For most of my years as an entrepreneur, I've also been a parent. Handling multiple responsibilities at one time has pretty much been the norm for me from day one. At one point, I was working 40+ hours per week in my day job, attending college full time, and raising my pre-schooler (he's now a teenager). There was very little time for sleep. I remember the morning I was supposed to be up early for a special presentation with all the big wigs at work. That's when my son decided he wanted to re-paint the bathroom - at 3 o'clock in the morning.
I'm still not sure what exactly woke me from my sleep, but I heard a noise in the bathroom, went to check it out, and there was paint pooling on the floor. There was blue paint everywhere. He looked like a smurf.
Somehow, I managed to hose him down, clean up the bathroom and myself, and get the day going. He went off to day care and I went off to work, and nobody had an inkling of how little sleep I'd actually had that day.
By the end of the day, though, I was fried. After a full day dog-and-pony show at work, I had a final project presentation due at school, and then I picked up my son and had to get dinner ready. After dinner, I fell a sleep sitting up on the couch as he watched Pokemon for the thirtieth time that week.
I Needed To Learn How to Balance Work and Life.
For me, getting stuff done was my M.O. It's what I lived for, and how I measured my worth in the world. If I wasn't creating results, I was worthless. It wasn't a healthy outlook, and it almost killed me. It didn't take too many nights of burning the candle at both ends before I realized something had to give or I would.
Don't get me wrong. There's a time and a place when you may have to push harder, stay up later, and take on more responsibility for a short period of time. It's kind of like the sprint at the end of the marathon. You give those last few strides everything you have because you'll have plenty of time after the race to recover.
But for me, sprinting had become a way of life. Recovery time was nil, and if I kept on that way, my kid wouldn't have a Mom anymore.
So I took a hard look at what I was and wasn't doing to create the "push-push-push" cycle in my life. These five tips were the starting point of what eventually became The PEACE System, and set me on my path to better work-life balance.
Five Tips To Achieve Better Work-Life Balance
1. Forget Balance As You Know It. Most of us, when we hear the word balance, think of the scales of justice - equally weighted on both sides. Forget it.
In truth, balance is more of an ebb and flow - like breathing, or the tides. We give and take, we "do" and "rest". Sometimes we go all out, followed by a necessary recovery period. You can't skip that step. It's critical. If you don't rest and recover, you have nothing left to give for the next go-round. Which leads me to...
2. Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First. You've heard it said on airplanes, and yet we often forget this simple truism: if we're not taking care to ensure that our own needs are being met first, how in the world can we expect to be of any value helping others. Sure, you might get that mask on your kids's face, but pass out in the process. Now the kid's an orphan. Way to be the hero. That was a hard lesson for me to learn, but if you're not taking time routinely to care for your body, mind and spirit, you can pretty much expect your life to be a miserable living hell. So I had to up the ante and...
3. Learn To Say "No" (And Say It Regularly). As a recovering "pleaser", and overachiever, I was saying yes to everything that I thought might bring me an opportunity for advancement and growth. Because I wasn't saying no judiciously, I ended up missing out on other opportunities that I was just to exhausted or booked to handle - including precious time with my growing child.
While I've gotten over the guilt I felt about not "being there" for my kid more frequently, I occasionally have twinges of regret now that he's practically grown. Those are moments I can never recover. If I could re-live those years, I would consciously choose to be present and attentive. Doing less in each moment, and enjoying it more. Learning to say YES with enthusiasm to the things I really want to do, and saying "no, thank you" with compassion to the things that don't mesh with my goals, vision and Essential Why, has created more space and joy in my life, my work, and my family.
4. Prioritize. Get clear on what really matters. Discern true needs from "wants" and "nice to haves" in both your work and your life. Tackle the needs first, and go at them with fervor. Celebrate the wins (even the ones that seem "small" - they add up quickly). Use your "wants" and "nice to haves" as rewards to inspire and drive your progress. Cut out the extraneous "shiny objects" that cross your radar screen during the day by staying focused on what really matters. Learning to say "no" is a pre-requisite. Until you can say no effectively, you'll constantly be lured away from what matters most by other pressing "emergencies" - which may turn out to not be true emergencies after all.
5. Enforce Your Boundaries. It takes courage and a little faith in yourself to own your boundaries. Sometimes it means cutting toxic relationships out of your life, relocating, or making a very difficult choice in order to better your situation for the long-term. Every entrepreneur faces the tough decisions at some point, get used to it sooner, so it's not a surprise later. The sooner you begin to enforce the boundaries you've created, the sooner people in your life and business will learn how to respect and respond to you. We train people how to treat us based on what we expect and what we tolerate from them. Use your priorities to create your boundaries, then have the intestinal fortitude to uphold them.
Life and Work Balance Takes Practice
It takes practice over time to confidently create your own version of work-life balance. It won't likely ever look like the scales of justice, but you can find a rhythm that works for who you are and the life you live if you're willing to stick to it, experiment a bit and see it through. Soon enough, you'll see that wok and life can peacefully co-exist and you'll know exactly how to balance work and life in a way that works for you.
Lisa Robbin Young is a performing artist and coach to entrepreneurs on a mission to inspire you to build a Noble Empire and live an inspired life. If you are ready to implement a system that will help you get your sanity back, consider The PEACE System - a fully customizable priority management tool that instantly integrates with who you are and how you work and live. You can also connect with Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, or Google Plus.
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