Who needs Life Balance Anyway?

My Life as a Pie

My Life as a Pie

Life Balance.

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.

Or Perfect.

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!

Do you?

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.

According Levintin:

Multitasking is the enemy of a focused attentional system

he says:

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!

Little Changes, Big Impact


Too busy to admire nature? Put it on the list…

Have you ever had one of those moments when you make a teeny-tiny, no-brainer kind of change in routine, but it makes all the difference?

I’m feeling that way this winter, and still can’t believe it took me so long to figure out how to get myelf a little more organized. I’ll say a little more, because the transition isn’t 100%, but think I’m on the right path.

I have always been kind of Type A at career-oriented tasks. If I had a vision on a project, it had to be perfect and I’d work round-the-clock to ensure everything was just so, and of course, on time. The calendar and task list was solid. But on a personal level? I’m definitely Type B. Banking and finances, a mess; if I sent a payment in on time, it was luck and it didn’t bother me all that much.  Mail was in piles, unopened, all over the house. Nothing interesting ever comes in the mail anyway, right?

With friends and in groups? Whatever they want to do is fine, no worries. Go with the flow, that’s me…

A few years ago, when I was in the middle of my corporate work-life, mom-life juggle, the Type A work-mode took over, and I was notoriously bad on a personal level keeping in touch with friends. Between driving to New Hampshire, the corporate office, and traveling to visit clients in California, Utah, Seattle, Boston, and having those work-at-home days too where I would hide downstairs in my office until lunch, where I’d see Brett for an hour, maybe exercise, and then go back down and hide for the rest of the day, anything fun and inpirational like hanging out with a friend, that was the last thing on my mind.

My friend Marina and I were often trying to set up lunches, and each time that day came up on the calendar there was some reason to cancel.  Travel, or a super-important project, or whatever, and then by the time we would think to make a date again, a few months had passed and we would start this cycle over again. It got to the point where I was seeing my friend only a few times during the year, and she only lives 20 minutes away! She finally one day brought up the idea of a scheduled once-a-month lunch date.

The Rules:

  • Put lunch date on the calendar.
  • Schedule other appointments around it.
  • As soon as we get back from lunch, immediately set new date.

What a concept, put something fun on the calendar, and prioritize it?  It’s not rocket-science, but it worked, and although the dates aren’t always as often as once a month, we have had this routine for about 6 years.

Long after I put my career on hold and became the full-time master-of-the-home-and-child I am today, I still have a tough time

Well, I think I saw that to-do list here somewhere?

Well, I think I saw that to-do list here somewhere?

accomplishing everything I want to during the day. Aside from some lunch dates, most of what I put on my calendar and notepad-based to-do list are uninspiring chores.  I have often wondered how the heck I ever worked outide the home. The days go quickly. I still feel awful that I don’t see certain friends enough. I still forget to do pretty much everything on my to-do list because the notepad where I write my list gets lost under all the papers sent home with my son from school.

I was beginning to think my exercise habit was the problem, because I have been unable to focus on anything else. But how can maintaining my health be a problem? That’s not going anywhere…

Why was I so good at this when I was working outside the home?

Or was it in here???

Or was it in here???

Back in December, as I was considering New Years Resolutions and looking to set some goals for 2013 , I was still down about my lack of ability to begin some of the personal projects I had been thinking about but just never seem to have time to do because I was always in the midst of family chores. A friend had mentioned she just signed up for a program called the “Push Challenge”, by Chalene Johnson (http://www.30daypush.com/).

Do you know about Chalene? She is a fitness instructor and motivational guru, and I adore her.

Her workout program Chalean Extreme (http://amzn.com/B001O2MWGI) had been recommended to me last year. I was a little skeptical,  because I had never heard of it, but the workouts had great reviews on Amazon, so I crossed my fingers and placed the order. For the first few weeks I was not a fan; everyone in her videos is so darn cute! And they wear pink. And sometimes sparkles! I mean, me? My friends? People in my state? Nobody looks like these women. I’m guessing they are all California and Florida types, but we New England gals, we look like a whole different species. But over time I learned to love all the inspiring people in the videos, as well as the workouts, as they are all short, really effective, and that Chalene is one smart, motivating woman.

Based on being truly won over, I signed up for this challenge to see what it was all about. I’m not sure I ever went through the whole program, maybe half of it. But essentially, what we did was:

  • Establish Personal Goals.
  • Pick out one goal called the “Push” goal, work towards this every day, and
  • Organize it all on a smartphone to-do list.

My smartphone has a to-do list app?

But I like my notepad to-do list, it sits on the counter right in front of my face so I can’t ignore it.  Oh, and where is that to-do list, by the way? Underneath the school lunch menu, perhaps? Or the pile of drawings on the dining room table?

Seems kind of like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? I guess it isn’t though because I never thought of it by myself! My organizational system, if you can even call it that, was not even remotely taking into account personal goals. I wasn’t prioritizing them because these goals never made it to the to-do list in the first place!  I really thought something was wrong with me over the last few years, wondering why I haven’t been able to focus.

The Type A me, who I was used to seeing in my corporate life, only made infrequent appearances to ensure exercise and fitness-related goals were met, but then just went quietly away after that, where the Type B, go with the flow, disorganized me remained.

Within a few minutes of evaluating to-do list apps, I downloaded one and started filling it in.  The most important point Chalene makes about creating this list is that you must not only put boring chores on your to-do list, like I had been doing. You must put tasks associated with your “Push” goal, or enabling goal, on the list each day, so if your goal is to exercise more, or to be a better friend, or a better parent, tasks associated with you accomplishing this goal go on the list. If you need to get outside more and enjoy nature, or read more fiction books, or to take more photos, those go on there as well. Every day your goals are top-of-mind, and you work towards achieving them.

Kind of cool isn’t it?

I was so excited about this new approach, the next time I saw Marina at lunch I told her all about it. She sat there for a few seconds, looking at me with kind of a stunned silence. “What do you mean you never put your personal goals on your to-do list? I thought you always did!” She felt awful, neglectful even, for not clueing me to this bit of wisdom she knew about, but just assumed I had already done.

No worries Marina. I’m on the right path now.

My goal was to start writing more about what I’m interested in, and maybe inspire a few people along the way, and here I am.  Within a few weeks, I managed to get it done. I now have all my boring chores on my to-do list app too, and my family doesn’t think I’m too much of a space-shot anymore because I don’t forget to do things; my list doesn’t get lost amongst clutter anymore. Already my writing has started enabling one of my New Years Resolutions, being a better friend, and seeing friends and family more often, because when they get my posts I hear from them, we start a dialog, and then we put those dates to get together on the calendar.

I’m starting to see things happen. And am much more inspired throughout the day.

I may start a few new annoying habits, like checking my smartphone too often, but I’ll take it considering the alternative…

How do you organize personal goals into your day? Or do you? Have you had similar struggles?

Please comment, I would love to hear some discussion!