As I (David) am sitting down to write this post, there are so many other things that I could (and maybe should!) be doing. Finding the time to balance all of life’s responsibilities is a challenge that transcends all professions and life-stages. For me, I make a constant effort to balance work and family, so that I can find success in every avenue. With two little ones at home (Emma is almost 3 and Matthew is almost 3 months) life is crazy! Just the other day, someone asked me, “How do you have time to do everything? You work full time, I see you outside playing with your kids, I know you like to cook, you started a blog with your brother that's really awesome (I promise, he said that!) and I know you have other things going on.” His question made me pause and really consider how everything does get done! I am by far no master of balancing life, but I did reflect and identify three simple ways that have worked for me in promoting a positive balance of work, personal, and family life.
Prioritize and Organize
No matter your profession or age, we all have 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week. At the beginning of the year, I made a promise to myself not to bring work home with me this year. When I am at home, I need to be focused on my family. Of course, after the first week of school I had already broken my promise, so I needed to reflect and reevaluate. It is unrealistic to never bring home work, so I established a time limit of 45 minutes a night to work at home, and only after both kids are in bed and I have had the chance to talk with my wife. Of course, things come up, but for the most part this has worked so far this year. This blog is also a priority of mine, so I make it a habit to work throughout the week, but again, never before my kids go to bed or I have had a chance to talk with my wife. Do you see a common theme here? My priorities outside of school, are my kids, my wife, and then my work. When I’m at school, my priorities are work, work, and work. That means I get to school most mornings before 6:30am and I don't eat lunch in the faculty room, using the time to work while I eat. I prioritize the tasks that are “due” first and work from there. I have a notepad on my desk that has each task and “due date” labeled. As I work on things I check next to them and when I complete the task, I cross it out completely. Staying organized is vital in making sure I prioritize my workload in the right way.
When you feel your plate is overflowing, take the time to make a list of each task, assign a due date, and try my checkmark and cross out system. Challenge yourself to not go out to lunch for a week, get to work a ½ hour earlier or stay a ½ later than normal. If that just doesn't work in your schedule, stay up 30 minutes later than normal and do some work at home, but not until your kids are in bed and you talk with your spouse. And...don’t forget to reward yourself when you find success!
Be kind to yourself!
When I started teaching I was living on my own and saving for a honeymoon. I wanted to live within my means and not fall into the temptation of constant spending just because I had a regular paycheck for the first time. But, I had to find a way to reward myself for my time and efforts spent teaching and volunteering with a men's outreach program. So, I developed a weekly reward; every Friday I would leave for work 20 minutes early to go to Starbucks (I am a coffee lover) for a treat. That became my routine and something I looked forward to every week. I found myself working harder throughout the week so that I could go to Starbucks at the end of the week to enjoy the cup of coffee, a book, and just breathe. Now, my weekly treat is to enjoy lunch with a colleague once a week. It's important to take time out for the things we enjoy! Maybe your reward is a night off from cooking, maybe it's a date with your spouse, or an hour of alone time for a massage. Whatever you need to feel rewarded, do it! As the well-known quote says, “someone who feels appreciated will always work harder than someone who does not feel appreciated” - so appreciate yourself!
Shift Your Focus to Others
Chances are, if you are feeling overwhelmed, so are others around you. Take the time and make someone else's day! When you're stopping at Starbucks, grab an extra coffee for someone you know is struggling. If you're heading out to lunch, invite that coworker you know is feeling like they are drowning. If your spouse is overworked and frustrated with the kids or at work, get a babysitter and go out to dinner. If you can't afford that, get a neighbor to watch your kids for an hour and go to Wawa (if you don't know what Wawa is, you’re truly missing out) grab a $1 cup of coffee and sit at a park and talk. Shifting your focus to others is a win, win; not only will you bless someone else, but it truly helps keep your own priorities in perspective!
There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” solution for balancing work and life. We all have unique situations, responsibilities, and tasks that make life challenging. However, I do believe that these three simple guides - prioritizing your tasks in an organized manner, being kind to yourself, and focusing on others - can be applicable in a variety of scenarios. I challenge you to give these things a try this week and let me know if you found them be be helpful!