Like you, I’m overstretched. I’m a full-time public defender representing the mentally ill, I have friends, family, and dogs; I volunteer my time the boards of a nonprofit and a magazine, and my mother-in-law, who’s 83 and needs medical care, lives with us. And, like you, I have a monkey brain that constantly is creating additional things for me to do and think about.
I’ve learned a lot over the past few years, and it all comes down to this: You can’t balance everything. You can only manage, but you can do that happily and with joy. So when the editors at Hips and Curves asked me to contribute, I thought I’d see if any of these tips work for you:
Realize that you are trying to achieve the impossible
The key to it all, and by key I mean what allows me to not go haywire and throw up my hands in frustration on a daily basis, is realizing that life cannot be balanced: you will always be “shorting” something or someone. This is an important and foundational realization. By recognizing that you are trying to attain the impossible, it allows you to forgive (and perhaps defend) yourself when you fall short of your own or other’s expectations.
Just say NO (again and again if necessary)
I have had to learn this the hard way. People make all kinds of demands on your time and some things are just not doable. An acquaintance/friend asks you to take her to the airport? Say no. Someone asks you to help them move? No way. Your boss texts you in the evening? Don’t respond. And sometimes, you even have to say no to yourself: I signed up for a writing class in Los Angeles that I was looking forward to. The weekend before I realized it would be too taxing to drive the 1.5 hours each way on a Sunday afternoon, so I cancelled the writing class and ate the cancellation fee: worth it. I did some critical errands, spent time with my friends, and enjoyed myself.
Do what makes you happy
We can make our partners’ lives happy or sad, depending on our moods. So let your partner know what makes you happy. Luckily, both my husband and I love music, so we try to fit in a punk rock concert at least once or twice a month. Unfortunately and misguidedly, my husband does not share my love for county fairs. He’s learned to tolerate the occasional fair for me (and I tolerate a Sunday filled with soccer games and the sounds and sights of him and his mom yelling “Goal” at the television while jumping up and down like the crazy Argentines they are).
Relationships are a compromise, and compromises should not be one-sided.
The secret to leaving work on time like you should is being efficient. Do not spend hours talking in your office with that time suck of a co-worker (you know who I’m talking about), especially when you have actual work things to do. But do give up on perfectionism: don’t spend days on something that should take hours in a quest for an unattainable perfection. Sometimes, though, you won’t be able to manage your time. For example, when I am in trial on a case, I know that I have to work extra hours. I am most efficient in the mornings. Hence, I go in extra early in order to finish on time. Otherwise, I try to go in on time and always leave on time. Let the rest of the work be there for another day.
Focus on healthy habits
Exercising consistently is easier said than done, but decompressing with activity just makes life much easier. I don’t enjoy most exercise. I would rather lie in bed reading a book than run a mile on the treadmill. But I do enjoy swimming, so I have recently been making an effort to swim at least two to three days a week. We will see how long this lasts but if I become lax, I will forgive myself.
Even more importantly, make time for wellness appointments. Some things cannot wait and go before work and all else. In the same vein, take time off for vacations and time with your loved ones. Do not hoard your hours for a rainy day. Carpe diem my friends, always.
My husband and I have only been married 9 years. All those years, I had the luxury of putting myself first. So I make time for my besties. We go for dinner, shopping and/or a movie. I read and write on the weekends, which my husband is always trying to interrupt.
But I do what I want and risk hurting others, so I can make sure to be happy when I’m not being selfish. Which is most of the time.
Keep your expectations low
I could teach a class on this suggestion alone. If you keep a spotless house, your spouse/significant other will come to expect a spic and span house. Tidy is close enough for me. The same with cooking dinner every night. Don’t do it unless you want to do it all the time. Doing something well and perfect can become a prison.
It’s a mantra for life, because you don’t want your expectations to manage you.
In the end, we all have our own coping mechanisms for all the things we have to do in life. These are the ones that worked for me, and now I want to hear from you: What do you do to balance the unbalanceable?