must do day in and day out to stay sober. If I don’t remain sober then there is nothing else, quite literally.
Here are my 5 tips to finding a healthy balance between life and work.
Set Hard Boundaries
This is an important one. In our connected world, we are reachable at all times. Constantly stuck in reactionary work if we aren’t careful. Breakthroughs don’t come from reactionary work. It requires time, space, and contemplation to be proactive and come up with a solution. Responding to demands from others on your time. Every night at least an hour before you plan to sleep unplug entirely. I like to watch netflix until I fall asleep or read a book that doesn’t send my mind racing into problem solving mode. I tend to like to read biographies or philosophy before bed. Opt for a physical book or if you read on an iPad turn the wifi off so you don’t get notifications. (I actually disabled all notifications on all my devices and leave them like this. I check my calls, emails, texts when I want to and have the time to respond, not when others need me to.) Pro Tip, Don’t sleep with your phone next to your bed. I use mine as an alarm so I keep it across the room not in arms reach. This not only forces me to get up to turn it off but it keeps me from laying in bed checking the news and social media as soon as I wake up.
Pay attention to your energy throughout the day
Pay close attention to your energy as you go through a normal day. I try to get my most important work for the day done before noon. This is when I am the most alert, and have the most energy to put towards challenges. I structure my day and my to do lists around my energy not around my hours. I am mindful of my circadian rhythm and usually dive in for deep work in 90 minute sprints with 10 minute breaks of getting up, stretching, walking around in between. I can usually knock down 3 90 min deep work sessions a day, but each time I dive back in I have less and less energy. Use your energy to attack your most important and consuming tasks. When I’m doing deep work I don’t answer calls or respond to emails, dedicate time to going through you inboxes in sprints the same way you do your deep work.
Multi-Tasking is a Myth
When trying to complete two tasks at once, it has been proven that neither task is going to get your full attention and actually slow you down in the long run. Instead of being great at something and only OK at others, we wind up sucking across the board. The key isn’t to do many things at the same time but to have deep focus on each task you are working on and then switching to the next after you are done. There's no way I could have done this without writing down everything and keeping a schedule to keep me on track. I have a tendency to get lost in the details sometimes so having a schedule / calendar with alert prompts 15 minutes before the next thing allows me some come down time from the work before.
Learn to say No
This seems counter-intuitive, especially if you are a freelancer. We are taught to jump on every opportunity that comes along, maximize optics, springboard into bigger opportunities etc… This doesn’t mean that saying No is mutually exclusive to growth. Someone once told me everything I say Yes to is a No I have to say to something else. So, I started saying No by default. This brings my days and what I work on into laser focus. Unless I am passionate about it and the Yes doesn’t leap out instantly the chances of me bringing my best work is slim anyway. Life is short, don’t spend your time working on a bunch of projects you don’t believe in or can’t give your best work. We all have to do things we may not LOVE to pay bills but make sure they are balanced out with your passion projects and your passion projects actually take the front burner, put the stuff that pays bills on the back. If you invest your time and energy in your passion projects the time will come that those will pay off way more than the things you did to pay the bills ever did.
Exercise + Meditate
Last but certainly not least is exercise and meditation. I placed these together because for some they are one and the same. Start your day by getting into your body and out of your mind. Eat a healthy breakfast (it doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal). A lot of people think that meditation means to stop thinking, but that's not the case. It looking past the thoughts, not attaching to them or the outcomes. Meditating has had such a significant impact on my life and if I don’t do it on a regular basis I really start to feel on edge. If you are new to meditation or need assistance I provided some links at the bottom that I have found useful.
This is by no means the end all be all solution of Work / Life balance but hopefully this gives you some ideas based off of what I have learned and what has worked for me. Try different combinations, see what works for you. Remember start small and be forgiving of yourself if you slip. It’s been shown that it takes 90 days to develop a new habit. Start with one habit try it for 90 days then. And keep in mind when striving for work / life balance; You can have anything you want but you can’t have everything you want. So make your choices wisely.
Podcast: Tara Brach Guided Meditation - https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditations/
App: Headspace - https://www.headspace.com/