I am fatigued by the phrase “Life Balance.”
So often, we mentally put our commitments on an invisible teeter-totter, hoping to distribute our obligations evenly. The theory is that balance brings calmness. The thinking is if we distribute our work evenly, then we’ll be less tired, less stressed, less guilty about our choices, and happier. The problem is, life isn’t even.
The sooner we ditch the expectation that balance brings peace, the better. There is no such thing as balance, so just let it go…
Instead, I’ve found that it is better to re-frame expectations so they align better with how life works when you step out of the theoretical world and into the real world. The word picture I like to use is “blending” because it implies a formula or “recipe” that is based on thoughtful, measured decisions. Like making a soup, a “blend” is more flexible (add a few more veggies and adjust the seasonings) and much less fragile than finding a “balance.”
A blend is based on conscious decisions where you mix your priorities and adjust them until they get along. The key to the blend is to own your choices and to know precisely what you value most.
Life Blend – Step One
Start by asking the hard question: What do I REALLY value most in life? Then, make a list in order of those choices!
Imagine breaking your categories into three buckets; Most Important, Important, and Less Important. Your order may be different from mine, and that is perfectly fine. The way I decide what’s a #1 versus a #2 is by asking myself, “Would I give up anything in the first category to have something in the second? Or would I give up something in the second category for something in the third list?” In other words, would I trade my health for my job? No. Would I trade hanging out with friends for spending time on Facebook? No. And so on… Here is an example of the beginnings of my list:
Life Blend – Step Two
The easiest way to tell what’s important to you is to take a look at your schedule. If you truly value something, you’ll devote time to that person or activity. Therefore, the next step is to adjust your calendar so it reflects your priorities. That means the items in category 1 are put on your calendar first.
Keeping a schedule aligned with your priorities is an act of sheer discipline.
Without a careful, planned approach, the items in #3 can easily crowd out what you REALLY value in #1. The easiest way to explain the principle is by using pictures.
First – Imagine your three categories as large, medium, and small objects. In this instance, I’m using peanuts to represent what’s “Most Important” (#1), popcorn to represent what’s “Important” (#2), and rice to represent what’s “Less Important” (#3) in any given day/week/month/year. Next – Picture your day as an empty beer mug waiting to be filled. (!)If you start off your day without a plan, the easiest thing to do is to fill your mug from left to right. The natural flow for our activity is to plug in and pay attention to the things that show up first. For instance, with me, my gadgets and electronics often crowd their way in first even though they are a #3 item in terms of my stated values.So far, everything is fine, so go ahead and fill your mug a little more with the demands of your jobs, keeping your friends happy, and a little extra time for those cooking classes… which might all be #2 column kind of activities. At this point, the mug is seeming a little full, and stress enters the equation. When you look at the major priorities left, you can easily see that getting the proper mix may not happen. When you now try and add what is truly important (#1 column stuff), what you end up with is……leftovers. Sadly, your mug is already filled and something you truly value is left out. Now your stress is full-blown, important aspects of your life have been left by the wayside, and if you’re not careful, you can make matters worse by beating yourself up about your inability to “do it all.”
However, the alternative approach offers a different outcome. This time your beer mug handle faces the other way and your choices starts in the opposite direction from culture.
You begin by first scheduling on your calendar what you value most. This means Date Nights take priority over Girls Night Out. The school calendar is plugged in before the work boondoggle. Your doctor appointments take precedent over your meeting.
Next, you add the second category. You skip the golf outing to finish the work project. You forgo checking Facebook at the office until your email is cleaned up. The friend’s birthday party is more important than the finale of “The Bachelorette” (wait – those wouldn’t ever conflict, right?!).Finally, when what you value most is in your day, you can fill in the gaps with all of the little things.
With this approach, sometimes there’s even margin magically left in the end… in this case, it all fits!! I find when I start with the Most Important and work my way back from there, like this example, I actually get do to more every day. When my priorities are in line, I find myself living at a much less stressful pace. But even on those days where it doesn’t all fit, what’s left out of the mug (like missing the latest escapades of the Kardashians) doesn’t feel like a big loss (trust me).
The illustration is more than a cute word picture. This is, in fact, the essence of what blending looks from a practical perspective. There are only two steps. (1) You choose your values, then (2) you prioritize your choices. When you say “yes” to the big things that really matter to you, the little things no longer set the pace of your day.
Only you can decide what is most important to you; only you can make your schedule reflect those priorities. As awkward as this sounds, try making adjustments in your schedule for even a week and see what a difference it can make.
The concept is simple, though the follow-through is far from easy.
Here’s to a better “beer mug-ful” life that follows better prioritized days. Cheers!