I value the concept of balance in life. But what we value and believe we do is often different than what we actually do. Instead of balancing the many commitments and interests in my life, I have found that I'm actually a juggler, always hoping I don't drop anything.

Juggling conjures the image of perpetual motion. I've never yet seen a juggler who could keep anything up in the air for long without constant effort. Balancing on the other hand relies on principles of leverage and harmony. It is more about flow than effort.

There are several ways to conceptualize balance. One is a metaphor of life work to a see-saw. If you put something on one end, you have to put something of equal weight on the other to balance it out. In life, this is difficult to do, and for me, has resulted in juggling, not balance.

Another type of balance is "artistic balance" or what the dictionary defines as "harmony in design". I like this concept because it inspires me to look at the whole picture of my life and the way it is balanced over periods of time rather than by day or week. I'm moving from a checklist mentality (....did I get my walk in today.... how is my social life this week?), to assessing where I'm putting most of my energy, how balanced I feel, and whether I feel like anything is missing lately.

When I'm juggling I have to move pretty fast and pay attention to the individual segments of my life to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. When I use a balancing frame of reference, I move slower, step back so I can see the whole of my life, and make small adjusting actions to the areas that are out of balance. Like juggling, balance isn't a static state, but a fluid, ever changing process. I find the state of artistic balance to be less chaotic and exhausting, and more sustainable over time. I'd like to share a couple of tools that have helped me be less of a juggliing "bean counter" and more of an artistic life designer.

Quick Balance/Satisfaction Scale:

Start by taking a few minutes to list the broad areas of your life that are important to you. Include family time, social life, work, personal time, health and exercise, spirituality, recreation and play. In my list, I have a separate section for personal time even though many of the things I do in other categories can be considered personal time or are aspects of personal expression. Some people put high value on spirituality, yet most of the pursuits might be done in communal settings, or are outwardly focused. People when playing, often play in groups. Taking time for solitude and reflection is very important. It both cures and prevents burnout. It tempers the chaotic pace of our life. Virginia Woolf said, "In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us". We need separate alone time to hear our own voice, to rejuvenate our spirit, to fill our inner well.

On a blank sheet of paper, list your categories down one side (family, work, hobbies/recreation, health, social life, spirituality, etc.). On the other you'll use a heading for a scale of one to five (going from left to right as below). Use the following scale degrees to indicate your satisfaction and fulfillment in each of your life categories (you might consider this in terms of how fulfilled you are in proportion to the amount of time invested):

     5     Extremely Satisfied
     4 Very Satisfied
     3 Somewhat Satisfied
     2 Not Very Satisfied
     1 Unsatisfied

Using a different color for each category, draw a thick line from the category to the number representing your level of satisfaction. Hopefully you'll see a diversity of colors. You'll find some aren't as strong in relation to others and will give you an idea of areas of your life to brighten up.

I do this in my journal from time to time. The colors are a visual way to make adjustments in my life choices, and the process of reflecting on it and drawing with color is both meditative and motivational. [Note: a variation of this exercise can also be found at www.TheEdgeCoach.com/lifebal.html]

Rating Importance Vs. Need

List all of the activities you can think of that you do every day (errands, cleaning up around the house, work, reading, etc. ). Next, write the tasks that you do on a weekly, monthly, and even less regular basis (like cleaning out your files, your closets, or the rain gutters). For extra fun, list the activities you used to do and don't have time for anymore, but you wish you could still do. [Note: if you prefer, you can use this for just work-related activities to isolate that time-management perspective.]

Now you're going to rate all of these activities on two scales: Importance and Need.

As in the last tool, use a basic five rate scale.
Importance (to you) of the task:

     5 Ultimate Importance
     4 Very Important
     3 Somewhat Important
     2 Not As Important
     1 Unimportant

Need (refers to the task needing to get done):

     5 Highest Priority
     4 High Need
     3 Somewhat of a Need
     2 Low Priority
     1 Very Little Need

Now you're going to create a quadrant chart labelled as follows. Place your activities into the appropriate quadrant. View the quadrants as a continuum and put an activity more toward one end or the other according to its need or importance. This makes it more realistic.

     Quadrant I: High Importance, High Need
     Quadrant II: High Importance, High Need
     Quadrant III: Low Importance, Low Need
     Quadrant IV: Low Importance, High Need

Hopefully most of your activities fall into High Importance boxes. Beware of lots of tasks in Quadrants III and IV!!

So what can you do if you notice High Importance activities getting shuffled to the bottom of your list? How about creating a more holistic personal organizer?

Try getting a big calendar with lots of blank space for each date. Write in the activities you listed. Refer back to the categories you used for your Satisfaction chart and use these colors to highlight your activities in those colors. Hopefully now you have a rainbow of colors on your page. Look to see if any color is dominant, and if any color is missing. Think about activities you could do to balance your colors out better, and pencil these in. Be sure to choose activities you really want to do, and that work within your time frame.

If your calendar looks really out of balance, start small. Don't take an all-or-nothing view and wait until you have large blocks of time. It's OK to start with one step, just one small activity. Any action in the right direction will make you feel better and will help create forward momentum in your journey toward balance.

Author's Bio: 

Sheila Adams, M.A. draws on 16 years in business as entrepreneur, executive, trainer, and coach, to guide you toward living your vision. For more information about workshops, teleclasses, and coaching customized for your success, visit The Learning Edge Coaching web site at
www.TheEdgeCoach.com or send email to LiveYourDreams@VibrantWomen.com.