“With such a busy schedule filled with photo sessions, weddings, editing, meetings, errands and keeping up with emails and personal events, how do you create work-life balance?” – Kara
I have an inbox filled with business questions galore touching upon subjects from jumpstarting a brand, implementing successful practices, marketing strategies and a whole lot more. And so far, THIS question from Kara has been the most difficult to answer. Why? Because the reality is – I’ve struggled with work-life balance for years. Years and years.
I’ve had jobs since I was thirteen years old, but my real obsession with work began during college. I wanted top grades, the best professional experience, and most impressive extracurricular involvement. Knowing that our country was in the thick of a financial crisis at the time, I took on extra courses throughout the summer in order to graduate early and dive into the job market before others in my class. I was so focused on work, work, work and saturated my calendar with it. I wanted to be successful. I needed to be successful. And at the time I thought “successful” meant working longer hours, making more money and getting ahead faster.
This unbreakable dedication to filling my days with time at my desk and only finding feelings of accomplishment in checking things off my work’s to-do list became my only priority. Suddenly I was missing calls and texts from friends, turning down visits and backing out of trips with my family. I was even beginning to ignore my own personal health, operating on very little sleep and not leaving any time for exercise.
I may have been getting ahead with work, but it started to become very obvious that everything else I cared about was unraveling. Reality slapped me in the face and told me to wake up and recognize the evaporating relationships around me. I quickly found myself lost in a low place, questioning the decisions I was making and the direction I was headed in.
Something needed to change.
I stepped back from it all and thought about what I truly desire in this life. I spent time journaling, soul searching, running, doing yoga, and escaping technology to enjoy personal time with the people I love. The heavy fog filled with confusion and feelings of sadness finally lifted and for the first time in awhile, I was able to see clearly.
I accepted the fact that I was not someone who could function without strong balance, and decided to make every effort I could to re-establish that equilibrium back into my life. By diving into the tips I’m sharing here, I was able to rebuild and rejuvenate my broken world.
1 // Build and Practice a Routine around YOUR Reality
Some people hear the word “routine” and immediately write off this way of scheduling because it’s “not their personality” or “doesn’t fit their lifestyle”. I get it. Life can get nuts, especially if you have a family and myriad of responsibilities. With a hectic lifestyle that represents the very opposite of what “routine” is defined as, how could you possibly include routine in your life?
I have a recommendation… begin with you.
Instead of just throwing together a routine for your week that is filled with unrealistic timeframes and impossible measures of accomplishment, spend a week or month analyzing your reality. Keep a day-to-day journal that accounts for the normalcies and includes the unpredictable events. Jot down feelings when you are at your best and at your worst, include notes about when you feel high energy or when you’re melted with exhaustion and recognize when you feel your strongest motivation versus total deflation.
Get to know how you feel and act throughout the days of the week, and then internalize that data. Reflect on it, and start experimenting with a small routine, one day at a time. Revise the pieces of the routine that fail, and celebrate the ones that succeed. Gradually build onto that routine until it suits you and your lifestyle.
2 // Schedule Reminders
Unless you have a powerful superhuman memory, you might experience trouble keeping track of and balancing events and to-dos. This is completely normal, and expected when you have so much going on throughout your days! I recommend setting aside time to sit down and plug helpful reminders into your calendar. If you are into the latest technology, then leverage the newest reminder apps and sync all of your devices so that you’ll be notified no matter where you are or what you are doing.
When you set reminders, make sure you prioritize personal events such as family and friend gatherings, birthdays, holidays, meaningful and special occasions, downtime, inspirational practices, etc., and give yourself enough extra time between the reminder and the event to prepare so there will be no need to cancel. If you make the mistake of having your set reminders be solely focused on business projects, then that is where you’ll be striving to place most of your energy and time.
3 // Set Attainable Deadlines
Very often we get sucked into our work because of extreme self-pressure to complete a project. This is the result of setting tight, unrealistic deadlines. If you find yourself constantly pulling all-nighters and living in front of your computer trying to meet deadlines that you set or agreed to, then it’s time to reevaluate!
Take another look at how many minutes, hours or days your projects normally require, and the amount of uninterrupted time you can actually dedicate to your workload without sacrificing personal obligations, add in some buffer time, and re-create a more realistic deadline plan that won’t take over your entire life!
4 // Check Yourself Regularly
I’m all for continuous self-improvement. This goes for business and personal. If you are striving for growth in your life, living out each day with goals in mind, then it completely makes sense to set aside time and look at your progress as well as fix anything in your process that is broken.
This exercise will take some serious honesty with yourself. When I do this, which is as regular as once a week, I ask myself questions like…
Did I reach my deadlines this week? Why or why not?
What was I unable to check off my to-do list? How come?
Were there moments when I felt stressed or overwhelmed this week? What caused those feelings?
Did I have to work overtime? Why?
Did I successfully make time to connect with the people I love?
How many times did I rest, reflect, meditate and exercise? Was that enough?
Did I make a conscious effort to step away from my computer/phone and enjoy the people around me?
Have I made any progress on personal projects?
… and so on. This forces me to acknowledge areas of my work and personal life that need more or less attention. It helps me prioritize and further balance what really matters to my growth and overall happiness.
5 // Step Away from Technology
We can talk all day about how to use social media and ALL the apps for business growth, but if you’re trying to re-establish some balance back into your life and be present in your personal moments – then do just that, BE PRESENT. Not every single moment needs to be documented and shared with the world. Instead of scrambling to hit the photo app button, try capturing and storing it within your precious memories. Odd to hear from a photographer/blogger, right? But this tough love will challenge you to have more discipline and use social media strategically, not religiously, so that you can spend less time staring at screens and more time living your life.
One of the best ways to take breaks from technology, especially social media, is leveraging scheduling applications. One of my favorites is Planoly. I load all of my posts into this app, schedule them out for the week, and never look back. It’s a fabulous way of disconnecting from technology without hurting your activity on social media.
6 // Leave Behind Fear of Failure
Many entrepreneurs struggle with the fear that if they dedicate anything less than ALL of their energy, time and passion to their work, they will fail miserably. It’s this fear that speaks to them and says “work longer, sacrifice more.” That voice is dangerous and can lead to a complete burnout.
If you can gain control of your thoughts and choose to leave this fear behind, you will be able to focus on pursuing a healthier outlook on your life. Instead of falling victim to fear, you’ll be able to focus on the positive vibes growing from your passion. New thoughts and feelings will begin to inspire and fuel you, rather than knock you down and stress you out.
I am guilty of practicing fear of failure in my own career. I found it to be very difficult, especially at the beginning of my journey, to keep a positive attitude on days when I felt like I was so far behind. When I started to recognize that these feelings of fear were entirely self-made, I actively fought them. I filled my extra time reading uplifting entrepreneurial books, listening to powerful podcasts and decorating my office with inspiring paintings and quotes. I forced fear out and I don’t plan on ever letting it back in.
7 // Outsource Where You Can
Outsourcing can come in all different forms and can be very valuable to your business and personal life. It might look something like hiring an accountant to handle your finances, bringing onboard a copywriter to communicate your business’ message more effectively, or finding a designer to improve and maintain your website. It could mean finding a wonderful housecleaner to lend an extra hand around your home, a landscaper to tend to your overgrown garden, or a contractor to finish that new project you started in your living room months ago.
When there are tasks that consume a ton of your valuable time and steal you from meaningful moments in your life, don’t hesitate to release your grip on the reigns and allow someone else to step in and help. You will take leaps forward in both areas of your life and free up time for establishing better balance. You’ll be able to focus on the things you actually enjoy doing and are strong at while letting go of the tasks that you struggle with or dislike.
8 // Separate Your Work Area from Your Personal Space
Separating your work area from your personal space can definitely be challenging, especially if you work from home. But without dividing the two, how are you ever going to draw the line and really create the balance you long for?
Keep your computer and all other work materials in a designated area. When you have completed work for the day, shut your laptop or turn off your desktop, put your materials in a drawer, and walk away. This practice of physically “leaving your job” will help you mentally check out or your work day and into the present time with your family and friends.
9 // Seek Mentorship
Some battles can’t be fought alone. There will be times in your life when you feel off balance or lost and can’t seem to put your own two feet back on the ground. Reaching out to someone you admire and seeking advice is a really great way to gain a fresh perspective and learn about new approaches you can try. Accepting great guidance is a gift that can lead you out of the darkness and into a much more meaningful path.
10 // Plan & Commit Ahead of Time
Planning your week or your month ahead of time allows you to look at all of your responsibilities and life events as a whole. This can be very valuable when trying to establish a better work-life balance because you can look from the outside in and see how you are spending blocks of time.
As you plan out your days, make sure to include commitments that will force you to step away from your business. Examples might include social group and networking events, vacations with family and friends, prepaid gym classes, etc. By making commitments and placing them into your schedule beforehand, you’ll be more likely to follow through.