Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt a little overwhelmed by the pressures of trying to juggle a career or a business with keeping up on all your responsibilities at home.
For many of us, life can feel pretty darn full most of the time. Our schedule is packed to the gills, filled with obligations, responsibilities, appointments, and meetings. We’re so busy that even the good stuff–the things we want to do–start to feel like a chore.
We’re all familiar with the dangers of too much physical stuff. Too much stuff and not enough room can lead to piles, clutter and disorganization. Eventually, we feel like we’re in a cave, surrounded by the things we own, with no way to dig ourselves out.
But there is another kind of clutter that can take over our lives and be almost more dangerous and damaging than a house full of items. And that is the weight of an overbooked life.
It’s what happens when we just can’t say no, for the fear of missing out. Or even if we can say no, it’s when we’ve still got so many obligations it’s hard to find balance and footing. And for many working moms (and even stay-at-home moms too), it’s a real problem. Between parenting, work, household chores, obligations at church, social and civic duties, most of us have virtually zero time for ourselves. Plus, we’re constantly worried we’re not doing enough, that somehow we are always shortchanging our kids, spouse, and those we hold dear.
But the reality is that life is not always perfectly balanced. Sometimes we will necessarily have to neglect some of our duties at home in order to handle a big project at work. Sometimes we might need to be okay with dinner through the drive through because we’ve got to drive to ballet and piano and baseball after school, and there’s no time to cook. Sometimes work will have to get put on the back burner because our child is sick. The pendulum tends to swing back and forth.
And while there isn’t such a thing as perfect balance, there is a way to find a better work/life balance, even in the midst of a very busy life, especially when you feel like the pendulum has shifted too far to one side. The following eight strategies can help:
1. Guard Your “Yes” Carefully
I’m not going to tell you to say “no” to everything. It’s not feasible, nor realistic. We don’t live in a bubble, and the reality is that many of us derive great pleasure from doing things for others. When it comes to social time, church activities, parenting groups and other obligations, they can be fun, enrich our lives and make us happy.
But you do have to say no sometimes, and probably more than you are right now.
Rather than a negative thing, think of it as guarding and valuing your yeses. You only have a finite amount of hours in the day and a set number of things you can do in a given amount of time. When you commit to doing something, ask yourself three questions:
- Will this bring me (or someone else joy)?
The same questions you ask when you’re deciding what to keep when cleaning out your closet can apply when you’re cleaning out your schedule. Not every single job we do is joyful, but ultimately, everything can lead to improvements and positive results in our life.
Going to work might not bring you joy at the moment, but it may help you provide for your family, make a difference in the lives of others, or give you pride in a job well done—and that can lead to joy and satisfaction. Life is too short to do things that make you miserable. We all have obligations, but it’s how you frame them and view them that can help weed out the necessary from the unnecessary.
- Is this a productive or memorable use of my time?
I add “memorable” to this question because not everything we do has to be productive. We’re not minions or mindless cogs, aiming only for the highest levels of productivity.
Going on vacation, a picnic, or a bike ride with your family can be productive, too. It builds memories, bonds you with your family and makes you happy. Zoning out in front of the television on the other hand is probably neither productive nor memorable. If a good book or your favorite show engages you, enriches your life, or is worth your time, then go for it, but if you’re simply spacing out, then fill your time jar with something else.
- Am I learning, growing or getting better?
Stretching ourselves a little further each time we do something can lead to constant growth. Just like we have to push our muscles to build them up and make them stronger, we have to keep stretching and doing heavy lifting with our brain as well. If we’re always trying to grow and better ourselves in each activity, we won’t get bored, nor will work (or any activity) feel like drudgery.
The secret to keeping things interesting is to keep them challenging and fresh. Take on a new project at work, learn a new hobby, or switch up your running route a little. It might seem counterintuitive to take on tasks that seem more challenging or out-of-routine, but when something’s easy, it doesn’t make it pleasurable or interesting. We like to be challenged.
2. Let Go of Guilt and Perfection
This one is hard for me, and I think it’s hard for most women, especially moms. We’re all trying to do things well. There’s a lot of blogs and Facebook posts, groups and Pinterest boards telling us what constitutes being a “great mom,” a “perfect wife,” and other mythical figures.
Not one of us is perfect. Give yourself a little forgiveness and grace. Take the pressure off. You don’t have to be a perfect housekeeper, maintain a garden, run a home-canning operation, and sew your children’s clothing to have a great life.
Remember, the things people post on social media and blogs—and even what they share at PTO meetings—are a lot of “best of” moments. No one shows their myriad of trial and errors, like mentioning the three times they had to rip a seam out of pajama pants they were trying to make, or the batch of cookies burnt to a crisp. Most of us only show off our successes. When you’re viewing someone’s photos or reading about their lives, you’re getting their greatest hits.
As much as I try to be real and talk about learning experiences and challenges here on LWSL, I can tell you that even I am occasionally guilty of only putting my better foot forward. Don’t compare yourself to others. We’re all fighting a hard battle.
3. Manage Your Time Wisely
My Living Well Planner® keeps me sane. I live by it. I have to schedule things, including my leisure time, workouts and date nights. It sounds silly, but when you’re busy, putting things on the schedule can help you let go and really enjoy nourishing activities.
If I don’t put my free time on the calendar, I have this nagging feeling I’m “stealing” my time—I’m procrastinating, I’m avoiding, or I’m not managing my time as wisely as I could. In fact, it makes it harder to really engage and focus on what I’m doing instead; whereas, if I have something on the calendar like, “playtime with the girls,” then I can fully immerse myself in the experience and enjoy it. I know there’s time put aside for work and it will still be there, organized on my calendar when I get to it.
Granted, I designed it to do just that (for the exact purpose of trying to create more balance in my life) but I especially love that my Living Well Planner® allows me to keep all the pieces of my busy life organized in one place. I can create goals for all the different areas of my life, and see them at a glance. I can easily keep track of my budget, expenses, prayer requests, meal plan, and to-do list, and never feel like something is slipping through the cracks.
4. Tackle the Hard Things
One of my very favorite books of all time is called Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done by Brian Tracy. It got its name from a quote by Mark Twain, who famously once said something to the effect of “if you eat a frog for breakfast, chances are that will be the worst thing you have to do all day.” The point of the quote—and the book—was that if you start your day by tackling your hardest but most important tasks, even if you don’t do that much for the rest of the day, you will still have accomplished a lot.
Eating the frog is one of the secrets to great time management. When you get into work, pick the task you’re dreading the most. Do it first and get it over with. If you put it off, you’ll find you’re spinning your wheels and using timewasters to avoid doing the “frog” task you don’t want to do. Just suck it up and get it done. Once the big, bad tough task is off your schedule, you’ll be amazed at how much more productive you feel.
Often our schedules fill up with distractions. We find things to do INSTEAD of the big scary things we’d rather not face. Face the monster, slay the dragon, and your day will go much smoother.
5. Take Help When You Can
I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive husband by my side who helps me with parenting, meal making, and tackling household tasks. I know, not everyone has such a supportive partner and I deeply appreciate all he does. That said, I still find, even as willing as he is to help, sometimes I’m reluctant to ask.
We all want to DO IT ALL. Unfortunately, none of us is Superwoman. We all need a helping hand. That means when someone offers to assist you, learn to let them experience the joy of service and the blessings that come from helping others. It can be hard to let go of our pride and ask for assistance, but reframe it as giving someone the opportunity to do a good deed.
Think how great you feel when you can help your spouse or when a friend needs something and you’re there. We all love to feel useful and helpful. We love that glow and joy of assisting those who need someone. Let someone else experience those same blessings by helping you when you have a time of need.
6. Trade with a Friend
Free up your time and find more balance by trading household tasks with friends. Try a meal swap with a few moms and dads in the neighborhood, where each family takes a night and prepares a meal. Often, it’s much simpler to make seven of one casserole or pasta dish than it is to create seven different dishes each week. Each person takes one night and then you simply swap it up.
Consider doing the same when it comes to playgroups and babysitting, repairs, dog walking, yardwork and more. It’s always more fun to do things in a group, and sometimes it’s simpler to a task en masse then it is to do it for one. Carpool, and trade pick-up trips to school or rideshare to the office. You’ll save on cost, car repairs and time.
7. Stop Doing What You Hate
It sounds like a no-brainer, but if there’s something on your schedule you do out of obligation, guilt or stress, STOP. Say no!
I know it’s not that simple. If you have bills (and who doesn’t), kids, a spouse and a mortgage, you can’t just decide, “Gee, I don’t like work, so I’m going to quit.”
That said, you can identify the things in your life making you unhappy. I’m talking about listing the things you dread doing: those soul-sucking, draining activities you’d prefer just to avoid. Then, figure out ways to make that change. It might not happen instantly. You might not be able to leave a job overnight or wave a magic wand and have a different social circle, but identify the things you really want to change. Write them down and then write down the steps you need to take to make changes.
This might mean figuring out ways to get out of debt. It might mean paring down and organizing your home, selling items, and eventually consolidating to a smaller house. It might mean finding a way to go back to school.
When I started to take on home school for my girls, it seemed like it would be an amazing experience. I had visions of how it would work out perfectly and we would have days filled with enriching, educational activities, bonding and discovery. After trying it for quite a while, my husband and I made the decision it was NOT working for our family, so instead, we found a values-based private school that would give our daughters more social experience and greater structure, and yes, would also allow my schedule to be more open to growing my business.
It wasn’t an easy experience and it was definitely a humbling lesson, but it was one I value greatly. I realized I couldn’t do it all. Maybe I was wrong about what I could take on. I realized I needed to change our course, not only for my wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of my family.
Examine the things that aren’t bringing you joy and find a plan and take steps to get to a better place. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. The results may be even better than you imagine.
8. Stay Positive & Help Others
Saying, “I’m so stressed out” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than focusing on how thin you’re stretched and how daunting things seem, focus on what you can control now. Take things one day at a time and practice gratitude every single day.
No matter how rough the waters get, we always have at least a few things we can be thankful for. Every experience fortifies our character and shapes us into who we are. Without stress, we wouldn’t be as strong.
Every day, identify the positive things in your life. Affirm the things you’re grateful for and seek ways you can help those around you. If you feel things are rough and nothing is going your way, pray for grace and understanding. Even at our darkest moments, there’s still a path before us. Sometimes we can’t see it, and those are the times we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In the words of Fred Rogers, “Real strength has to do with helping others.” When you need a boost, do something for someone else.
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Creating and maintaining a healthy work/life balance can seem like an impossible feat sometimes, but in the end it comes down to recognizing that the pendulum will always be swinging. Your job is to give yourself grace, do the best you can, and make sure it doesn’t get stuck on one side.
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