My life used to feel out of balance. Heavy on the overwhelm and light on everything else. The hours and days and weeks would blur together as I went about my weekday routine without any real intention. I would wake up, rush to get ready, and drive to the office where I would work for eight or nine hours before I would get in my car to drive back home, sit on the couch to work some more or watch a little TV, and go to bed. The next day, I would repeat it all over again.
I was stressed all of the time. Anxious about my job and the amount of to-do’s on my list. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done, no matter how early I got in or how late I stayed. And I was feeling the pressure.
I was on the fast track to burnout. Something had to change. I knew I had to snap out of it.
Here is how I have worked to create more balance in my days since:
1. Give yourself a break.
I used to sit and stare at my computer for eight long hours Monday through Friday, not getting up except for bathroom breaks and team meetings. I skipped lunch some days and ate at my desk most others. By the time I would leave work at the end of the day, I was exhausted.
I blamed my fatigue on my workload. I didn’t have time to take a break—there was too much to do! The last thing I wanted to do was miss a deadline or let anyone down. I thought that by working through lunch, I was getting more done, being more productive. But I know now that by not creating space for renewal, I was creating space for unnecessary stress, which was actually slowing me down.
When you are stressed, your critical thinking skills and productivity suffer. You have to give your body the chance to recover and your mind to clear up before you can work at your full potential.
Do you feel drained? Pause. Take care of yourself first. Then get back to work.
What can you do to give your brain a break? Try going for a walk outside, grabbing coffee with a co-worker, hitting the gym at lunch, or taking a power nap.
2. Take back your time.
When I first started my job, I loved it, every part of it. It was new and exciting, and I felt challenged in a way that motivated me to do and be better. I was proving myself, accomplishing something different every day, and adding value to the company. Fulfilled is a good way to describe what I was feeling.
Eventually, though, as my role evolved and responsibilities grew, work started piling up and days started blurring together as I worked my butt off to get everything done. I was getting lost in the minutia of everything. Tunnel vision, that was my approach back then, and I was losing sight of why I was doing what I was doing. I was letting my days run me, not the other way around.
When you lose perspective of the bigger picture, time can get away from you. Poof! Gone, just like that. But you are in control of your life, every minute of it. You just have to take a step back every once in a while to remind yourself of that.
Where are you spending your energy? Reflect, re-evaluate, and reclaim your day.
What can you do to make sure you’re not just mindlessly going through the motions? Try planning your day the night before, setting deadlines for yourself, and creating personal boundaries.
3. Get your priorities in order.
I am a list-maker. I love to-do lists. There’s just something so satisfying about physically crossing things off a piece of paper. But there was also something about the way I used to write my to-do lists that celebrated being busy. My lists were long. I added big things and little things, important things and it-could-probably-wait things, have-to-do’s and would-like-to-do’s.
The biggest problem? I was mixing high priorities with low priorities, overwhelming my brain before I even got started on the first task.
Are your priorities in order? Decide the most important thing you have to get done and focus all of your energy on that. Anything else is just a distraction.
What can you do to protect your attention? Try making your to-do list short. Two or three things is good; one thing is better.
4. Stay positive.
I think I am a pretty happy person most of the time. But, like anybody, my mind can sometimes wander to negative places. Especially when I’m under pressure.
I used to use complaining as a way to cope with annoyances. It felt good in the moment to whine to my mom or my boyfriend about all of the obstacles and inconveniences I’d encountered that day. To blow off steam. Except it felt worse out of the moment. I felt guilty and embarrassed for being so ungrateful. I was dragging myself down.
Your thoughts create your reality. You have to intentionally shift your attitude to a more positive place, or else you’ll end up on the opposite side—depressed, annoyed, negative.
Catch yourself before you go there. You’ll produce better results if you’re in a good mood.
What can you do to be more positive? Try pausing before you speak, taking a deep breath, and focusing on the good things.
5. Hold yourself accountable.
It’s easy to say you are going to make changes, adopt good habits, and leave the bad ones behind. But it’s a whole other thing to actually do it. And to be completely honest, I’m still working on all of these things. The difference now versus then? I want to create balance in my day, and I’m going to hold myself to that.
Take responsibility for your actions. There is power in personal accountability.