It is always challenging to strike the right balance between the priorities in your life, but now more than ever, this has really been pushed to the fore. We are juggling needs in the workplace alongside home schooling, concerns around health, social distancing and other external pressures.
Corndel runs masterclasses about balance, stress management and prioritsation. Our five-step plan to a well-balanced life, is taken from one of these masterclasses:
It’s important to remember that whilst there is never ‘more time’, how you spend your time is always a choice albeit not one that you’ve consciously made. In her TED talk on gaining control over your time, Laura Vanderkam says, “We don’t build the lives we want by saving time; we build the lives we want and time saves itself.” What constitutes a balanced life is unique to you, so the first step in getting there is to decide what your ideal would look like.
You might like to start with a couple of questions:
- On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is poor and 10 is perfect, how close to the balance you want is your life right now?
- If there was a miracle in the night and you woke up tomorrow with life in the perfect balance, how would you know the miracle had happened? What would you see, hear and feel?
Next, jot down on a piece of paper a few things that reflect how you spend your time currently, using the headings below. It doesn’t matter whether these things are what you like to do or feel you have to do. This exercise simply helps you to start thinking about where your time is going right now:
- I spend most of my time …
- I spend some of my time …
- I occasionally …
- I never …
You can also use a wheel of life exercise to take stock.
Once you have this list, ask yourself the following questions:
- Looking at what you’ve noted down, are you spending your time where you want to right now, e.g. are the things you are spending most of your time on things that you want to spend most of your time on? What would you like to move around the categories?
- At the moment, what do you believe is the biggest barrier to you having the balance you want?
- What would it take to change something for the positive? What would you need to do? Whose support might you need?
Explore your current reality
Over the course of a week, note down everything that you do, how long it takes and whether it is/was important and/or urgent. In terms of the time aspect, make sure you use timescales that are meaningful to you e.g. 15 mins, 30 mins, 1 day, ½ day etc.
Use that to get familiar with where your time is going, e.g.
- Are you putting off a lot of tasks until they are both important and urgent, which then means they take longer and have a domino effect on other tasks, e.g. booking the MOT on the car, finishing that report off for your manager?
- Are you spending lots of your time on things that are urgent, but not important to you? You define importance; it’s what you want to prioritise in your life for better balance, e.g. if you want to prioritise time with the children, but you worked an extra hour in the evening to help a colleague meet a deadline instead, then that was potentially urgent for them, but not important for you.
Use a framework like Covey’s Effective Time Management Matrix, to put the things on your list into four categories:
- Do now– the things that were important to you and urgent, and you should have spent time on them straight away
- Do next/plan to do – the things that weren’t urgent, but were important to you and you wanted to get them done in a timely way
- Don’t do/delegate – the things that were urgent, but weren’t important to you (challenge yourself here; it’s OK to say no to things that aren’t serving you well)
- Drop – the things that were neither important nor urgent
Then add in anything that you want to make time for to create the balance you want.
Once you have your final list of things that you specifically need/want to do, i.e. your do now and do later lists, schedule everything so that you spend as much time as possible staying on top of things before they become urgent. Don’t over schedule as surprises do come along and we need to have some flexibility. This is particularly important right now.
If you can create a system for tasks that are regularly eating your time, do so, e.g. if planning meals and grocery shopping is taking a lot of time every week, create a rotating menu planner with standard shopping lists so that you spend less time each week planning everything and free up time for something you want to have more of in your life.
When you have achieved your goals, remember to celebrate. Conversely if you haven’t been able to achieve something, don’t despair. Instead, get curious about why that might be, learn from it and try a different approach.
In summary, the five steps to a better-balanced life during the current crisis and beyond:
- Set yourself goals: Think about what a good balance looks like to you and set goals for changing where you spend your time. What do you want to have more time for? What would you like to spend less time on?
- Explore your reality: Get a detailed view of where your time is going right now and decide whether you will do, delegate or drop each of these things. Add in anything you want to have time for, so you have a clear idea of what you need to do. This becomes your ‘to do’ list.
- Create systems: Use whatever method works for you to schedule your ‘to do’ list items, e.g. setting time aside in your diary, using a task manager to remind you to do things. Where you can, create systems for regular repetitive tasks so that you set things up once and then save the time later.
- Celebrate/review: Always remember to celebrate and review once you’ve achieved your goals, get curious about where things haven’t worked so well and try a different approach.
Things change and a refresh might be in order from time to time; you can use the process from top to bottom whenever it feels like things are out of balance.
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