Seeking Balance in an Unbalanced World

by Jonathan

a balanced life

Because life is such a multifaceted experience, achieving a balanced life can be an extremely difficult challenge. Let’s face it, there is a lot to do and only so much time and energy to go around.

I’ve often thought that it would be nice to have an extra day in the week. Not just a normal day, but one that wasn’t counted and didn’t show on the calendar. Imagine, a totally free day to use however you wanted. What would you do with your extra day? Here’s something else to think about…

Why does the “free day” concept sound so good?

Isn’t it because there never seems to be enough time for everything? And why is that? It’s because we let work expand to fill the time available. This is why we convince ourselves that more time would solve the apparent shortage and allow us to get everything done. But is that really what would happen?

I don’t think so!

You see, if we only had six days in a week, then we would say the same thing about the possibility of having seven. Oh, if I only had an extra day so I could get everything done. It wouldn’t matter if we had 8, 9, or even 10 days in the week, we would still let work expand to fill the time available. That’s because…

Productive people always have a backlog of things they want to get done. That’s a good thing, unless we try to squeeze them into our schedule too tightly. When we do that it changes the dynamic of everything. You can only pack so many “to do things ” into your day before something has to give.

Compression always creates a rise in pressure

Doing more, more, more is not the answer. In fact, neither is continually operating at maximum capacity. There’s a name for that approach. Maybe you’ve heard it, it’s called STRESSED OUT! And it is often followed by a close cousin named BURNED OUT.

Have you been down that road? If so, then you probably realize that stressed out is not a very productive state, and burned out is actually counterproductive. Oh, you can probably function under increasing stress for a while, but sooner or later it will bite you. What happens when you try to do 15 hours worth of work into an 8 hour work day? Unavoidably, the pressure (stress) goes up, it’s the law of compression. Adding an extra day won’t change things because…

It’s not about time, it’s about a balanced life!

Balance means that we portion our time and energy in a way that benefits our whole life. We get out of balance when one aspect of our life is stealing time and energy from the others.

To live a balanced life, we need to give sufficient attention to all of life’s important areas, including our physical, emotional and spiritual well being. We need to be creative, as well as productive. We need to care about what is going on in the lives of those around us instead of just focusing on the task at hand. Balance means that work is just a part of the picture, not the whole panorama.

You need to make a choice

Let’s face it, you can do quantity or you can do quality. If you want to do both, then you need to hire some good people. Otherwise, it’s one or the other, that’s just the way it is. To raise the quality of your life in all of the important areas requires you to set certain limits.

If you have a family, a business, and a few other obligations, then you have more than enough to do. Not only do you need to balance your time and energy in those areas, but you also need to avoid adding to the mix. Life is about choices, and sometimes that means being able to say no.

A universal truth

Quality always takes longer, it can’t be rushed. To have a quality family life you have to be willing to invest your time and energy. The same applies to your business. Do you want to maintain optimal health? That takes time as well. Everything done well takes time and time is something you only have so much of. So here’s what I suggest…

Do less, but do it better

This is the only reasonable approach to a life that is both high quality and balanced. Limit the number of commitments, so you can feel good about being deeply involved in the areas of your life that really matter. You will experience fewer distractions and feel less hurried. This will automatically bring a greater sense of joy and meaning to everything you do.

Learning to filter out the activities that don’t really matter is a great way to create more time and energy for the things that are truly important.

Here are a few simple guidelines for incorporating balance into your life.

1) Set priorities.Make a list of everything that you do with your time and energy, and then figure out your top priorities. Be realistic as you assign a value to each activity. Ask yourself, “Does this really contribute to the quality of my life?” If there is any doubt, toss it out.

2) The highest priorities get the majority of your time.Don’t allow incidental activities to consume large amounts of time. If it is a low priority, that means it gets a very limited ration of time and energy. If you don’t put limits in place, you will waste valuable time on things that don‘t really matter.

3) Make a plan and stick to it.If you have scheduled family time, don’t let the predictable “something unexpected came up at work” change your plan. In your heart you already know how valuable your family is to you. Make sure that your life reflects those feelings!

4) Use your time efficiently. Always look for ways to accomplish more in less time and with less effort. Don’t think in terms of “hours of work.” Get away from the concept of making so much per hour. If your occupation allows for it, think in terms of making so much per project. Then look for ways to accomplish your projects in less time. If you do work by the hour, figure out how to make yourself significantly more valuable to your employer so he can justify paying you a much higher salary.

5) Take time to focus on others.This might sound strange, but spending some part of your day focused on other people will expose you to new, creative ways of thinking. Answers and solutions often appear when our attention is elsewhere. You can create opportunities for this to happen by purposely shifting your focus. Paying attention to others also builds the quality of your relationships on several levels. Remember, we’re all in it together.

6) Eat healthy foods and get regular exercise.Feeling good makes life better. Without your health, nothing else really matters. Don’t ride when you can walk. Choose nutritious food instead of fast food. Value your body and show your appreciation by treating it with respect. Not only will you feel better, but the quality of your whole life will improve.

7) Schedule some time to decompress.Don’t be a slave to productivity. A balanced life includes time to relax and enjoy a change of pace. When you take time out for yourself, you establish a more balanced perspective of everything else. Balance makes life seem easier and more rewarding, because that is exactly what it is.

What helps you stay balanced when things get crazy?
Have something you would like to add to the list?
The lines are open!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Anastasiya

I loved your outlook on balance. You seemed to capture the meaning of balanced living in this short article. I really enjoyed reading it. I am going to share it with my readers who are seeking for balance.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Anastasia, I know a living a balanced life is at the center of your work and I really appreciate you input here. I’ve probably said this to ten thousand people over the years, but balance really is the hardest thing. It takes effort to maintain balance , but it is so worth it.

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Rocket Bunny

Hello-
I enjoy exercising early in the morning so I can feel like good starting work and take breaks regularly.
I totally agree with you about changing your focus in order to refresh your ideas when you return to work.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Bunny, personally, I know for a fact that regular exercise improves every aspect of life including attitude. One of the first things I will ask a coaching client who feels out of balance and overwhelmed is How much and how often do you exercise?

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Sanjana

Mornings are underrated. I consider them fundamental for the whole diurnal experience. What you do in the very first moments of your morning will fundamentally and inexorably shape your entire day. Most of the time you spend your mornings by routinely performing some habits, on auto pilot. Hence, your days will routinely unfold towards you, the same way day after day, on auto pilot.

Consciously inserting your intentions in these very first moments will have a huge effect. Taking charge of those moments it’s like activating some subtle, unconscious triggers which will ultimately determine your whole daily experience, exactly the way you want. Mornings are fundamental. This is why I experimented a lot with my very first moments of the day.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Sanjana, there is no doubt that our morning routine sets the tone of our entire day. I like to focus on gratitude before anything else. It keeps me alert to my blessings all day long.

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Stephen - Rat Race Trap

Hi Jonathan, this is excellent advice and I totally agree that no matter how much time you have it’s never going to be enough enough. WE always think we need to add a little bit more. There simply is more to do now than there used to be. Here I am reading and commenting on your blog. 30 years ago this wouldn’t have been an activity on my radar. It didn’t exist.

Life is fuller in the sense of there being more things available to choose from and this inevitably leads to more things we WANT or THINK WE NEED to cram into life – otherwise we might miss something. The trouble is that we are trying to do so much we actually are missing much of it.

People think they are living a richer life or contributing more to their work or their family when they try to “do it all”. But the fact of the matter is that just like you point out, they are actually sacrificing quality. Your family, your work, your hobbies your health, or whatever need quality focused time from you. Your children will benefit far more from 1 hour of quality focused time than they will from 4 hours of distracted, rushed, stressed, and impatient time from you. Sometimes less is actually a lot more. Wake up people!

Keep up the good stuff Jonathan!

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi Stephen, what an excellent, well balanced comment. There is so much wisdom in your middle paragraph that I am going to bold it in this reply and hope that it grabs the attention of our readers.
You said:

Life is fuller in the sense of there being more things available to choose from and this inevitably leads to more things we WANT or THINK WE NEED to cram into life – otherwise we might miss something. The trouble is that we are trying to do so much we actually are missing much of it.

Thanks for your valuable contribution to our conversation!

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David Stevens

Hi Jonathan,
Fine post again. We must remember that we do “have a Life” & this Life is meant to be lived. As Stephen Covey says…prioritise the important things not just the urgent ones.” Whatever is important to you….make the time to do it. The balance that you mention can be a juggling act however is well worth achieving. As time goes on, “balance” seems more important…….in your favour.
be good to yourself
David

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Hi David, a juggling act indeed. That’s why it’s so important to analyze our situation from time to time. When I think of balance I think of someone on a high-wire with a balance poll in their hand. The closer they are to balance, the smaller the needed adjustments. But when they suddenly get off balance it requires a swift correction to avoid a much bigger problem.

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Steve-Personal Success Factors

Jonathan, thanks for the great article. You’re right: it takes a lot of practice and commitment to truly live a balanced life. But it also helps to understand that there will be pockets of time in our lives when we will have to be a bit ‘unbalanced’ to accomplish some of our goals. In those times, however, we need to remember that balance is a priority, so that “lack of balance” does not become our unintended priority.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills

Well said Steve. We all have those times when we intentionally shift out of balance to accomplish something or deal with a pressing issue. Keeping such time temporary can be challenging for sure.

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Galen Pearl

Today is the second day of my retirement, and I already feel like your post is exactly what I needed to read today. I’m so busy all the time (how did I find time to work all those years?!). I have things I want to do, but I can see how easily time gets frittered away. So I’m going to follow your advice. You’ve given me a structured way of approaching this next stage. Thank you!

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Scott

One of my favorite bits of wisdom from Covey’s 7 Habits is this:

“Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities.”

I’m happy to say that I think I’m finally actually at that point in my life. Sure, there’s always something I *could* be doing, but for the first time in years, I don’t finish work every day with a nagging feeling of “I shouldn’t be stopping — there’s so much more that needs to be done.” Actually taking weekends off — wow, what a concept!

And the end result is, I now work better during the time I do work — more creative, more focused, less stressed.

Unfortunately, much of our society still judges one’s effort and value by how much time you put in and how willing you are to sacrifice other things in your life for the sake of your work.

Really, how sick is that???

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Sandra / Always Well Within

Jonathan,

I really like the common sense embed in this article: the fact that quality takes more time. I’ve spent most of my life being unrealistic about what I can accomplish. Now, I’ve scaled way back but I feel really good about leading a more balanced and quality oriented life. This article is definitely a winner.

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