As I alluded to in a few posts over the past few months, our family has been a tad overextended recently. It is all due to good reasons and in many ways we have felt very blessed, but it has also been exhausting. In the midst of all of the juggling and rushing and cramming too much in, I realized that the boys were getting increasingly cranky and whiny and that I, in turn, was getting grumpier with them. There were moments when I thought to myself, “why are they being so difficult?! Don’t they understand that I have work to do?!” And then I (finally) realized that their whining and bickering was because they wanted and needed attention from me. They were begging for it.
I decided that a change needed to be made so that I could honor their needs and also my own. I made a commitment that when they were at school I would focus on work. No personal phone calls, emails, Facebook, laundry, cleaning, errands, etc. And when they were home, I would focus on being more present for them and would also do some of the home things that needed to get done (laundry, cooking, etc.). No surprise here: it worked like a charm. The whining and fighting decreased but more importantly, I was less cranky with them. I no longer resented their interruptions and was able to be much more flexible and present.
For those of us that work from home, just this is a great lesson. But I think there is a bigger lesson here in the power of creating balance through the assertion of boundaries that can apply to everyone. As we juggle many obligations—professional, familial, and communal—creating times and spaces in which we can fulfill those obligations can be incredibly helpful and much more efficient. Work-life balance, I find, doesn’t just naturally happen, it requires some sort of structure. Here are some tricks that I have found to be helpful for me and for my clients:
1) Create a schedule. Carve out times for the things that you need to get done. Maybe it is a few hours on the weekend to get that work project that is hanging over you taken care of. Maybe it is a couple hours to prep dinners or lunches for the week. Maybe it is time to go to the playground with your kids. Maybe it is time for self-care. For some of us, there may be a weekly schedule that works best, for others it might be a weekly or daily organizing session. Either way, take the time to figure out a plan to fit things in so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore and can enjoy the moment you are in when you are in it.
2) Take the temptation away. If you are someone who, like me, is drawn to quickly check your email or social media pages, then put the computer or smart phone out of reach in the times when you are not supposed to be on it.
3) Find ways to include your kids and/or partner. Folding laundry, making dinner, cleaning the house. Try to find ways to make those jobs things you can do together in some fun way. Maybe it is playing fun music you can all dance to while you clean up or maybe it is finding cooking tasks for everyone so you can spend time in the kitchen together. If you can make these activities fun family times, you’ve got extra hands and everything will get done faster!
4) Learn to say no. If you are someone who takes on more than you can realistically (and happily!) do, then you need to learn to say no. When we overextend ourselves we end up doing everyone a disservice because either we burn out or we can’t fulfill all of the obligations we have taken on. If saying no is too hard, maybe the first step is trying to say “not now, but maybe another time.”
5) Learn to say yes. If someone offers you help that you could really use, accept it graciously. It is ok not to do it all ourselves!
6) Don’t forget yourself. Self-care is essential to being able to fulfill all the other obligations. Think about it: how are you more efficient? When you are well-rested, calm, and happy or when you are exhausted, not well fed, and feeling blah? This doesn’t have to be a huge time suck, but try to find at least 15 minutes in the day that can be all yours.