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As a single mom, a fulltime graduate student, and owner of two businesses, I have learned very quickly that if you don’t have balance in your life, you are pretty much setting yourself up for stress, burnout, and failure. Personally, I am a HUGE procrastinator. Especially when it comes to school. I have been that way for a long time because, to be honest, I crank out my best work when the pressure is really on. Great for my grades, but horrible for my stress-levels. I also feel that when your life is out of balance you will always feel some level of guilt because, more than likely, something is being put on the side burner. For some of us it is the quality of our work. For others, it is our families.

I admit that balance is something that I have to continuously work on. Sometimes I throw myself into my work a bit too much. As the sole source of income for my little family, and as someone who does not have a traditional job, when my businesses are slipping, I do feel the strong need to kick up my efforts to make sure my bills get paid. And I know when I have crossed the line because my son lets me know when he feels like my attention is being diverted just a bit too much. I am also guilty of allowing my son to run my life at times. I guess you can call it single parent guilt. Since your child doesn’t have both parents, you feel like you have to overcompensate. With me and my son, this plays out with me sometimes putting off things that I HAVE to do (such as homework assignments or submitting articles for my freelance job). It’s definitely a challenge trying to find the perfect balance between my family, work, and school.

A Life in Balance
So what do you think of when you think of a balanced life? For me, balance means harmony. In culinary arts, a well-balanced meal is one that contains not only ingredients that form a nutritious meal, but ingredients that blend well and complement each other without any one ingredient overpowering the others. In the world of music, balance involves bringing together music and/or voices that work together to form a piece that is pleasant to the ears and even inspiring and uplifting for the spirit. The same holds true for life. When your life is balanced, all of the aspects of your life work together. This results in a life that is challenging (without being too stressful), fulfilling, and pleasurable.

Life is made up of several facets (though these facets may be different from one person to the next). It can include family, spirituality, finances, health, work, social, personal growth, recreation/hobbies, intellectual, romance, and much more. When your life is in balance, you may not be able to spend equal amounts of time in each of these areas, but your goal is to spend a sufficient amount of time in each of these areas in the long run. More importantly, you want the quality of the time you spend in each of these areas to be high. If you will allow me a cheesy analogy, it’s sort of like baking a cake. Not enough flour and your cake won’t rise. Too much baking powder and it may crack and fall apart. If you don’t have the proper blend of ingredients, you end up with a messy dish and a likely disappointed family. Life is the same way. Spend too much time working, and your family and social life will suffer. Neglect your health and several other areas will be affected. Neglect yourself and just about everything suffers. It is essential that you achieve balance in your life.

Having it All: Mission Impossible?
Then there is the final piece of the pie—yourself. You want to be selfless and put your family first. But, at the same time, if you are not healthy and happy, you won’t be able to be the parent/spouse/employee/student/insert –other-role-here that you need to be. If you are always tired because you are doing too much, pretty soon every sphere of your life will be negatively impacted. 

So, the question becomes, how do you achieve the perfect balance in your life? You may think it’s impossible to do, but finding the perfect balance is as realistic as it is important.  What achieving balance really boils down to is knowing what is important to you and making the decisions about what comes first in your life. When you know what you value the most, when it comes time to make decisions, you will have a goal to be the driving force behind these decisions. They may not be easy decisions, but they are easier to make when you know what you want in your life. It’s sort of like living by a rubric.

Finding Your Balance
Here are some things to keep in mind when you are seeking a balance in your life:
1.      Have Your Priorities Clear.Know what is most important in your life. Identify what it is that you values the most and align your life around those things. This makes it easier to say no to things that are of no value to you.

2.      Get organized.Have a plan for your life. Not just long-term plans, but daily plans. Wake up every day with a purpose. If you have to sit down once a week (or every night) and plan out every single hour of your time, do it. It may seem silly, but it will make your life so much easier. Rather than living a life of reaction, you will be living out one of action. Trust me, those are two completely different lifestyles. When it comes to this, keep the Boy Scouts motto in mind: Be Prepared. When you plan ahead, it makes unexpected occurrences easier to deal with.

3.      Be flexible. Speaking of unexpected situations, if you are flexible and adaptable, you will have a much less stressful life than people who are of the mindset that things HAVE to go this way and this way only or the world will come to an end. Sometimes, things happen that you were not anticipating and couldn’t have anticipated. Sometimes your plan has to change. It’s a fact of life. When things like this happen, you should be able to roll with the punches. You should also be able to forgive yourself when you can’t do things the way you wanted to. You don’t have to be perfect.

4.      Have a daily routine. As I mentioned before, it’s important that you live a life of action, not reaction. By having a daily routine, you make it easier to do this. By establishing healthy habits, you are also helping to replace tension and stress with relaxation and calm. Some things that I recommend you find time for each day are exercise and meditation (in the form of prayer, quiet time, journaling, etc.). A great time for this is either in the morning (so that you can mentally prepare yourself for the day) or at night (so that you can reflect on the good things that happened during the day and/or purge yourself of the negative things so that you can get a good night’s rest. If you can do this twice a day, it’s even better.  You should also take some time during the day to reenergize yourself. Some other key things to implement on a daily basis are eating healthy meals and snacks, staying hydrated, attending to your personal hygiene, and getting a good night’s rest.

5.      Establish a support network.  There is no way that I can overemphasize the importance of having a network of family and friends that you can depend on. More important, though, you need to be able to let go of your pride at times and ask for or accept help when you need it.

6.      Keep it Simple. Think back to step number one: your priorities. Now apply that concept to your schedule. If something is not a priority for your life. Eliminate it from your life. What’s the point on spending time on things that don’t even matter in the long run? All that will result in is you feeling overworked and probably unfulfilled. 
A Little Homework for You
Here’s something I would like for you to try. It’s called a life-balance wheel. It will show you what aspects of your life are important to you and which areas you should be focusing on more/less to achieve a better balance in your life.
1.      First, draw a big circle on a sheet of paper and divide it into 8-10 equal pieces. It should look like a sliced pizza or pie.
2.      Label each “wedge” with an area of your life that is important to you (family, spirituality, health, work, relationships, finances, personal growth, etc).
3.      Rate your level of satisfaction in each area. Imagine the outside of the circle as complete satisfaction and the center of the circle as complete dissatisfaction. In each “wedge”, place a dot that corresponds with your satisfaction in that facet of your life. For example, if you are moderately satisfied with your spiritual life, you would place a dot in the middle of the spirituality wedge.
4.      After rating each area of your life (honestly), connect the dots that you have made. This will create a new outside perimeter for your circle. Now, imagine that this circle were a wheel. If it were rolled down the street, would it roll nice and smooth or would it be a bumpy ride? This represents your life. Your goal is to make it a smooth ride.
5.      In order to create a balance in your life and achieve that smoothness, you need to focus on the areas of the least satisfaction. But you must do this without creating dissatisfaction in the other areas. Remember, you should be looking at each piece as a part of the whole.
Which part of your life is the most out of balance? What can you do to remedy that?

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