Work-life balance has always seemed like the mythical El Dorado. It’s shining somewhere in the distance and, if I just followed the right path, I would arrive there and never have to worry about finding that balance again. The only problem is that, as the Spanish conquistadors learned, there is no El Dorado, and every time you think that you’ve got work and life balanced, something happens that turns it all upside down.
There isn’t a fulcrum at the center of work-life balance that you can stand at forever. It’s constantly moving which means we need to move with it. But how we choose to move with it can help us find that balance point for those fleeting moments. Balancing, like any physical act, requires the use of multiple muscles and, in conjunction, you can stay upright while you are swaying around.
Here are five ways that I’ve strengthened my balancing act and helped keep myself from losing it as I deal with competing work and life demands.
As parents and often as employees and employers, too, we spend much of our time focused on taking care of others. At home, it’s questions like, “Do the kids have their lunches? Was the permission slip signed?” that fill our time. At work, we might worry about an employee’s ability to meet a deadline or be thinking about how to help a colleague who is struggling at home.
Key in strengthening your ability to balance work and life is to make sure that you are taking care of you. This isn’t a requirement that you go on a diet, become a vegetarian, or do a couch to 5k. Rather, find some things that can help recharge you. This might be exercise or healthy eating, but it could also be booking a regular massage or allowing yourself a little TV at night to unwind.
2. Menu Planning
Mealtime is the biggest hassle in most families. Dinner needs to be thrown together at one of the most stressful times of the day because both parents and kids are tired from a full day of work or school and lunch feels like it took place days ago instead of hours ago.
A little advance planning can take the pain out of getting ready for dinner. Sit with your kids and your spouse at the beginning of the week and plan out the meals. Be realistic (homemade sushi simply can’t happen on a weeknight, trust me) and be prepared to do some legwork in advance. Make a list of what needs to be cooked in advance and figure out what days that will happen. Make extra and put a little in your freezer for another week.
And be flexible. A traffic jam might require you to swap Monday’s dinner with Thursday’s. Be willing to put out a healthy snack or two to ward off someone’s hangry behavior.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
The world is a pretty busy place and we’re so busy responding to every notification on our phone or computer that we can lose touch with ourselves. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to help let yourself disconnect from the world for just a few moments. And, it’s something that you can do with your kids, too! Practicing mindful meditation with them can help teach them skills to deal with the future craziness of their lives.
Start simple with techniques like a body scan. Or, since there is an app for that, try out Headspace or Mind Yeti. And don’t worry about not being able to get in or out of a lotus position.
4. Indulge Your Inner “Type A” Personality
Sometimes you just have to give in to the “type A” personality demands that some of us have deep in our psyche. Let yourself make lists. Be willing to make piles. Invest in clear plastic boxes. Give yourself permission to be a little aggressive with your organization.
We’ve turned our refrigerator from a children’s art museum to a family command center because it makes us feel empowered and in control of the chaos of our lives. Sometimes peace of mind comes from knowing that if it’s important, it’s on the fridge.
5. Allow Yourself to Fail
Even the best tightrope walkers fall sometimes. As parents, we need to remind ourselves that it is ok that we screwed up dinner or lost the permission slip. Our kids will bounce back and our self-esteem will return. Our parenting lives will never look like a Norman Rockwell painting and that shouldn’t bother you. Parenting is a messy, hands-on experience that involves flying by the seat of your pants. Get back on the tightrope and keep taking more steps forward.