This is … what? Article #678 you’re reading on balance?

Maybe you’re just geeked out by it. Or, maybe you keep reading because you still don’t have it. Maybe you’re a mix like me – both interested and frustrated, ever learning about balance while hoping for balance so you can move on already to other goals … goals that will require balance!

So, let’s do it! Today’s article isn’t about tips for balance practice so much as tips for building a balance framework to deploy in your life now, six months from now, and five years from now.

 Define it.

If balance is the goal, your interpretation of the term is more important than the dictionary definition. What is balance to you? For example, is balance a verb, something you’re trying to set, achieve or sustain? Is it a noun to describe a state of being? When you think of balance, do you go internal – an alignment of identity, beliefs and motivations – or does a calendar of logistical hacks come to mind?

Defining your balance end game will bring clarity to your current decisions, as well as metrics for achievement. It’s not helpful to set a goal and then be confused about how to measure the goal. And if you can’t measure it, balance will be that to-do item that’s always on your life list and bugging you … mostly because you don’t know what qualifies as a box check!

 Get it all down.

Write down everything you’re up to, and I’m talking everything – the things you want to do and the things you don’t want to do. Dreams and chores. Goals set for you, goals you set for yourself and goals that aren’t yours, but involve your input, time or energy in some way. Should you write down the small stuff? Yes. Should write down the personal and the professional? Yes.

You can’t balance if you don’t know what you’re working with, so write down any and every task, project, appointment and obligation that takes your time now through the foreseeable future.

Remember, you are a whole person!

In getting it all down, make sure the woman represented on your list reflects a woman with a mind, body, and soul.

Most high-achieving women descend into robot mode when the work piles up, skewing the balance. You are not a robot! You are a woman who needs to eat and sleep. The people in your professional network are not the only relationships you need to cultivate, and the relationship with your family should extend beyond navigating the calendar.

Also – and this is the one that can make us the most squeamish – you should play. You remember it, play – that thing you do that brings you joy and … (here is the kick) nothing else. For example, reading to read is play, but reading a book, even a good one, that serves a twin goal of professional advancement? Not play! Maybe you enjoy cooking, so much so you’ve developed a side hustle on Instagram. That’s amazing, but you’ve now turned play into a pursuit and need to find another activity to release you from the grind of achievement.

We’re not designed to run work like work and our home like work and our person like work and our hobbies like work. Play brings joy. We could all use more joy. For me, this looks like breaking from screens on Sundays, hiking with my dogs, talking with my husband over coffee in the morning or wine at night, reading with my kids, and hosting friends for dinner.

Set two goal dates.

When we don’t have an overriding goal, it’s hard to see how our daily adds up to something meaningful. When we’re too focused on the future, we miss the importance of today.

If your family operates like mine, three to five months out makes a great short-term goal date, given the school schedules and growth trajectories of my three young children, plus my work schedule (I am a professor) and the seasons. Beyond that, I set goals in the two to three year range. If it’s much longer, I lose track and momentum.

These goals bring both a due date and a check point. For example, last January I moved my book draft to Priority 1. I knew I wanted to publish that next summer (20 months out), which meant I needed to sideline or complete other projects in the current semester (four months) to focus on finishing the draft in the summer (three months) and then circulate the draft through editing cycles over the next academic year (nine months).

Knowing the short- and long-term dates helped me determine the work for each increment, establishing my no’s and yes’s so I’d remain a whole person during this time. This past summer, balance for me looked like writing and hanging with my family (and sometimes a mash-up of the two where I’d draft while at the pool with my family). Coming in with that clarity guided my choices and because that clarity came with a deadline, I could assess whether I’d achieved it.

 Rinse and revise.

At the end of your short-term goal, evaluate how it went. Were your balance goals feasible and achievable? If yes, celebrate! If not, why not, and what changes can you make in your definition and deadlines for the next short-term increment?

Remember, you are human! You will mess up and sometimes work at the expense of sleep or treat yourself at the expense of relationships or nap at the expense of running errands. It happens to everyone, and it’s not worth ruminating over. Course correct in a way that’s honest and kind to yourself.

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