5 Ways to Be Like Those People Who Know How to Balance Their Busy Lives
I’m busy. I mean really busy. There are more things on my plate now than when my four kids were little and I was working full-time as an admissions officer and Latin teacher. The kids are mostly grown, I’m a writer now, and yet somehow I still feel busier than ever.
From a business perspective, the busy pays off. Horizon, the first novel I published, won the 2016 Writer’s Digest Grand Prize for Self Published Fiction. I’ve just released Infinity, the sequel to Horizon this past summer. I’m attending conferences, doing readings and signings at bookstores, and am plotting my next big project. I can see the fruits of my labor, and I have been lucky in just how delicious they’ve been. I love what I’m doing and I feel blessed to be doing it, so I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I’m not.
Still, no one wants to feel exhausted the moment they open their eyes in the morning, or daunted by an endless “to-do” list before the day even starts. Moreover, I find myself constantly taking stock of my role as a mom — Am I paying attention? Am I present enough in the moment? At the end of the day, have I attended to the most important things?
These are questions moms grapple with constantly, no matter what their particular brand of ‘busy’ looks like. Whether working outside the home in a full-time job, doing so a few days a week, or going full speed ahead at home, finding balance is not easy. But it’s crucial to our personal survival and to the well-being of our family.
My own soul-searching resulted in a list of promises I’m holding myself to every day. They’re a total work in progress, but so far I’m seeing some dividends. Of course, different methods work for different people, but maybe some of these will resonate with you:
1 Attend to the priorities first. There are things to do. Every day. And like most of my friends, my tasks don’t just include managing myself, but managing some of the other people who live with me. So, I have to live by my calendar and lists, and I feel much more organized when I do. I admit that my list-making borders on obsessive (doesn’t everyone have a monthly overview list, a weekly task list, and a daily schedule???). But I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I believe creating lists actually allows me to let some things go, temporarily at least. If something is written down, and I can’t attend to it in the moment, I know it isn’t lost or forgotten, it just needs rescheduling. Similarly, working with a calendar assures me I’m not going to miss something important, like a kid’s doctor appointment or my mother-in-law’s birthday! I can relax. My calendar will remind me.
With all this organization, I’m also trying to reimagine my daily time management. Rather than create an endless to-do list, I want my schedule to reflect my priorities. So, when I create that schedule,I’m attempting to allot an amount of time to each task and block out chunks of time for the most important things.
2 Plan the down time and unplug. Down time has to be a priority, and I have to honor it. A few weeks ago my daughter needed to make a dish for “fiesta day” at school. When my boys were younger and had to bring treats or snacks to school, I would generally hear about this at bedtime the night before, or sometimes in the morning as we were rushing to the car. But my daughter, she’s a planner. I got the recipe a week before, a gentle reminder a few days ahead, and a “mom you got the ingredients, right?” the day before. And not only is she a planner, she’s actually helpful. We work really well together in the kitchen. The day before “fiesta day” I picked up the ingredients, and, using rule #1, I actually planned the cooking time into my schedule. Because I did this, I was able to shut everything down and really be with my daughter while we cooked together, laughed, told stories, and enjoyed each other’s company. I’ve been trying to think of cooking time now as down time. It has to be done anyway, and with a glass of wine and good company, why can’t it be a time to reconnect and pay attention to one another? I even bought a new cookbook…
3 Sleep on it before making a commitment to something. This one’s been really helpful. Generally, I’m the kind of person who likes to say yes to everything. Especially now, trying to get a new career off the ground, it’s really hard to refuse any work that comes my way. But not all the projects are the right ones for me, and if I let an idea percolate for a while, the right choice becomes clear. The right projects are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. They energize me, and my creativity flows around them. The others never sit quite right. I’ve learned to listen to my gut, but it requires my first answer to always be, “let me sleep on that and I’ll get back to you.”
4 Laugh more. Research suggests that laughter is good for your health! Laughter not only feels good, it changes my perspective. And, while it’s really wonderful to laugh with other people, in a pinch, I’m happy to laugh all by myself. I fall out of my chair when I read those autocorrect snafus that are posted online. And I’ve recently discovered a Star Wars bloopers reel that I find absolutely hysterical. When I need to take a break, rather than fill my head with the negativity that is so pervasive in the media and online, I look for laughter and levity.
5 Don’t wish it away. Don’t get me wrong – I have perspective on this one. I had the stomach bug the other day and I definitely wished that shit away immediately! But I’m talking garden-variety challenges – the stress that comes from being part of a family, having a career, raising children – the day-to-day stuff that can sometimes just wear us down. For example, we have a small (ahem) construction project happening right now. It’s over budget, my yard’s torn up, my house is dirty from the work, and I’m hosting a huge party back there for two of my kids in another month. Because those two kids are graduating. And then they are moving, one to the other side of the country. The project will be done in a few weeks, and a few weeks after that, my household will look completely different. It’s as it should be. My older boys are following their dreams and I couldn’t be more excited for them. But I don’t want to miss out on these last few weeks with my whole family living under one roof together for the last time. If I focus on hurrying along the discomfort, I might miss the joy in the moment. And really, life’s just too short for that!
What about you? How do you manage your busy?
Tabitha Lord is a mother of 3, Writer’s Digest Grand Prize Winner (2016) and author of the acclaimed Horizon series.