The problem is time. If we had all the time we needed, we could accomplish all of our goals without any kind of rush.
But time only affords us 24 hours a day. We can redistribute our time in endless combinations, but we will never have a 25th hour.
If we wish to accomplish our goals, we must be judicious in our redistribution, and find a way to get as much as possible out of each hour.
HOW TO FIND A MORE BALANCED LIFESTYLE
This redistribution involves many difficult choices. We can’t do everything, so we need to decide what we must do, what can wait until later, and what is not worth our time.
Our analysis mustn’t stop there. Even once we know our priorities, we must consider how much time to spend on each of them. Time invested offers diminishing returns, no matter the importance of the investment.
This being the case, even small things are worth some small amount of time, since that small initial investment has the greatest returns. Reaching out to an old friend can take less than a minute; in return for mere seconds of our time, we can maintain something truly valuable.
The choice of how we spend our time is best made consciously. If it is not made consciously, it will instead be made emotionally; in some people, this can lead to obsession, negligence, or exhaustion.
However, if we analyse our priorities sensibly, we should have a sensible outline of how we intend to distribute our time between them. We will be released from the frantic juggling of priorities, and we will come to find our life in balance.
ESCAPING OUR SCHEDULES
Life is unpredictable. Our priorities may shift due to unexpected circumstances, even on a daily basis.
Our outline needs to be flexible enough to accommodate this unpredictable life. Instead, many people set rigid goals without allowing margin for error.
The cause may be some form of insecurity; perhaps they are afraid that their framework may come crashing down the moment they deviate from it. Perhaps their sense of identity depends on their daily accomplishments, without which they are full of doubt and uncertainty.
Those individuals whose lives are dictated by their schedule should consider these (and any other) possibilities. They should also strive to cultivate in themselves a strong sense of identity, and a sense of confidence and purpose in their goals. They may find themselves achieving a healthier balance.
Many individuals are well-organized types, and these people do genuinely benefit from schedules and planning. These individuals can find balance by planning for leisure time, and expecting the unexpected.
GOING WITH THE FLOW
Even with a sound assessment of our priorities, we need to be open to continual reassessment. We choose our priorities according to our needs. Changes in our personal and professional lives cause changes in our needs, leading to changes in our priorities.
There is no permanence, and no guarantees that our current priorities will always be priorities. Likewise, possibilities that we once disregarded may someday take a prominent position in our lives.
For instance, professional development is a high priority when we are young, but as we age, health may become a greater priority. Our choices should always match our ever-changing circumstances, rather than some ideal or memory.
RATIONING OUR TIME
Changes in our circumstances can also increase or reduce the amount of time we have at our disposal. Though it is true that each of us has only 24 hours in a day, we do differ in how many hours we need simply to maintain our current circumstances.
As more of our time is freed up from maintenance, we can set it towards growth; we can afford to set new goals, and spend more time on those we are already pursuing.
There are those, however, whose time is very precious. These people are often struggling simply to stay afloat; most or all of their hours are already spoken for. This struggle usually comes from an inability to meet financial and familial obligations.
These people must be extremely thrifty and efficient in their use of time. Not only that, but they must find a way to allocate some time towards growth. They must find a way to develop their skills, knowledge, and character so that they may escape their unsustainable situation.
But where are they to find this time?
A FINE BALANCE
Things tend to decay when we do not attend to them. Nevertheless, when time is so scarce, a certain amount of decay can be an acceptable price to pay; it’s often easier to recover that which has faded, compared to building new skills, knowledge, and relationships from scratch.
If there is no end in sight, these people have no choice but to allow some of their obligations to fall into a controlled state of decay. Once they find themselves in a better position, they may return to that which has decayed, and revitalize it as best they can.
As we can see, escaping this situation is difficult and costly. What we need to take away from this is that our choices matter, especially if we are disadvantaged. Unless we are absolutely prepared for new responsibilities and obligations, we must avoid the choices that lead to them.
It is not only our time that we must budget, however. Our energy is finite. Even within those 24 hours, it is possible to exhaust ourselves, such that much of our time is lost to rest and recovery.
Work leads to fatigue, which can be mitigated by taking breaks. The key is for our breaks to be proportional to our fatigue. If our breaks are insufficient, we begin to accumulate an energy debt.
This unsustainable balance leads to a breaking point, known as burnout. Burnout necessitates a long period of recovery.
A long period, during which we are ineffective and unproductive, will lead to serious decay. It is better to ration our energy in the short-term, taking frequent breaks, so that our efforts are sustainable. Otherwise, the deficit we accumulate must eventually be repaid.
The solution is to be in touch with our own fatigue, taking care to consider that it may be hidden even to us. Taking breaks should be a priority; we should rest as often and for as long as we need to reduce our fatigue to a manageable level.
It's one thing to have effective strategies for dealing with fatigue. It's another thing to have less fatigue to cope with in the first place.
As much as possible, we must choose our line of work in accordance with our passions; passion drives greater productivity.
Conversely, forcing ourselves to do unrewarding work goes against the grain, and depletes us emotionally. Negative emotions actually fatigue us, increasing our demands for rest and recovery.
The more our work fulfills our needs, the less we need a “work-life balance”. This is why we should strive to establish ourselves in the field we find most fulfilling. More energy leads to greater productivity and less time in recovery.
BALANCE WITHIN THE MIND
A life in balance isn’t just a matter of changes on the outside, however. We can achieve balance within our own minds. This is especially valuable when there are no opportunities for sweeping change. Sometimes, there is a factor of endurance involved.
Even if we don’t have the luxury to find new work or to free up our time, it is still possible to develop ourselves emotionally. This is done by developing gratitude, a tool which frees up the energy that would otherwise be sapped by our own negativity.
When we are stuck in our current situation, good time management and a well-developed mindset will make us better off. These tools give us courage to be consistent with our efforts, even when those efforts take months or years to bear fruit.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
These changes shouldn’t be limited to those who are truly stuck, however. We can all benefit from them.
The way we distribute our time is highly individual. It varies depending on our needs, which themselves vary through the course of our lives.
One of the crucial things is that we view our life balance in the context of our entire lives. Just because we can’t achieve our ideal balance now doesn’t mean we never will. Even without changing our lives, we can find balance within our own minds.
We all have to choose our priorities. Nevertheless, our “life’s work” isn’t limited to our current priorities. It includes not only our professional accomplishments, but also the maintenance of our health, the good we do for others, and personal development.
So balance your priorities carefully, and always be open to change. In the end, we become our priorities.