I remember spending time in the park near my house when I was growing up with my sister, Dinah. One of the things we liked to do was to see how long we could balance ourselves on the seesaw without either of us touching the ground. It didn’t last for long—one of us was sure to try to throw the other one off balance so she would fall back to the ground.
Sometimes trying to balance our lives between all the work that has to be done and all the fun we want to have with family can be like sitting on that seesaw. Work/life balance is like an elusive dream at times. Most people today seem to be torn between juggling heavy workloads, managing relationship and family responsibilities, and squeezing in outside interests. More than one in four Americans describe themselves as super stressed. And that’s not balanced—or healthy.
I’ve been one of those super stressed people. And I soon discovered that in my rush to get it all done, I began failing at getting anything productive done in any area of my life. My concentration left. I became irritable, and our family life suffered. I was like that Tom turkey in our barnyard that chases everyone who comes near, and will soon become our Thanksgiving dinner as a result. No one wanted to get near, and if they did, my grouchy funk chased them away. Believe me—when Mama wasn’t happy, no one was happy.
Trying to find a balance between work and life has become one of the greatest challenges most people face today. One study found that 70 percent of American workers struggle with finding a work-life system that works for them. It doesn’t matter if you are just one of a host of other workers who are working in a business owned by someone else, if you are the owner of a business of your own with employees working for you, or if you are an entrepreneur working for yourself (like I am) only. Work can take a serious toll on your personal life. You face responsibilities…long hours…inevitable stress…an uncertain future…and sleepless night just trying to juggle it all.
I want to take a look at some of the steps we can take to achieve a better balance between work and life. With the busiest season of the year now upon us, what better time to take a critical inventory of how well we are balancing work and life. It doesn’t have to be an impossible dream.
Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
Steps to Finding Balance
Step 1: Set Goals That Align With Your Passion
This is a process more than a single step. Many people are simply working to pay the bills and buy the family necessities. So take the time to find out what it is that you are passionate about. Maybe you’ve known since childhood just what you wanted out of life and that is exactly what you are pursuing. But for most of us it takes some time to find out just who and what we are meant to be.
Once you discover your passion—your calling in life—take the time to set specific goals with actions and milestones you can track. Write down your goals. Create a vision board you look at every day. (You can find out more about creating a vision board here.)Your vision board will keep you focused on your goals. Instead of just letting life happen, your goals enable you to make deliberate choices about what you want from life and how you want to spend your time.
Remember that your goals need to be progressive—there may be many twists and turns along the way before you reach your final destination of becoming who you were created to be. For example, when Frank and I began dreaming of a future that included building a self-sustaining lifestyle and being able to work for ourselves instead of others we were nearly $50,000 in debt and tied to just making enough money to pay the bills—clearly not enough to live out our dream. So one of the most important first goals we set was getting out of debt. We focused all our efforts on doing just that, and met that goal in merely six months. (Read our story here.)
Review your goals regularly, and stay focused on reaching the milestones that support your goals. Work intentionally, Minimize your distractions.
Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them.
Step 2: Learn to Be a Better Manager of Your Time
To reach your goals, you will have to dedicate time to them. Map out a typical week, and figure out what your priorities need to be—work, family time, exercise, homemaking, children, and personal time. Start with the most important and least flexible responsibilities. If you have a job outside the home, this is one of them. Another may be spending time together as a family. Eliminate the least important things so you can concentrate on your priorities. Here are some simple steps that can help:
- Track your time
- Have a plan of action for each goal
- Make a to do list
- Be flexible with your time
- Identify time-sapping habits
- Learn to say no
- Eliminate unnecessary obligations and tasks
Managing your time wisely will take practice. But it is the solution to a chaotic, stress-filled life. Going through the process of prioritizing your time is a great way to find out what is really important to you, and to eliminate the time robbers that you can live without.
The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.
Step 3: Get Rid of Distractions
Distractions throw you out of focus, and take more of your energy and time than you realize. It has been estimated that it can take 20 minutes or more to regain your focus on a task once you give time to a distraction. Figure out what it is that distracts you first. It may be:
- Facebook or Twitter
- Surfing the internet
- Playing games
- Checking email
- Getting coffee
Here are some ways you can work at eliminating those bothersome distractions.
- Turn off instant notifications on your phone, tablet, and computer.
- Put your cell phone on silent or vibrate—or, better yet, leave it in a room away from you.
- Set some ground rules with people around you.
- Figure out some sort of Do Not Disturb sign.
- Work in scheduled chunks of time.
- Clear your work area of visual clutter.
- Read/answer email at scheduled times only twice a day
Once you have done whatever you can to eliminate those distractions, now concentrate on building your capacity for attentiveness to your tasks. This was a hard one for me. Since we work at home, I was constantly distracted by just about anything—kids asking questions, sounds in the barnyard, phone ringing constantly, homesteading chores I’d rather do like making cheese or DIY health and beauty products with my essential oils. So we created a work plan, and then we worked the plan. We set up our office in the basement, scheduled unbroken times for work, hired a nanny to entertain the kids during working hours, and used technology to schedule when and how long the phone calls were allowed. We divided the work load, and respected each other’s focused times.
Distractions will always be around. But you can learn to get the distractions under some control, and can build your ability to give focused attention to the tasks at hand.
You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.
Step 4: Make Time for Yourself
This is a hard one for many people. Author Thomas Moore has said, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” We can always find something that needs doing or someone who needs our attention. So it’s time to put yourself on your priority list! Me time is not something you should feel guilty about. It give you an opportunity to relax, refocus, and recharge. Here are 5 steps to making ME time a reality:
- Decide you deserve some time to yourself each day.
- Decide how best to spend me time.
- Evaluate the things that are wasting your time each day.
- Ask for help with chores that don’t have to done by you alone.
- Create a daily ritual.
Maybe your ME time is taking a relaxing detox bath, listening to music, taking a walk or meditating. Make it something you look forward to. ME time for me is getting a cup of coffee and sitting on my porch as I allow the beauty of my surroundings to clear my mind. It’s curling up alone with a good book or my Bible. It’s listening to my favorite worship music. It’s my time to simply bask in the sounds of silence.
Stop wishing you had more time to yourself, and commit to carving it into your schedule. You will be amazed at how your ME time changes your perspective and feeds your soul. I read the story of a group of Americans who traveled to Africa and hired local guides to show them the land. They were up at dawn every day, ready to go. For six days they pushed their guides to hurry up and get moving. On the seventh day, their guides refused to move. “Come on, let’s go,” shouted the Americans. But the lead guide replied quietly in his broken English, “We no go today, we rest. We let souls catch up with bodies.”
Determine right now to let nothing interfere with your ME time. Let your soul catch up with your body.
Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.
Step 5: Make Time for Family
A recent survey says that parents and children have less than eight hours together in total each week. A strong family gives its members the support they need to make it through life’s toughest spots. To build a strong family relationship, you must prioritize time together to build family rituals that give each family member the attention needed. Family rituals help to define who you are as a family. It gives time to share experiences with one another, and to reconnect.
Family time brings your family closer. You make lifelong memories, and create an environment that builds self-esteem and character in your children. The number one thing your children want most from you is time.
Because we work from home, it’s not hard for our family to all be home together. But it is hard to ensure that we are spending quality time together—not just quantity time. But we have made family time one of our highest priorities, and it works. Sure, our quality time might be taking care of baby farm animals, making soap from goat milk, or mucking out the barnyard. But we make it fun, and we do it together. We have scheduled times for fun activities, and we spend time talking about our family goals and simply playing together.
Here are some important reasons why you need to make family time a priority.
- There will be a time when you can’t spend time together.
- It help you practice acceptance and compassion.
- It gives everyone a sense of value.
- It creates shared laughter.
- It occupies your mind.
- It unleashes your creative side.
- It gives you a new perspective on your home.
- It encourages a better path for kids.
- It gives you a place to share important things.
Children grow up and are gone before we realize it, so let’s not waste the time we have with them now. How do you spend your time with your family? Have you made family time a priority? If not, it’s time to do just that!
In family relationships, love is really spelled T.I.M.E.
—Dieter f. Uchtdorf
Have You Found Balance in Your Life?
Hopefully these suggestions for finding a better work/life balance has been helpful to you. Often the lack of clear direction and goals can waste our time and energy and contribute to imbalance in our lives. A life that gets out of balance is much like a car tire that is out of balance. It will make the operation of the car rough and unsafe. Tires in perfect balance can give a smooth and comfortable ride. Before you plunge head first into the busyness of the holidays, take some time to ensure that you have done everything you can to find that fragile balance between what you do and who you are.
When you have balance in your life, work becomes an entirely different experience. There is a passion that moves you to a whole new level of fulfillment and gratitude, and that’s when you can do your best… for yourself and for others.
 Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (New York: Harper Perennial, 25th Anniversary edition, 2016).