So, you want to achieve balance in your life.
By “you”, I also mean me. And by balance, I mean to not work myself like a dog, especially when I don’t strictly have to be this way.
2017 was a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, among other things, it was a year of working hard.
I’m not even talking about my day job, for although that involves a lot of doing—a lot of emails, a lot of spreadsheets and data management, at times, a lot of time spent offsite—the work itself is not especially difficult.
Rather, it was my various projects outside of work hours that kept me so busy.
Namely, three novel drafts, starting and working in a critique group, applying for university, writing for this blog, researching for a new novel, consulting work in program evaluation, maintaining a four-day-a-week workout schedule, and clearing out my late father’s house.
I had a lot going on, and only so much time in which to do it. Basically, I was never not working. It got to the point that I was maximizing every minute of every day.
If I happened to find myself gifted with an idle 15 minutes, I would immediately fill it with more work.
I would take a “break” by stopping whatever I was working on at the moment to work on something different.
Although I love lounging in a lawn chair on my balcony during summer, and lying on my bed while sun streams in the window during winter, I stopped doing both of these things because I couldn’t effectively incorporate work into them.
I stayed up an hour past my bedtime pretty much every night of the year.
As a result of all this work, I accomplished a lot of things. Even more things than I initially set out to for 2017.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! My favourite time of year. Looking back at 2017, I worked my ass off, accomplished a lot, but lost the ability to relax along the way. 2018 will be all about better balance. Not every idle 15 minutes needs to be maximized. Life, like a good story, needs pacing.
— Janna G. Noelle (@jgnoelle) January 1, 2018
But just because I’m capable of undertaking many things doesn’t automatically mean that I should. Even for a high energy person like me, pacing myself will be what’s best for my long-term well-being.
(After all—I’m not getting any younger.)
For 2018, I’ve thus been thinking about how I can slow down a bit. Not necessarily to work less, but to create better balance between working and not working, particularly since I’m a workaholic by choice.
Maybe you need the same thing in your own life.
If so, here are my top five balance tips that I too will adopt in 2018:
1) Get better at judging how long things take
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s very easy to get wrong, both on a micro and macro level.
On the micro level, knowing how long a given task will take will help you determine how many projects you should pursue.
Which leads to the macro level of this tip: being realistic about the number of tasks you can reasonably accomplish in a day (or week).
It’s not just a matter of simple mathematics. I may be able to accomplish a single task in one hour.
Ten one-hour tasks, however, performed one after the other with no rests or breaks, will almost definitely take more than 10 hours. And will likely be of diminished quality as well.
2) Adopt winter hours
Even though I get up at the same time on weekdays all year round (6:35am), my winter bedtime is 30-45 minutes earlier than in summer. I do this to account for the winter morning darkness and the increased tiredness I experience under these conditions.
2017 was the first year in as long as I can remember where I allowed my winter schedule to slip, consistently turning the lights off on the other side of 11:30pm (instead of the 10:30 it should have been).
Of course, I was using that extra time awake to work on things, which I ultimately did accomplish. But I sure felt the difference at the end of the year from all that accumulated sleep debt.
That burnt-out feeling is the sort that takes years off a person’s life, and reduces the quality of the life that remains in addition.
3) Don’t turn hobbies into work
I’ve participated in (and won) the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the past three years, and at present still have the email inviting me to join for 2018 sitting in my inbox.
But I’m not going to do it, because I don’t believe I’ll be able to sustain a competitive reading pace over the coming year with all the other things I have planned.
In 2017, I only just won the challenge with mere hours to spare, and for months prior, what is usually an enjoyable pastime (reading) became a stressful obligation.
I might be wrong and end up reading a good many books easily. But nothing is riding on the fact of whether I do or not. Placing an artificial commitment around it would just be turning it into another thing to do rather than the means of relaxing it’s meant to be.
4) Examine “exposure-building” opportunities critically
These sorts of tasks may seem like a good idea at the time, potentially resulting in things like more social media followers, favours owed, or the ability to name-drop in timely situations.
But in reality, “exposure” work doesn’t often yield its benefits in an immediate or tangible way.
Or at the very least, it usually requires more than just doing the proposed thing to be truly effective. Requires some sort of plan for capitalizing upon that exposure that one mightn’t have the foresight or insight to come up with beforehand.
Otherwise, this kind of work often becomes yet another thing to do, mainly benefitting the person or party who is already in a position to sell you on the concept of “exposure”.
5) Schedule rest (just like everything else)
I am scheduled to within an inch of my life, a lifestyle that I’ve knowingly chosen.
I have schedules to do things at certain times (getting up at 6:35am; eating dinner at 6:30pm), schedules for certain days (going for a run on Tuesday and Friday mornings; vacuuming my apartment on Thursdays), and schedules for certain durations of time (one-and-a-half hours of writing on Sunday morning while eating breakfast).
I’m a huge respecter of both my own schedule and those of other people—of the importance the act of plotting tasks within the temporal plane seems to inherently confer upon it.
Since I evidently can’t rely on my own whim to take the breaks I should be, I’ll instead try scheduling them. Maybe then, I’ll treat rest and down time with the proper regard they deserve.
Do you have a balanced lifestyle? If so, what is your secret? If not, what’s one aspect of your life you’d like to improve? Tell me about it in the comments.