We talk about it.
We read about it in our struggle to achieve it.
And we think about it
Way, way, way too much.
If anything in our life is off-balance.
We know it.
But if we achieve it? What would this really look like?
Would we suddenly wake up happy and fulfilled every day?
These are some questions I have been asking lately because guess what?
I think I’m there.
A few months ago I wrote about going back to work, and one of my biggest fears was that I’d be spread too thin. That I wouldn’t be able to do anything well.
And I’d just have to sit back and settle for “good enough”.
As I think back to my concerns then, and where I am now, I realize I was wise to worry, because that’s what my life is like today.
Over the last few months I have come to the conclusion I had no idea what reaching life balance even meant!
When you think about life balance, what is your definition?
A few months ago, I thought of it as a product of splitting my time.
Of setting priorities on what’s important to me, and checking off the to-do list each week to make sure everything is accomplished.
And by that definition, I’m a glowing sucess!
This week for example:
- Work- Conference call and marketing plans.
- Parenting- Drove kid back and forth to school. We chatted. Took walks. Did homework.
- Friends– had an awesome lunch with my friend, and morning walk with another.
- Husband–date night this week!
- Health/ Exercise- strength training for 25-30 min. each day and an ave. of 12m steps. Sleep- 7-8 hours most nights.
- Writing? Well no…we’ll talk about that later…
- Volunteering. taught Four Winds science session to my son’s class.
- Reading? Tana French’s new novel. Lord of the Rings book 3 and the new Heroes of Olympus w/family.
Hmm, anything else?
Ah yes, there are family dinners with homemade meals. Dealing with a half-dozen+ household pets and decisions related to a bathroom remodel. Laundry, cleaning….
On the surface, I really have it all! People might think:
She works! She hangs with friends! She keeps fit! She is a parent. Part of a successful marriage! Volunteers! Keeps the household afloat!
Well. No. It doesn’t seem to work that way.
Here’s what I have noticed instead:
If you see me in passing and want to chat?
Huh? Who are you again, and where am I?
I’m Jittery. Unfocused. Forgetful. Dropping things. Second-guessing decisions I have made.
If someone asks how I am, I either have nothing to say because I can’t even formulate a state of being until I have settled down a bit more, or end up in a psycho-babble that ends in random, impossible-to-follow tangents.
Caught in the middle of a transition.
Just because I’m splitting my time evenly to fit everything into a perfect little life/balance pie, it doesn’t mean spiritually, mentally, I have the ability to keep up!
This particular issue has invaded my brain for the last few months, one of the reasons I had to take a little break from writing. I didn’t plan it. I have just been too confused as to how to solve the problem, I didn’t need one more project, a set writing goal, to stratify each day even more.
And I also just learned I haven’t been allowing myself any breathing room to come up with anything remotely creative…
A few weeks ago, my husband came home from a trip with a new book: The Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levintin. He left it on the coffee table, I’m guessing with the hope I might read it and find a way to eliminate the piles of paper and clutter so we can have an organized house.
Instead, as I flip through various chapters, it’s helping me understand this so-called “balance” isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
Unknowingly, I had been defining my life-balance success in terms of my ability to multi-task.
By my ability to accomplish all the priorities on my smartphone to-do list with a nice little check at the end of each day.
And that’s not helping me much. Because inside, I don’t even remotely feel like a success.
Multitasking is the enemy of a focused attentional system
We can’t truly think about or attend to all these things at once, so our brains flit from one to another, each time with a neurological switching cost. The system does not function well this way.
I have been loving the fact I have flexible hours for work, and do so from home. But I have not made clear boundaries between work and home. Even when I’m not working, I’m consistently checking email to make sure I am “there” if anyone needs me.
And when I’m working, I may flit back and forth between the plumber or electrician or decisions on the bathroom. And then my mom sends another email about decisions related to a trip in June, and now it’s time to put on the parent hat and pick up Brett from school…
Levinton also states:
It takes more energy to shift your attention from task to task. It takes less energy to focus. That means that people who organize their time in a way that allows them to focus are not only going to get more done, but they’ll be less tired and less neurochemically depleted after doing it.
Daydreaming also takes less energy than multi-tasking. And the natural intuitive see-saw between focusing and daydreaming helps to re calibrate and restore the brain.
Multi-tasking does not.
He quotes a professor at UC Irvine, Gloria Mark, who said:
Multitasking by definition disrupts the kind of sustained thought usually necessary for problem solving and for creativity.
She explains: Multi-tasking is bad for innovation. 10 1/2 minutes on one project is not enough time to think in-depth about anything. And that creative solutions often arise from allowing a sequence of altercations between dedicated focus and daydreaming.
This is where the light bulb finally went off: finally a logical explanation for why it has taken me two months to write a single post!
By attending to too many different priorities, all at once, with no specific organization to my day, I’m wasting energy. I’m not allowing myself enough time to focus 100% on anything.
And by not “allowing a sequence of altercations between dedicated focus and daydreaming”
My “neurological switching cost” or trade-off, has been:
As you can imagine, I have some work to do, and will start by challenging myself to a few new goals over the next few weeks. They are:
- Start each day by blocking out specific work hours and abide by them.
- Check email and social media only at specific times so I’m not weaving in and out of completely different subjects, dividing my attention.
- Unless it’s the school on the caller I.D., no answering the home phone during work hours.
- Plan for time between transitions: Just that 20 minutes to veg out and listen to music, take a walk outside, or just do anything that clears my mind, before switching through my work/life balance wheel, to help keep the creativity alive. So by the time I do get there I can be: Present. And ready for what’s next. Instead of confused and disoriented.
This is going to be hard. Today’s work and social environment and the fact that texts and emails follow us wherever we go, make communication from all areas in our life tough to ignore.
And who knows where I’ll find space in my day for extra transition time.
But I’ll give it a whirl…
I don’t want to float through life going from pie slice-to -pie slice like clock-work, thinking this is what life-balance is all about.
If I’m not able to really enjoy where I am, or feel I’m even successful in my ability to participate, who needs balance anyway?
Do you find you have so many competing priorities swerving in and out of focus each day?
Do you have tips that help you transition through your work/life balance wheel?
Would love to hear your thoughts and stories, as you can see, I’m a work in progress!