Dear New Shrink,
I am struggling to find a way to balance all of my work and personal commitments. While I enjoy my job and look forward to time with my family and friends I am finding that I struggle to “do it all.” I know that everyone probably deals with this but I am also thinking that there are some techniques that could help one “find balance.” Do you have any thoughts?
I appreciate your question — work/life balance (or imbalance) is a common issue that many professionals deal with. While there are a variety of philosophies on how to create balance, I think it ultimately comes down to the idea that balance isn’t a matter of time but of choice. Those that accept that they have the power to choose where they spend their time and how they will utilize their energy ultimately tend to feel better about the balance in their lives. Balancing life’s requirements comes down to making clear choices about what’s important to you. Instead of focusing on how to balance it all, I would encourage you to spend time defining your values and making commitments to those things that are most important to you. Our values often shift throughout life and our decisions (in this case where you allocate your time) will also need to adjust as a result of the evolution of your value system. Here are a few questions to get you started.
Do you know where you are spending your time? If this question makes you pause a bit, consider creating a journal dedicated to tracking where you spend your time and energy. You may find it useful to keep an electronic calendar open on your computer or phone. Add in activities as they are completed and the time associated with each area. No task or amount of time is too small — the more information you collect the more useful this exercise will be. Then create a list of things that are most important to you. This list might include hobbies, people, work projects, travel, career advancement, down time, etc. Then compare the entries in your journal or calendar to the list of things that are most important to you. It may be helpful to track your schedule for an entire month to get a true assessment given the typical ups and downs of a given week. Then press yourself to do a true audit of your schedule with an eye toward the question: “Is everything necessary?” How much of your week is dedicated to those things that are truly most important for you? Being truthful with yourself about your commitments, values and where your energy is spent may provide some interesting findings.
Now take a closer look at the time you spend at work. Are you maximizing your time at work to complete your tasks? Is the amount of time you are spending at the office necessary to get the work done? It is not always true that more time in the office means better work. Have others taken time to comment on your work habits? Sometimes gaining feedback from your colleagues may help you determine whether your hours are in line with company expectations. It may also be helpful to get a buddy so you can keep each other in check.
Finally, do you know your limits and are you being honest with yourself about them? It’s natural to push yourself harder and harder to reach your goals but make sure that you are giving yourself time to celebrate your accomplishments. Do you allot time that is just for you and, if so, do you keep your personal time sacred? In order to be successful at home or at the office it is crucial that you make time for yourself. Numerous studies suggest that protecting your private time has positive implications for your career.
While I wish I had a magic formula to solve work/life balance, I do believe that knowing (and staying true to) your values and your priorities will help you live a more balanced life. Ultimately, you are the only one able to determine what’s most important for you and it’s up to you to make the changes that will allow you to achieve balance and success.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a professional career counselor who has worked in university and private settings. She holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!