Balance. We all strive for it. We want to feel at peace, and yet we live in perpetual production mode, trying to get everything on our “to do” list accomplished while yearning for ‘something more’. We tell ourselves we’ll slow down as soon as… (fill in the blank). To make matters worse, when we are always doing but not feeling fulfilled, we feel guilty and angry, increasing our anxiety and draining our energy. “Why can’t I do it all?" "I’m a bad…” “Why is everyone else managing better than I?” Sooner or later, many of us lose hope that we can ever slow down and relax. Instead of human beings, we become human doings. And at what cost? Our health, our relationships, and sometimes the very careers we’re putting ahead of our personal well being suffer dramatically.

Let’s examine this notion of balance. It’s not about spending the same amount of time in all areas of your life. It is about spending time doing things that balance your energy. When we spend our time doing things that energize us and those that expend energy we serve our universal human need for both achievement and fulfillment.

When we do only those things that use up our energy, we burn out. When we are always relaxed and unchallenged, we feel bored. Either way, eventually, we run out of gas. When, however, we are engaged in things that are meaningful and purposeful, fulfilling our needs to accomplish and connect, we are refueled and experience higher levels of energy and ultimately, satisfaction. In short, when our bodies, minds and spirits are nourished, we are empowered to bring our best selves to our work, our relationships, our lives.

We can’t be the professional, parent, child, colleague, community member, friend we want to be if we don’t take care of ourselves. Intellectually, most of us know that. So why don’t we pay closer attention to our own well-being? Fear plays an enormous role in our sense of internal pressure to overachieve. We are afraid that if we fail to clear each new professional hurdle or personal expectation, we won’t realize our hoped-for success, leaving us disappointed, depressed and with a diminished sense of self-worth. The irony is that when we put off the things that are personally important to us, the things that restore our energy, we often allow our relationships and our physical and emotional health to suffer, and we actually increase the potential for career or relationship derailment and dissatisfaction.

So how do we begin to create balance in our hectic professional and personal lives? What is the solution to this work/life dilemma? Is it really possible to move toward balance? Yes! And while there is no one size fits all solution, what is true for all of us is that as with our financial investments, we should “pay ourselves first!” Paying ourselves first in time, energy restoring activities and self care allows us to recharge our batteries and maintain our equilibrium. Paying ourselves first means carving out time to ensure our personal, physical and emotional well-being.

We might take 15 minutes of quiet time alone to charge our batteries so we can put in 10 hours of hard work; or a brisk 30 minute walk might clear our heads and allow us to come up with a creative solution to a problem that might take us hours to resolve if we labor over it. The possibilities are endless. We just need to uncover them and act on them. Failure to do so will likely leave us feeling run down, cranky and far less effective!
Try these exercises to begin to move toward your ideal work-life balance.

1.Create a vision. What is your life purpose? What are your priorities? What brings you satisfaction and fulfillment? What’s the legacy you want to leave behind? Picture yourself living in a way that is consistent with your vision. What does it look like? What does it feel like?

2.Examine the 12 areas of your life: Physical Health, Emotional Health, Finances, Relationships, Work/career, Home, Spirituality, Fun/creativity, Service, Family, Learning and Development, Appearance. In what areas are you highly satisfied? What could you do to increase your level of satisfaction in the areas where it is low?

3.Do a time management review: Keep a time log. Notice where you are spending your time. What are the things you are doing that are consistent with your vision? What things are not? Why are you doing them?

4.Dump, delegate, or decrease. Identify energy drains. Which things that you are doing now could you stop doing? Which things could you get someone else to do? Accept less than perfection. Don’t spend unnecessary time perfecting what’s already good enough. Identify things you could do less of, do less well or less often.

5.Be intentional. Carve out time to do the things that will help you reach your vision. ‘As soon’ as never comes, you have to schedule it! Honor appointments for these things as you would honor meetings with your boss or other important person.

6.Examine your inner dialog including old rules and beliefs and absolutes. What old rules and beliefs are running you? “Good mothers/fathers/sons/daughters do….”, “If I don’t … I’ll…”, “Everyone else…”, “Good managers…” Some of these rules may be valid. And some probably aren’t. Eliminate the ones that no longer serve you. Notice your use of statements like 'always' and 'never' and monitor your self judgments about good (fill in the blank) and bad. Question their validity. Eat meatloaf for breakfast and eggs for dinner. Who says that isn’t right?

7.Learn to say no without guilt. You don’t have to do everything. Maybe it’s time to pass the torch, step aside and let others shine. Realize there are many ways to contribute without having it take over your life. Accept the fact that others will be able to do a good job, even if it is different than the way you would do it. Reframe guilt inducing decisions as conscious choices to focus on other aspects of yourself.

8.Develop a strong support system. Participate in professional and/or social organizations that give you energy and a sense of connection. When you feel stuck, ask others for help, advice or information. If you can afford it, hire someone to do some of the tasks you need to do but don’t enjoy.

9.Take impeccable care of yourself: your body, mind and soul. Eat well, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, exercise, spend time in the spiritual realm.

10.Reward yourself for small wins. Acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished and the things you feel good about. Set positive goals for taking the next step rather than focusing on the things that are yet to be done. Consciously focus on the aspects of your day that gave you joy.

There is no one simple, cookie cutter solution to the life balance challenge. Your solution will be uniquely yours. Don’t compare yourself with others. Assess your own sense of achievement and fulfillment and adjust your actions according to your own needs. Do and be in ways that are an expression of your purpose and aligned with your highest priorities. You’ll find that paying yourself first by getting to the things that are personally important to you today gives you the energy to do more tomorrow.

Author's Bio: 

Cindy Loughran is a certified professional coach and the founder and president of New Leaf Touchstone. Her products and services help people break out of their habitual patterns and make desired changes in order to create fulfilling and satisfying lives.