By Robyn Pearce (the Time Queen)
We constantly hear the work/life balance drum being beaten these days. Do you sometimes wonder if you'll ever stumble across that mystical Holy Grail of perfect life balance? Or does it seem like something that only happens for others?
If life is too busy, maybe it's time to step back and evaluate. Are you trying to fit too much into every day, every week? How many hats are you wearing?
How many roles are you currently committed to?
Take a minute and write down all the roles you juggle – they might include parent, adult child of aging parents, grandparent, sibling, friend, employee or employer, taxi service to various child-based activities, contributor to voluntary organisations, church or community group member, sports activities, ..... How many categories do you have? And – have you put 'self' in there?
Around the world I'm now hearing the phrase 'energy management' as opposed to 'time management'. Consider those multi-layered hats you wear – can you grade each on an energy ratio? When do you experience your highest energy? What lights you up? And what drains you? Most of our close relationships are non-negotiable (sorry, you can't return that messy 12 year old!), but what about some of the more peripheral ones? Do you find yourself reluctantly putting in 'time at mill' on some of those committees or activities? Are you feeling stretched like a sick rubber band as you run children to endless classes and events, leaving no time for relaxing? Do they really need to belong to everything?
Here's the key – minimise, simplify, cut back – until you feel in control. There are no prizes for being a martyr. The kids won't suffer if they don't belong to all the same clubs and activities as Susie and Brendan down the road. If we try to do everything we'll end up doing nothing properly. We'll also burn out, be snappy, poor company, tired parents and lovers and less-than-effective workers.
Two simple strategies
Apart from minimising your involvements and paring back to a more simple life, you might like the following two strategies – one for a family, the other for anyone.
1. Teach the children to wait
A Napier family found that evenings, especially by the time the last parent arrived home, degenerated into a free-for-all with the last parent in the door feeling somewhat ambushed, no matter how much he or she loved their little ones. Solution? The children were taught to wait.
First the explanation: 'Once Mum and Dad are both home each night they're going to have a special time for 10 minutes. Save your questions, stories and news until we've had our time.'
On the first night of the new regime, with drinks in hand Mum and Dad shut the frosted glass lounge doors on their dear ankle biters. There were gaps of plain glass amongst the pattern. For the first couple of nights the parents were amused to see three small noses pressed up against the glass, with giggles and speculation as to just what Mum and Dad were up to! And then the novelty wore off. Within days it became a non-event. The huge benefit was that this simple strategy calmed everyone down and the evening flowed much more smoothly. No only did the parents have time to catch their breath but also sibling arguments cut back dramatically.
2. Every six weeks have a work-free weekend
The temptation is, when you're learning a new job or carrying a very heavy schedule, to just keep going. After all, we can catch up on evenings and weekends, can't we?
However, and probably just as well, our bodies were never designed to run non-stop. Think of your body as a rubber band. If it's at stretch all the time it will snap much more quickly than when pressure is released from time to time.
It was explained to me this way by a nutritionist.
'It all relates to stress,' she said. 'If you think of all the events in your life as individual stress bricks (positive as well as negative), every time you experience a stressful situation or are particularly busy you're adding another brick to the stress wall around yourself. If you just keep going the wall has nowhere to go but up. Many of the people who live this way spend the first part of their annual holidays (if they take them) exhausted and often sick.
'The best way to keep the stress wall at a healthy level - enough to keep you vibrant and alert - is to take a complete break of a few days about every six weeks. This knocks some of the bricks down and keeps the wall always at a manageable height. On this 'do nothing' weekend don't take your computer with you, don't take 'catch up' work, and get someone else to take any work-related calls or emails.'
• Simplify your life. Look for things to let go of – commitments, additional roles, projects, even magazine and newsletter subscriptions (but not this one!).
• When you're not sure whether to take on a new activity ask yourself: 'Does this light me up?' Your intuition will know the answer – listen to it!
• Take a break about every six weeks – no work, no commitments. Turn off the phone and computer – let your brain defrag!
For 21 years Robyn Pearce has been sharing her experiences and knowledge about time management with countless clients and readers around the world. Author of eight books, many other products and thousands of articles, she regularly appears as a subject specialist on television and radio. She also coaches senior executives, helping them reduce the overwhelm of too much to do and not enough hours.
If you'd known Robyn in earlier years, you certainly wouldn't have picked her for a future international time management specialist. Through the years of raising six kids, single parenthood and then a highly successful real estate career, time management was her biggest challenge. The good news is – she won. So, she's not one of those theoretical experts – she's made all the mistakes in the book and now shares the solutions with others. And – with sixteen grandchildren, a wide variety of interests and a busy international consultancy, she needs every trick to keep on track!
See her in action at http://www.gettingagrip.com/videos/