Whether I am presenting on or working with a client on time management, one of the most common questions I get is how to balance time spent between the different areas of life that are important: work, family, health, hobbies, self care, volunteering, etc.
The problem with the concept of balance is that it creates the notion that we should be able to devote equal time to all of the areas that are important to us at all times. While this sounds nice on the surface, it’s also in direct conflict with how the world actually works.
There will always be times in life where we want or need to devote more time to one area than others, which means making sacrifices in the other areas that are important to us. Our businesses and jobs have seasons that are busier than others. Major life events – births, deaths, weddings, job changes, moves, graduations – all change how much time we have for everything else.
I’ve personally replaced the word balance with the word variety. I like the idea of variety, because variety acknowledges that not every area of life warrants equal time at all times. This helps to remind me that even though one or two areas might be demanding a lion’s share of my time, it’s still important to make sure that the other areas aren’t neglected entirely.
So daily, I strive for variety. When time is scarce this can be as small as squeezing in a walk, taking half an hour to play a quick game with my eight year old, or taking a break to play a record. By focusing on variety instead of balance, the goal becomes not to spend equal time, something that is often not realistic, but instead to make sure that no one area becomes completely neglected.
Putting variety into your life
When I first started focusing on variety I used post-it notes in several colors, one for each area of life. I wrote things down as I did them and put them on the white board in my office with my sole goal being to add more than one color each day. I return to this practice anytime I am overwhelmed to remind myself to take the time, no matter how little, to engage with what is important.