I tend to be obsessive. My mind can’t seem to run on more than one track simultaneously, and it takes time for me to find focus, so once I’ve found it I like to run full speed ahead on that particular track. This makes leading a balanced life a tad difficult.
Per my commitment of last Friday (Getting Organized: Coach, Coach Thyself), I launched into organizing my household. By Sunday, a couch was covered in manila files and separated piles of papers to-be-filed. And then I discovered that my husband was taking a vacation week, which for him means not only getting stuff done around the house, but having my company as he views movies, goes kayaking, etc. Then some CFIDS symptoms started kicking my butt.
And not one, but both of our dogs became ill – Mooshka with geriatric vestibular disorder (i.e., aging-doggie vertigo), and Cappuccino with hematoma of the ear flap. Cappuccino, in fact, had surgery this morning and is whimpering, head encased in plastic cone, as I write. I’m taking frequent time-outs to comfort him.
Running full-speed ahead with my home organizing goals has simply not been in the cards for this week. I could force it to be so, but I’d be living in a very unhappy household. By the end of the week, my body would force me to bed, perhaps for several days. And I would have missed out on a glorious afternoon of kayaking yesterday. Life, I’m reminded, is all about balance.
It’s very easy to become so focused on one area of life that other areas are ignored. And you know something? Sometimes, that’s very much okay.
If you’ve just given birth, your priority is your newborn baby. Career plans at that time tend to take a back burner, or be put on hold all together. Pretty much everything else becomes low priority. During your college years, academics and friends probably took priority, and family relationships were given less attention. People starting a new business or working toward a promotion must focus a significant portion of their energy on career.
When seeking balance, don’t berate yourself for not spending “enough” time or energy on a particular area of your life. What’s “enough” is a very individual matter that changes over time.
Ask yourself how much time you truly want to spend on this part of your life right now? To focus less on a particular life area doesn’t mean that you don’t care about your career, or your friends, or your family. It just means that you’re at a point in your life when other values are absorbing your attention. Areas that you are neglecting right now, if they are important to you, will eventually get their due.
The Balance Wheel
Try creating a “balance wheel.” It works like this:
- Draw a donut – a huge, fat donut, with just a tiny hole in the middle.
- Between the circle for the hole and the circle for the outside of the donut, draw as many concentric circles as you can fit – 14 or more (copy and print the image below if you like).
- Jot down the life areas that are important to you – these might include family, friends, spirituality, career, hobbies, pets, home and yard, athletics, spending time in nature, exercise, social justice activities, politics…whatever categories encompass the life areas that you value and to which you might want to devote energy.
- From the inner circle of your donut to the outer circle, draw lines to create pie “slices” representing each of the life areas you listed. Label each “slice.”The concentric circles you drew will divide each pie slice into 15 or more “bites.” At this point, your balance wheel should resemble a spider’s web (there’s quite a mix of metaphors contained within this “wheel.”)
- For each of these life areas, determine how much attention you would like to devote to that area at this time in your life.
- Now, determine how successful you’ve been at giving that life area the amount of attention you’d like. For instance, if it’s important for you to spend 10 hours weekly with your partner, but you’re only spending 2 hours, you’re giving that area of your life 20% of the time you’d like. If you want to give your job 40 hours of your energy each week, but you’re spending 60 hours in the office, you’re giving your job 150% of the energy you’d like to give it. Jot this percentage down.
- Reflect this on your balance wheel. Starting from the center circle, consider each “bite” as 10% of a particular slice. Color in the number of bites on each slice necessary to show the amount of attention this life area is getting as a proportion of the amount of attention you want to give it right now.
How round is that wheel of yours? If this were a tire on your car, what would that ride be like?
You may be spending more time on one life area than you’d like, and less on another, out of necessity rather than desire. But is it necessity? Is it really the end of the world if your dust bunnies become dust buffalo for a while, so that you can spend time with your children or work on the business you’re trying to build? And if it is truly necessary to devote large amounts of energy, can you delegate tasks, either at home or work? If you’ve colored in more than 100% for a particular life area, it’s a good indication that you may become resentful of that relationship or activity – especially if that means devoting only 20% to another area.
You might feel that your friends will abandon you if you have to cut back on your nights out with them in order to take care of an aging parent or focus on getting that manuscript written by deadline. Talk with them about it. Friends and family are usually more willing to be supportive than we, in the midst of our anxiety, give them credit for. If loved ones know you are feeling burdened, they may offer help or have ideas for ways that you can alleviate the burden.
That said, it’s important to not give any area that’s important to us short shrift for too long – especially relationships. Understanding on the part of family, friends and coworkers can extend to cover the duration of writing that manuscript or the first several few months of your newborn’s life – but asking people to overlook your inattention for years, or for the course of several manuscripts – is a good way to dissolve relationships or lose a job.
How to Tighten the Lug Nuts
If you sense impatience in the people around you with your work performance or time you’re giving them, or if you’re feeling burnout, it’s time to revisit your balance wheel. What’s important, how important, and how does your balance wheel reflect this? What can you change in order to more give more energy to what you most value?
Because of my obsessive tendencies and health requirements, I’ve realized that I need to be careful to give attention to a variety of life areas each day…certainly not all of them, but giving each some degree of attention in any given week. It’s like tightening the lug nuts when you change a tire. You don’t completely tighten one, then the next, proceeding consecutively around the tire and tightening each all the way. You alternate, partially tightening nuts on different sides of the tire, then repeat until all are completely tightened.
Or think about balancing your tires. You do this so that they wear evenly. A tire in one position might get more wear, but the next time your tires are rotated, another tire winds up in that position.
So not all of my relationships will get attention every day…but some will every day. I may not do my full workout every day… I might go hiking or kayaking instead, and if I don’t exercise at all, I’m especially careful about what I eat and drink. Some days I work on fiction or poetry, but one day weekly I spend writing blog posts. Some social media or another gets my attention almost every day…but on some days I focus on Facebook, other days I give more attention to Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ or Goodreads.
And some weeks are all about vacationing and nursing my poor sick doggies…
How balanced is your life? What has helped you regain balance you’ve lost in the past? What can you change to make your ride less bumpy?