Work. Life. Balance.

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We’ve all been there: those days, weeks, months and even years where the lines between work and life blur into oblivion, and you seem to be caught in a vicious cycle of emails, deadlines, work and personal obligations with seemingly no chance to catch up and breathe. What is the answer to better time management?

Assess.

Take inventory of your life. For one week, write down exactly how you spend your time, including what time you wake up and go to bed. 45 minutes to shower and get ready for work? Write it down. 30 minutes of commute? Note it. 40 minutes of wandering around the grocery store trying to decide what’s for dinner? Document it. This sounds tedious (it will be), but a life-changing glimpse of how you spend your days will quickly emerge. When you’ve got your data for the week, sit down and note your major categories. Chances are, you will see 4-5 major components that consume your hours.

Edit.

Look at each category, and ask yourself what you can do to refine and adjust how you spend your time. What should be minimized and what should be expanded? For instance, if you are spending a significant time on mealtime chores but hate to cook, consider looking into some avenues towards reducing that time. It could be a prep session on Sunday nights to make the workday meals easier or an investment in grocery pick-up or delivery services. On the flip side, if you love to cook but can never seem to find the time, perhaps you can dedicate 3 evenings a week to cooking a nice meal, and keep the expectations for the other nights low. Breakfast for dinner, anyone?

Delete.

This is probably the most critical step in achieving balance. Look over your weekly time sheet and identify what is taking up time that can or should be deleted. Are you spending more time on your morning routine than you need to? Maybe second-day hair is an option. Are there social, volunteer or family obligations that bring you no joy? Consider opting out and redirecting your energies and talents elsewhere. Some things that can’t be entirely deleted can be consolidated. Drinks after work with friends can turn into an evening walk or bike ride with friends, keeping your social time intact but also meeting your exercise goals.

Unplug.

No, really. Unplug. Chances are, when you look at your list of how you spend your time, between the waking hours and the noted activities, there’s a big discrepancy. Somehow you’ve lost an hour or two or three over the course of the day and, in many cases, electronics are the main culprit. Take the time to go over your email and aggressively delete the newsletters, ads and marketing that clutter up your inbox. You’re not going to miss them. Promise. Pick a time of day to check in on your social media platforms and just do it once (okay, twice at most). Stop checking your work email in bed and losing good sleep over what the next day holds.

Execute.

Get in the practice of executing your tasks decisively. Do you spend too much time agonizing over how to approach an issue or procrastinating on when to do it? Set a timer and get it done. You don’t have to be totally sure about your next step, you just need to do your next step. One foot after the other is what gets things done.

Engage.

In the end, balance is about getting to the place where you can be fully immersed and engaged in your work life and your personal life. It takes time to get in the habit of culling the unnecessary and setting up boundaries. But in the end, the rewards are mighty. You can look forward to more productivity and relaxation.