January is Get A Balanced Life Month. There are a lot of things you can do to get organized at the outset of a new year, but balance isn’t a box you check on your to-do list and then forget about it.
We all know life is a never-ending juggle between work, family, friends and health. These tips will help you figure out how to create balance in a way that works for you.
Most of us are never going to reach a point where all areas of our lives are in perfect harmony. That’s okay. You can’t expect to give the same amount of effort to everything. Depending on what you have going on, one area will always need more attention than the rest.
A big project at work means extra hours at the office. A health setback makes self-care a priority. Small children or elderly parents will have family taking precedence.
That’s how life is. Things happen. If you haven’t laid the groundwork for balance, your life will feel like an endless game of Whack-a-Mole.
4 Tips for a More Balanced Life
Let’s make 2019 the year that doesn’t happen. Your days won’t all be Zen-perfect, but most of them will be pretty good.
1. Figure Out Your #1 Self-Care Habit
When life gets busy, taking care of yourself is often the first thing to suffer. Between deadlines at work, raising kids and being active in your community, it’s tough to find time for you.
Michelle Segar—a leading researcher in the science of sustainable health behaviors—says one of the most important things we can do is identify our #1 self-care habit. That one thing that keeps us energized, plugged in and ready to rock.
For her, it’s sleep. For her husband, it’s exercise. I used to think exercise was mine, too, until I skipped my morning meditation practice three days in a row. It wasn’t pretty.
What’s your one thing? Whatever it is, make it a non-negotiable priority in your life. Schedule it into your calendar, and stick to it no matter what.
2. Decide Which Burner to Turn Off
I learned about The Four Burners Theory from the habit guru James Clear.
Imagine that your life is represented by a stove with four burners on it. Each burner symbolizes one major quadrant of your life.
- The first burner represents your family.
- The second burner is your friends.
- The third burner is your health.
- The fourth burner is your work.
The Four Burners Theory says that “in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.“ [Source: JamesClear.com]
As James points out, that essentially leaves you with two options:
- Choose a more balanced life, and accept that you’ll never reach your full potential in any one of the quadrants.
- Go all-out in one area at the expense of one the others.
If you have dreams of going to the Olympics or creating the next Google, turning off two burners is how you’ll get there. If not, turning off one is plenty. But how do you decide which one?
You need get clear on what’s most important to you. Six months or a year from now it might be different, but focus on what matters most to you in this moment. Once you know what that is, you’ll know which burner to turn off.
If work is most important, health and family might come next, which means friends are out the picture for now. You get the idea. Turning a burner off might be hard, but you’ll know in your gut which one has to cool for a while.
3. Create Foolproof Systems
This is another tip I learned from James Clear. He says that instead of setting goals, you need to focus on creating systems. My partner is systems-oriented. I’ve always been more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of person.
Since reading “Atomic Habits“, I’m a convert. I finally understand the importance of creating foolproof systems. You don’t have to think, you just do. How is this helpful? Surely operating on autopilot kills creativity?
It’s actually the opposite. When you avoid decision fatigue, you free your brain up to focus on the the important stuff. Whatever that is for you.
These systems also act as insurance. I won’t say you’ll never forget something, but the chances are a lot slimmer than they are when you’re in Whack-a-Mole mode.
Write down all the things you need (and would like) to get done on a daily basis. Some, like brushing your teeth and driving to work, are already ingrained. It’s the things you keep forgetting that you need to implement systems for.
Those systems can be simple. I kept forgetting to write in my gratitude journal before going to bed, so I started placing my journal on my pillow after making the bed in the morning. Problem solved.
Think about how you can use this tactic in your own life. For example, do your mornings always run late because the kids can’t find their stuff? Have them pack their bags and leave them in the hall before bed.
Are you always misplacing things? Give everything in your house a place. When you get home you automatically hang up your car keys on the hook behind the door.
The idea is that eventually all these things will become rote activities. When you reach that point, your brain is on autopilot. The chance of you forgetting something is close to zero.
4. Breathe, Let It Go and Enjoy
Regardless of how well you plan or how many systems you have in place, things will sometimes go awry. It could be a blocked drain, a fender bender or a bout of flu, it doesn’t really matter.
What’s important is how you respond to these situations. You can either argue with reality (and lose) or you can breathe and let go. Accept that you’re behind on your day, and make the best of it.
When you’re so focused on balancing everything, it’s easy to take life a little too seriously. Remember to give yourself free time to relax and regroup.
Downtime is as much as a part of getting a balanced life as being productive is. Take a trip, get a massage or go to a movie, whatever appeals to you. You’ll come back more balanced than you left.