“Too many balls in the air,” “burning the candle at both ends,” “having too much on your plate”… we call being overwhelmed by a lot of names. We all want our work lives and our home lives to be fulfilling, so why are we often left feeling overfilled? OhioHealth wellness consultant Julie McNamara offers some big and small strategies for restoring a sense of balance to our lives.
Frame the big picture
Are you spending enough time on the things that are the most important to you? McNamara suggests using this exercise to figure it out: “Start by identifying the top five priorities in your life. These are your values, the things most important to you. They may include things like creating a close family, connecting to your community, or being healthy,” she says. “Next, consider how you spend your time and check in to make sure that the way you spend your time is in line with what you say are your top priorities. You probably won’t arrive at a perfect solution in your first attempt. You’ll have to make some compromises — look closely at what doesn’t fit and decide what to do with it.”
Plan what you can
McNamara’s next suggestion recalls an old adage from Ben Franklin: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. “Try not to save your home chores for the weekend — give yourself more time for the people and projects you put on your priority list,” she says. “Plan to run a few loads of laundry on weekdays, clean a few rooms or mow the yard. Then, your weekend won’t feel like you’re playing catch-up.”
McNamara also recommends incorporating some planning for the week ahead into your weekends. “Simply planning your meals can be a huge time saver and stress reliever,” she says. “You can get your grocery list completed, prep your veggies, even prepare and freeze meals for later in the week.”
We get it: it may sound like you’re trading catch-up for planning, but it’s all in your mindset. When you’re proactive instead of reactive with time management, McNamara says you’ll find more time for what’s most important to you, feel less rushed, and enjoy more control over your life.
Work balance into each day
McNamara says it’s also good to mix big-picture strategies with small, daily activities that can help you find balance.
1. Make sleep non-negotiable.
There’s no way to be productive and present without healthy sleep. If something is getting in the way of sleep, it has to move,” says McNamara. “Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Without quality sleep, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits to stay awake and sharp, like drinking too much caffeine and overeating.”
2. Focus on one task at a time.
“Don’t be seduced by multitasking,” she says. “You’re not getting a bunch of things done; you’re providing half efforts. You’re busy all day, but when it’s over you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment. Be more intentional with where you’re putting your attention. Manage controllable interruptions like cellphone notifications and email. When you switch to completing one thing at a time, the time you spend on each task will be quality time and you’ll feel better about what you’re doing.”
3. Build resiliency into your day.
“Take an occasional breathing break for 2 minutes. When you find your mind drifting, stop what you’re doing, focus on your breathing, and exhale your tension away,” says McNamara. “Two minutes is long enough to relive tension and bring a sense of calm.”
4. Choose one word that centers you.
“Find a word or phrase that brings you back and refocuses you. It could be ‘calm,’ ‘perspective,’ or ‘Be here now.’ Post it in your workspace and repeat it to yourself like a mantra.”
5. Practice gratitude.
“You may not often think about it, but practicing optimism and gratitude takes focus and intention,” says McNamara. “Be mindful of opportunities to express optimism and offer thanks. When you practice your gratitude, you’ll be able to see forward to the possibility of overcoming the challenges you face.”
6. Start your morning with mindfulness.
“After you’ve had a night of restful sleep, begin the day with an activity that centers you. It can be meditation, yoga, exercise, reciting positive affirmations… whatever works best for you. Beginning the day with a positive mindset better prepares you for whatever your day holds.”