Work Life Balance Strategies: Making Room For Joy

Every Year Gets Faster

I have a tendency to greet every new month with an astonished “I can’t believe it’s (whatever month) already!” As I am writing this it is November, and nearly a new year. And my thoughts turn again to how well I’ve done at ordering my life around the things I value, believe in, and enjoy.

Dreams & Goals

A new year is just ahead and while an arbitrary date on the calendar won’t really change how the world is running it is a helpful marker for our lives. The new year is popular for taking on new healthy practices, or setting new goals. I prefer to set my goals and plan my year in Advent. It just feels right to start my year with a season of introspection, waiting, and inner work followed by a big party. (Instead of starting to work on life balance in January when we’re all a little hung over form said big party.) I prefer the tone this practice sets for the rest of my year. And it encourages me to set goals, and develop habits I might actually keep up with.

Be honest, you don’t really want to go to the gym every day, but you tend to feel obligated in January. And if you’re like me that lasts a couple weeks and then life hits full force and boom, that’s gone. But when I set goals I enjoy, that I really care about, then I’ll happily keep them through the holidays. And that becomes my measure of whether or not something is really important to me.

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A New Kind of Resolution

Most resolutions come from a negative headspace. I’m not fit enough, ergo I must go to the gym. My pants don’t fit, so I must give up chocolate. I spent too much on Christmas this year so I have to give up all the stuff I care about to try to pay off that debt. Bah. It’s all pretty damn negative and no fun at all. So, in Advent of 2017 I started a new habit, a new kind of resolution. (And I haven’t stopped yet!)

Here it is: what do I want in my life so badly that I cannot wait until January to get started? What am I excited about? What feels like a reward instead of a punishment? That’s my resolution. But that sort of resolution requires a framework, a balance to my life that makes space for my passions.

Balance Is Impossible: Do it Anyway

So here’s the thing. The whole idea of achieving work-life balance, or life balance, is bunk. It can’t be done. Because our lives are not static. The moment you get “perfect” balance something will change that will throw the whole thing out of whack again. Life balance isn’t a destination or a race you can win. So cut yourself some serious slack, and then do it anyway.

Just because something can never be reached in a permanent way doesn’t mean the journey itself isn’t worth taking. Working toward balance in your life is a worthy goal, and even one step in that direction is worth it. You don’t have to arrive for the trip to have been worth taking. What “balance” really means is that there is room in your life for the things that matter to you. That might be family, and skiing, and advancing your career. Or it could be meditation, art, and cooking the world’s best fajitas (can I come over for dinner?). What balance looks like for you is unique, and exactly what it is doesn’t matter, what matters is that it matters to you.

And if it matters to you, then it is worth making space in your life for that thing. Making space for the things you love is really making space for your soul. But. Doing this life balance thing, this journey isn’t easy. We can never just hit autopilot and cruise along in perfect balance. That’s why I created a handy checklist to help me make space for myself and my joys. (And you can use it too.)

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The Tool

I printed my checklist out, laminated it, and use a dry erase marker on it. You could just print out as many copies as you like, or use a pencil. Or you could be seriously cool and stick it to your fridge and mark off the items with magnets. (And I’m sort of jealous of your fridge now.)

I’ve been using this tool for quite a while now (it’s on version 2.0 at least) and I find it very helpful when I’m planning my time because it forces me to stay aware.

Balance Beam: The Spiritual Practice

Planning your life is a spiritual practice (or at least it can be). And the Balance4Life planner is a tool for your practice. It’s goal is simple: to remind you when you plan out your day, week, or month to make intentional space for your joys and passions and the things that give you life. Now, because I’m preaching to myself here I should say this: it only works if you use it. And Iv’e seen the difference in my own life when I forget about it and go about my planning like my life is a todo list to be conquered.

Here’s what works for me: place the list somewhere you will see it daily. Put it somewhere you won’t be able to lose it, or bury it under a pile of magazines. And set a reminder (on your calendar, todo app, or post-it on your mirror) to do the “monthly” and “weekly” sections once every month and week.

The sheet is intentionally meant to give you room to change things. Fill in the blanks (mine change monthly sometimes) and feel free to change the things I’ve listed. What brings me joy may not bring you joy. I’ve tried to make this version a little more generic than my personal sheet but there’s space to customize it more. So scribble away!

Make it a habit

Habits take on average two months to form. So here is the key, and the reason I want you to keep the planning sheet where you can see it: you have to keep coming back. Especially if you miss a day! Keep coming back. Keep restarting whenever you miss. It helps me to have daily reminders set.

And keep this in mind: this tool is intended to make time and space in your life for your passions and joys. Scribble on it, edit it, and make it yours!

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