Most people express some version of the same sentiment “I’m overwhelmed. I don’t have time to get anything done because of other commitments. I’m falling behind. I can’t keep up. I feel guilty, frustrated, angry and/or resentful because I’m working all the time but I’m not moving forward.”
Well, I hear ya’ and I sympathize with you. I’ve been there myself (and still am in certain aspects), and it feels awful. I would like to encourage you to consider the fact that you make many choices each day, and making the right choices on how you spend your time will help mitigate some of these negative feelings.
So, here are a few thoughts on the idea of “balance” –
It seems to me that there is a core challenge that everyone faces: certain aspects of our work have built-in, daily accountability while other aspects of our work have no short-term accountability. Because of this we will push them off while we tend to all of the seemingly urgent tasks du jour.
This core challenge is what leads many to feel like they lack balance. In other words, work at your job may get done (because of the built-in accountability mechanisms), but the work of YOU keeps getting pushed back to the weekends, vacation periods, etc. This pattern of binge-working and minimizing your needs can quickly lead to the feeling that you’re working all the time but squeezing the truly important things (like your own personal goals, your relationships, and your health) into peripheral moments.
What would happen if we shifted our thinking by acknowledging that:
a) there will always be more work to do than time to do it,
b) the amount of work increases as you move up the proverbial ladder, and
c) prioritizing the seemingly urgent tasks at the expense of the activities that lead to long-term health and success will NOT lead to balance
Facing reality head-on is deeply empowering because it allows you to release yourself from the false belief that if you just work longer & harder, you will eventually get everything done. Instead, it enables you to shift your energy towards identifying your personal and professional priorities, realigning your time and your priorities, and working as efficiently and productively as possible within your typical 40-hour work week.
The good news is that balance is possible! It just requires you to recognize the core challenge and create accountability structures for your goals and your personal health. Doing so will fundamentally change the structure of your week because when you prioritize you and your well-being, interesting things start to happen. Specifically, you will start seeing clearly the areas of work where you may currently be over-functioning, and you will get extraordinarily creative about how to compress the time you are spending in low priority areas.
Five Steps to Realistic Balance
While it’s great to know that balance is possible, today you can start better managing your heavy workload and make sure that your core needs are getting met –
- Sharpen Your Focus
The more you have going on in your life, the sharper your focus must be. If you have limited time each day, make sure a significant amount of that time is spent on activities that contribute to your long-term success. Likewise, if you find yourself working long hours and having little time for anything else, make sure that the things that are important to your relationships and your health receive attention.
- Stop Thinking You Are Selfish
Some people describe the act of setting aside “me time” as being selfish. These same people describe long days of putting everyone else’s needs first and “hoping” they will have the time and energy to do what they need to do at the end of the day. If you’re in a similar situation, release yourself from the idea that taking care of your own needs is “selfish.”
- Identify ONE Problem Area That You Need To Resolve In Order To Be More Productive
This week, try to identify the primary problem standing in the way of your productivity. If there are lots of them, then pick the biggest one. If you still can’t figure it out, try talking with one of your mentors and/or check in with someone you used to work with in the past. They know what your habits are & can answer truthfully.
- Take One Small Step Forward To Make A Change
Whatever problem you identify, come up with one concrete step forward you can take to resolve it this week. It doesn’t matter how small that step is, just figure it out and commit to it. Maybe this is the week you are going to start journaling every day for 30 minutes, saying “no” to any additional service requests for a month, hire someone to do clean your house, or shovel your snow. Making just one concrete change will create positive momentum, help you to begin surfacing the deeper problems, and motivate you to take another step forward next week.
- Be Gentle, Loving, And Patient With Yourself
Learning to manage your workload and maximize your productivity takes time. Several years ago, I decided I was going to start running for exercise and stress reduction. At first, all I could do was walk around the track while other people flew by me. I told myself, “Don’t compare yourself. You’re just getting started, and you’re doing the best you can for right now.” After two weeks of walking the track, I was power-walking so fast that I passed several slow joggers, and it occurred to me: “I can do that!” Each week I jogged one lap further than the previous week, and before I knew it, I could run three miles, three days a week.
You could tell the exact same story about learning to work efficiently by telling yourself, “Don’t compare yourself. You’re just getting started, and you’re doing the best you can for right now.” Take small steps forward, one week at a time, and pretty soon you’ll be doing something right every day & feeling confident about it. And that is a good start!
I hope this week brings you a sense of clarity about the origin of your time, a sense of calm as you navigate difficult terrain, endless creativity in designing your own solutions, and the feeling of empowerment that comes from moving forward.