This post originally appeared over at Living Apockylypse as a guest post.
One topic that I see pop up over and over again in the blog world is how to balance it all. Life. Work. Blogging. Motherhood, for some. And while I’m not an expert on the whole balance issue, and certainly can’t say I’ve got my own life in balance 100% of the time, I have come up with a few things that help me to even things out and keep my stress at a lower level.
- Don’t be afraid to say no.
I think the biggest problem most people have (myself included) in managing how busy their lives are is feeling like they can’t say no to things. If your color-coded calendar looks like a losing game of Tetris, you know what I mean. I get it, I really do. We all feel bad about turning down an invitation, like to help out our friends and family, and are afraid of ‘missing out’ on a great experience. Whether it’s social events with friends/coworkers or extra blog projects or volunteering for different organizations or groups, the truth is that while you want to do everything, you don’t have to and probably shouldn’t. In fact, taking on more than you can handle means you rush and stress, leaving you so exhausted you end up missing out on the point of the experience anyway. The key is to be in tune with how much you can handle before you start stressing out – and stop taking on obligations before you hit that point. The other key is to evaluate which events are actually important to you or you actually have an interest in. You don’t want to spend your valuable time doing something you sincerely don’t enjoy, or pass up on some needed downtime for an ordinary event no one would mind if you missed this time. Examples: The birthday party for your best friend of 15 years (even if it means staying up later than you’d like)? That’s going on the calendar. A night out for karaoke with all your coworkers when you can’t stand karaoke? Skip that one. Volunteering to host a book club meeting when you haven’t had time to read a book in months? Probably not the best idea. Helping your sister and niece bake things for the school bake sale? This is a toss-up; do you like baking? how badly do they need your help? how important is it to them? Overall, this may come off as a somewhat selfish outlook, but if you’re too worn out to be fully present and functional, you’re not doing anyone a favor by showing up. By limiting the number of obligations you make, you have more time and energy and attention to devote to those that remain and matter.
- Prioritize chunks of time.
If you have the color-coded calendar, you’re already doing this somewhat. But this tip is more for the time that isn’t devoted to specific events, but just your normal everyday schedule. Training your mind to think of certain chunks of time as devoted to certain tasks will ultimately help you do things more efficiently, and leave you some much needed free time. Let me walk you through my typical day just so I can illustrate this point. I am not a morning person, so when I first get up I don’t want to jump right into work stuff since that requires my brain to be a bit more awake. So the chunk of time from roughly 9am to 10:30am is devoted to reading emails, catching up on the blogs in my RSS reader, checking social media sites, etc. From 11am to 5 or 6 pm I’m focused on my freelance work (though this is flexible depending on how heavy my workload is – sometimes errands are run during this time, sometimes I work on my own blog). The afternoon is usually when I’m most creative, so that’s when I like to do most of my work. Then from 6 to 7 is housework type things like laundry or dishes. I’m a bit weird in that tasks like doing dishes are actually sort of zen for me, so this is my wind-down time from work mode. My boyfriend gets home around 7 or 7:30, so from that point on it’s my ‘free’ time, which is usually spent with him, cooking dinner and relaxing. Now, I don’t set an alarm to go off and let me know when I need to switch tasks or anything; it’s more of a guideline schedule. But I’ve based it around the tasks that I need or want to get done each day, and my own habits and moods, and it’s what works for me. At the end of the day I feel that I have gotten a lot done, and still had some breathing time to relax. That little bit of extra breathing time can do wonders to help lower your stress level.
- Consolidate related tasks.
If you know you have several errands to run, try to run them at the same time and plan your route accordingly. Instead of running to the bank and back in the morning, and then the library and back in the afternoon, and then the grocery store and back in the evening, pick a time you can accomplish all three and plan your driving route to hit each one in a big loop. It’s such a time-saver. Or, for office work: if you have a dozen minor tasks and one big task, get all the minor things out of the way first so you can concentrate on the big task uninterrupted. If you need to water your lawn and give your dog a bath, do both at once (weather permitting). Do you see the trend here? It’s not so much multi-tasking as versatility planning. Any way that you can get more done in less time (assuming the quality of the result won’t suffer) means more time you can just stop and breathe when you need to.
- Know when to stop.
We all have a limit to how much stress we can handle, how much small talk we can muster, how much sleep we can go without. Once in awhile, you will hit yours. You need to be able to recognize when that happens, and tell yourself that it is ok to take a break. How big of a break you need can vary, and is up to you. Maybe you just need to go for a walk for 10 minutes. Maybe you need a 2 hour nap. Maybe you just need to take the rest of the day to curl up with a book and escape into a different world. Maybe you need a week-long vacation. Whatever kind of break you need, do your best to make it happen – and don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed at needing it. EVERYONE needs a break at some point, and we’d all be jittery sobbing wrecks by this time if we didn’t take them. Get a babysitter, take a sick day, turn your phone off, cancel that happy hour outing, take a day off from blogging… whatever works. Heck, if you know you’re going to have a busy or stressful week, but you find yourself with a spare 10 minutes – take that break in advance! Go cuddle with your puppy or take a bubble bath or lay on the couch. Nothing says you can’t store up breaks in advance.
- Know when to push through.
This is going to seem in direct contrast to the last step, but it’s really not. This isn’t so much about the times you need to take a break for your personal sanity, but rather the times when a little bit of extra effort will save you extra stress. If staying an hour late at work on a Friday to finish something up means you’ll have a stress-free rest of the weekend, it’s probably worth it. If you have company coming into town the next evening and a lot of house chores to do, do just one or two before catching up on your DVR’d shows – it’ll leave you with that much more breathing space the next day before your guests arrive. Put together a slow cooker meal in the morning so you don’t have to fuss with getting dinner together than night. If you know you’re going to have a busy week a month from now, try to schedule some extra blog posts in advance so you don’t have to worry about it then. Find little ways to put in an extra 5 minutes of effort to make your life easier later – you can be your own best helper.
- Family comes first.
My freelance work and my blog are important to me, but they don’t trump my family. I recently took a day off of work, even though I was swamped with projects, to go to my sister’s USAF security forces graduation. She tried to maintain that it was no big deal, but it was, and I was proud of her. I was also the only family close enough to attend. No way was I going to leave her alone with no one to celebrate. Could I have used that day to knock out some needed work on my projects? Of course. Did I ever consider not going to her graduation? No. Because she’s my sister. Family always comes first – before clients, and before readers. A death in the family, a wedding, a birth, a graduation, a tearful break-up, a ride to the airport, dog-sitting, or just an hour’s phone chat – it doesn’t matter how big or small the reason or the need is. If your family needs you (whoever you consider family, whether they are blood or not), they should come first.