Life Balance Means YOU, Too!

Life Balance spreadsheet

If you are working to bring more life balance to your family, don’t forget your own needs. For a lot of us who are mothers of young children, it is difficult to acknowledge that we have personal needs let alone to find a way to address those needs and reach for some kind of personal life balance.

I’ve been really focused taking small steps to improve areas of my life that feel like they are out of balance. In Tuesday’s post, I quoted Nigel Marsh’s TED Talk on “How to Make Work-Life Balance Work,” and I keep thinking about one thing he said: “Being balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life.”

Don’t get caught up in the assumption that you must reach a perfect balance. Look at your big picture to see where you want to be and where you are. Then, take a step.


My Technical Details

It’s easy to say, “Take a step,” but how? I know from trying a lot of different productivity systems what works to keep me on track and what becomes too much of a distraction. I write down everything I need to do. I dump all tasks onto a list following what I learned from reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. I have tried programs and apps, but I find that a plain spreadsheet works best for me. I’ve created my own system to outsmart my tendency to game the system and to keep me from putting everyone else first.

I check my big picture by dividing my goals and tasks by life area. (Embedded in the image above really is a screenshot of my daily task list.) How you measure your life balance and the balance of your family really depends on what you need.

  • You could look at the categories described in the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (Democratic Engagement, Community Vitality, Education, Environment, Healthy Populations, Leisure and Culture, Living Standards, and Time Use),
  • use general life areas (Spiritual, Intellectual, Psychological, Social, Professional, Recreational, and Physical), or
  • the roles that you play (Mother, Wife, Boss, Team Member, Community Member, Voter, Artist, Volunteer).

It will take some values clarification for you to determine which areas come together in your life to bring balance for you. I have gone through this process quite a few times, and I seem comfortably settled on eight areas that keep me in balance. I know that I tend not to take care of myself, so I have a whole section that is all about me.

If you are a visual person, you might like a graphic reminder of how you are doing. You can grade yourself on a Wheel of Life to remind you where you need more work. I used to want this, but I found that I made the wheel The Thing rather than making the wellbeing and balance The Thing. I get distracted by the graphics, so I just use a list with colors now. I make Family one of my eight separate areas of balance. I use my favorite color (purple) for the “ME!” area, to try to get myself not to ignore it. I put volunteer work at the bottom of the list in my least favorite color to keep myself from putting those tasks above family, work, and self.

If an off-the-shelf solution works for you, great. Really, that’s best, but it doesn’t work for me. I used to have to shift to a new system every few months to keep myself moving.

How does this help me find my own personal balance? I check in every week, and make myself choose items from every area to prioritize through the week. I don’t let myself get away with skipping the “ME!” section so I can get everyone else’s tasks done. Sometimes the “ME!” items are as simple as “READ novel” or “KNIT,” but I also make notes to call friends and workout. Over time, I have figured out how I neglect myself and I’ve figured out how to stop myself from doing it.

Shouldn’t we just be able to be more intuitive about life balance? I wish I could be. I think it used to be easier for me, but my life was less complicated and I didn’t have as many people to take care of. Now, I need help working through the chaos. To keep my personal life balance, I play to my own strengths and game my weaknesses.

While you are taking care of your family, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Image altered from © Pzaxe | Dreamstime.com

Finding Life Balance: Family Time

Young family painting together

Building a family takes a deliberate effort. It’s easy to neglect family a little here and there until you realize what you are losing. It is important to include family time in your measure of life balance.

While the actual meaning of life balance can and must vary among us, all can understand the need to step back from the busy-ness of our lives to check whether we are giving each area of life the time and nurturing it needs. Balance doesn’t mean that you give exactly equal time to an exact number of life areas to be covered. It just means that you continually strive for the mix that brings you the greatest happiness and wellbeing.

Family Is Essential for Life Balance

In my experience, a new family—a family that includes a newly married couple or young children—is the least able to make major contributions of time to their community, and yet we are often most in demand. Young families should be especially careful to protect family time. We are modeling what life balance will mean for our children into their future. We are creating the foundation they will need to build their own balanced lives. They need that deep, enriching sense of family.

Family isn’t automatic. You need to define what family means for young children and nurture your intentions with activities and love.

Learn to say “No”
At some point, as I tried to figure out the chaos around me, I realized that this young family period of one’s life is the busiest and most difficult to protect. When you have babies, you might not realize how much time you will need to spend with your children as they grow. Before you realize what is happening, you are in charge of the co-op delivery, you are singing in the choir, you are arranging three different play groups, and you’ve started a home business. Then you wonder why your children tell you that they miss you as soon as they can talk. It is OK to turn down many, even most, opportunities for outside commitments. Prioritize, and just choose one or two activities that mean the most to you.

Plan Family Time
I’m with my children all day because we homeschool, but that isn’t the same as planned family time. We need time together when everyone is free from stress. We need all four of us. So, we protect our Saturday night. We camp out and watch movies every Saturday night. Other times, we read a book together (1001 Arabian Nights and Lord of the Rings took more than a year each), play board games, or invite a neighbor over for dinner. What we do is far less important than doing something deliberate together at least once a week. Put that time on your calender, and don’t bring your phone. Schedule it, mix it up, ask for ideas from everyone, and find your groove.

Recognize the Moments
Pull yourself into consciousness of those beautiful moments with your family. When my children were very small, I remember distinctly that my favorite time in every day was falling asleep with them, laying in bed with an arm wrapped around each child. I could hear them breathing softly as they fell asleep, and my happiness was profound. Stop at those moments. Recognize and gather them.

Keeping family time in balance doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of time. I adore the TED talk by Nigel Marsh on work-life balance. Be sure to listen until the end to hear how he recognized one of those beautiful moments with his son after a simple day together.

“Being balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.”
Nigel Marsh, “How to Make Work-Life Balance Work”

Image © Thomas Perkins | Dreamstime.com