WorkLifeBalanceYou want to know the definition of “irony”? Me too, but I don’t have it handy at the moment. What I do have is a brief ironic anecdote for you about today’s topic: work-life balance. I’ve been trying to write this blog for months, but I’ve been so busy trying to “find balance” in my professional, personal, and academic lives, I’ve had to put it off about a half a dozen times.

I haven’t even finished writing this opening paragraph and I’ve gotten derailed multiple times. In fact, I’ve gotta go put out some fires … I’ll be right back.

<2 weeks pass>

Okay, I’m back. Sorry about that. Client deliverables, school assignments, and my kid falling victim to the daycare superbug have all prevented me from devoting the appropriate amount of attention to this blog. But I’m here now and I’m committed … so let’s talk work-life balance!

1) Take inventory

Whenever I feel like things are starting to get a little out-of-control, regardless of what those “things” might involve, the first thing I do (and trust me, this is VERY useful) is to curl up into the fetal position and have a good cry. Then I get up, dust myself off, and take a step back in the interest of identifying (or at least reminding myself of) the tasks at hand. I try to take inventory of everything I’m responsible for, and in so doing, I’m able to break everything down into manageable, discreet units. Remember, this blog is about balancing work and everything else that falls under the umbrella of “life”, so when I say take an inventory of everything, I do mean everything. This, of course, can be an overwhelming exercise in and of itself. So when you’re taking inventory, be sure to do the following:

  • Keep it at a high level. Think about everything from a “project” standpoint. You can quickly find yourself in the weeds if you start focusing on the individual tasks and/or activities that make up the larger deliverable. The goal here is to simplify.

  • Constrain your inventory within a manageable time frame. If you’ve got multiple near-term assignments or projects that you’re trying to corral, forget about the stuff that’s due in 3 months (for now, anyway).

  • Write it down.

2) Figure out what’s important

Now you should have a great base from which you can prioritize everything. As a reminder, the verb “balance” is defined as “to keep or put something in a steady position so that it does not fall.” Part of finding the type of balance to which we’re referring in this blog is going to involve shuffling some stuff around based on its importance in the grand scheme of things. I think one of the keys to maintaining a sense of balance is an ability to make decisions that involve unpleasant words like “sacrifice” and “deprioritize”. So take your list and prepare to do some shuffling and maybe even some deleting. Rank your projects in order of importance. As you’re thinking long and hard about each activity’s importance, you may even find that some stuff can be removed from the list, which leads me my 3rd point…

3) Cut out the noise

Is it any wonder that so many of us feel buried under our projects when there's so much stuff that's competing for our time? When I feel like the balance in my life is out of whack and I'm looking for someone/something to blame, it usually involves a mirror and me asking myself "did I really need to watch the entire 3rd season of Murder, She Wrote last night?" The road to a balanced life is fraught with peril. There are temptations and distractions around every corner these days which attempt to derail us. Just as I like doing with my life's projects, to help manage these distractions, I find that it's helpful to identify them by creating a list and even going so far as to document how much time I spend on these distractions. For example (and again, this is purely hypothetical and in no way represents my reality), if one realizes that social media + Dungeons and Dragons + Murder, She Wrote reruns all combine to take up 30 hours of one's time on a weekly basis, one might be inclined to drastically decrease the time spent on a given activity, if not completely eliminate it from the list.

Thinking, talking, and writing about finding balance in your life isn’t that hard. Doing it, on the other hand, often feels next to impossible. But like almost everything that’s tough in life (but completely worth it), it simply requires discipline – which is another way of saying “this is going to suck.” Keep it simple and remember what’s motivating you to go through all this in the first place, be it personal or professional. Good luck, gang!

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