Just as you budget how you spend your money, it’s important to remember that budgeting is vital when you choose how to spend your time as well. This may seem like a no-brainer, but many of us still have trouble saying ‘no’ when someone asks us to commit our time to a worthy cause. All these worthy commitments can add up to a lack of balance and excessive stress for women. It may be especially difficult to say no to commitments that benefit others, that speak to our ideals, or that may get us ahead in other areas. Indeed, those are often the commitments we should say yes to, but too many of these commitments can cause an excess of stress. The following are some strategies that women can use to find balance, pare down their schedules, and relieve daily stress. (Note: This article is geared more for women because they tend to juggle more roles, but men may find this article helpful as well.)
Have you seen those home makeover shows where they clear out all the clutter in a room, and then reorganize the room by returning only those things that are vital to the happiness of the homeowners? You can use the same process to reorganize your life. In your mind, clear the clutter from your schedule and imagine it empty. Then return only the things that are vital to your survival — your job and sleep, for example. Then bring other things back into your schedule in their order of importance, adding new things that are important as well (like time for exercise), and leaving out things that are draining you or stressing you, like obligations that you’d rather not keep. This exercise can give you a greater idea of what things in your life are feeding you, and what things you may want to eliminate. (Note: Some more popular pieces of ‘schedule clutter’ include mediocre television shows, time spent with people who drain you, time spent doing tasks that could be streamlined.)
Usually when we’re presented with requests on our time, we think about whether we can fit this new activity into our already-packed schedule, and whether or not it’s worth it. This often leads to an even more packed schedule. When deciding what to say yes and no to, I find it extremely helpful to remember that every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’ to something else, and vice versa. If you say yes to taking on a position in the PTA, that means less time for exercise, meditation, time with your children, or something else that’s also important. Perhaps it’s worth it, perhaps it’s not, or perhaps you’d rather cut out something else in your schedule. But, looking at each new commitment as something else that needs to be given up (even a hypothetical something) can make finding balance easier.
Good managers know the value of delegating responsibility by pairing people with jobs that they can do well, adding some encouragement, and letting go. Many women, however, get caught up in the ‘If I want it done right, I’ll have to do it myself’ trap, and find themselves doing everything. Don’t forget that other people in the office might be able to handle (or help with) some of the projects you’re doing, and may actually want to do so. Children may be far more capable of doing housework than you are giving them credit for, and may get a sense of pride in being able to do such jobs, if encouraged properly. Even most husbands can be utilized more efficiently than they often are. (One study found that the main difference between dads who were involved with infant care and those who weren’t was the attitude of the mother. Encouraging moms found themselves partnered with more helpful dads!) Even hiring help — housekeepers, gardeners, personal assistants and the like — counts as delegation, and can be extremely helpful and worth the cash. The next time you feel that you are doing too much, look around and see if you can find some help.
Sometimes things need to be done with precision and perfection, but more often, they don’t. Although the Martha Stewart types may be quick to point out how special things are when you go the extra mile, and how attention to detail makes all the difference, this type of thinking can also lead to perfectionism, stress, and a lack of balance. If you find yourself already too busy, you may really benefit from giving yourself a break. Take shortcuts, if the end result is still adequate. (Will your guests really care if you used a traditional mop on the floor, or quickly went over it with a Swiffer? Won’t store-bought cupcakes still taste as great for the office party or class picnic?) Live by the 80-20 rule, where you identify the 20% of work that yields 80% of the results, and focus mainly on what’s important, letting the rest slip if necessary. Remember, sometimes focusing on perfection isn’t as important as focusing on speed, especially when you’re looking for balance in your schedule.
Do you have a plan for the future? Most businesses have a one-year plan, a 5-year plan and a 10-year plan, and plan their daily activities with these goals somewhere in mind. This can be helpful for women, too. I’m not saying that everything you do needs to be part of a supreme master plan for optimal living, but this type of general thinking can help keep balance and perspective. For example, when choosing whether to exercise or watch television, thinking about the long-term benefits that would come from each makes it much easier to skip a moderately entertaining show in favor of getting moving. Both activities can relieve stress, but one contributes to an overall plan for better health, while the other doesn’t. See where you can apply this analogy to your own decisions and find more balance in your life.
Being organized is vital to finding balance in life. If you have a schedule where everything fits, you’ll be more efficient with your time. And you’ll be able to relax not only in the knowledge that you’ll get things done, but also in that what you’re working on in a given moment is what you’resupposed to be working on. Don’t overlook the value of online time management tools, PDAs and other time management accessories. But also keep in mind that a good plan and a clear budget for your time is invaluable in maintaining balance in your life.
Remember when you were a child, and you imagined what your life would be like when you were grown up? You probably only imagined yourself doing exciting things, not some of the minutia you probably get bogged down by right now. Although it’s unrealistic to be only doing things that are ‘fun’ (sometimes we need to take a break from skydiving and going to parties to do a few loads of dishes and pack lunches for the next day), it can be helpful to remember to try to keep fun things in your life and stressful things out of it.