What is life balance? After hours of reading articles covering everything from business productivity to work life balance to general mindfulness, I came to a conclusion. It depends. No wonder no one has the answer to balance. It seems that it is different for every person. So with that being true, how does someone find balance? How does someone make time to be successful in all areas of their life? Honestly, I have no idea! But, I do know that this is a crucial part in my journey to happiness. After all my research, talking to people from all different backgrounds, and looking at my own personal experience I did come up with a plan. Five steps that I came up with - condensing hours of reading with the heavy hitters that really resonated with me. Maybe they will be useful for you too:
Define YOUR balance. Pull out a pen and paper and write down or even draw if you feel so artistically inclined on what would be a balanced life for you. What would that look like? What would you accomplish? What would you have more time for? Answer the question: what does success look like? Being a data analyst I know that people can get caught up in the sheer quantity of numbers available to look at in our technology based world, but I like to start every project with "What does success look like?" Why? Because numbers are just numbers until we put content and purpose to them by answering the question what we are trying to achieve by looking at them. I also suggest to do this after some dedicated silence or meditation. Clear your mind of all the daily grind and repetitive tasks and give yourself some time to think about the balanced life you want to have.
Refine to your Five Stars. I'm not sure about you, but my definition started off as a jumble of over 50 different ideas and the sheer number of them felt anything but balanced. But I did notice a few recurring patterns in my wishes and I thought to myself that they could be categorized. Also with some of the inspiration I received from the research I have been doing into positive psychology I thought about my original metrics. Yes I was measuring happiness, but I was also measuring anxiety and to focus on the negative is to give more strength to the negative. Therefore I thought I should be measuring how well I was balancing my life instead. Which lead me to I want to live a 5 Star life! I want to define what a 5 Star life is to me and I want to strive to live to it daily and make sure all of my ideas of balance are incorporated. Why five? Beside being the fanciest hotel you can stay in - it is manageable. I can commit to 5 actions a day to achieve the balance I desire.
My Five Stars:
Health - This is the pinnacle of balance giving me the energy to achieve my goals is to put focus on being healthy and active.
Adulting - I have no other way of putting this star but if I show up each day as and handle my responsibilities I deserve a star for that.
People - To get out of my own head and spend time with loved ones, whether that be family, friends, or even my adorable fur babies - I want to make sure that some time is made for them daily.
Present - I want to make sure I take some energy each day to be present, and enjoy something today for myself.
YOLO - You only live once. This can mean different things to different people but to me its doing something for my future. Something to make the most of this life I get to live.
I couldn't help it I decided to make it a acronym. HAPPY :-) Of course you don't need to and your 5 stars might be different, the point is to know what you would see as your 5 star life.
Make more than one To-Do-List. We all have one whether its written down or in our heads of all the things we needs to take care of and it doesn't take long to realize that it will never truly end. If you don't usually write down your list I encourage you to do so and clean that clutter from your brain and put it all down on paper. For the purpose of this list and this activity - you need to write everything you are responsible to do even if it’s a standard everyday task. Make sure to break down larger tasks into smaller manageable tasks. I prefer each action item to be between 30 mins to an hour to complete. Once done write down next to each item which star it belongs to and recreate each star into it's own list.
Once all 5 lists are made look over each one. Is there any items on the list that don't belong to any of your stars - if so I would take a moment and question why that action is in your life and if it can be removed. Are there any Stars with little to no items listed below them? These would be the areas you are not working on in your life that you decided that are important to you, take time now to add actions you can do within that star.
Plan by your Stars. There are many different resources and technologies out there available to us to plan our time effectively. So chose the one that works best for you. Me personally; I like a physical weekly planner. Planning helps focus your life, your energy, and will make you a more successful and productive person. Now that you have your master to-do list organized by the 5 things you decided are the most important to you it is time to plan your 5 Star Life by setting a goal to accomplish one action in each category daily. Trust me I know this is easier said than done but this will challenge you to think through the things you should be doing each day to be the best balanced version of yourself. Here's some of my lessons learned:
Identify actions that improve other actions and do them first. For example, cleaning took way more time than it needed to - but by prioritizing de-cluttering certain areas of the house made those areas easier to clean - even though it took more time in the present.
Identify the high impact items - things that will significantly change your life should take priority over items that do not. I procrastinated on my homework until I was so buried I ended up spending a week straight catching up - my degree will improve my future so it should have taken priority in my planning.
Identify healthy multi-tasking. I say healthy multi-tasking because humans are best when we focus on one task at a time, but there could be things you could do in your day to make the most of your time. For example I love to research different things, I found I could listen to audible books on my drive to work and be able to satisfy that need daily. Or I decided to have my local grocery store delivery my groceries and save me the hour every week by cutting out some unhealthy foods to cover the delivery cost.
Action, check-in and reassess. The most important part is that you commit to the 5 things each day and if you find something missing, its okay to reassess. As humans we have a natural flaw to underestimate how long something will take us to do, but as we try and see what works and what doesn’t will move us closer to the version of our self that we want to be. Make sure to not focus on the negative or the things missed but the things you can improve on. I check in with myself each day and focus on what I did well that day as I earn my stars, and like a little kid I look forward to more gold stars in my future.