I never have enough time.
I’m exhausted. My life is overwhelming.
I’m so tired of being behind. Will I ever catch up?
I hear these phrases all the time, both in my own head and from other people. Friends, family, clients, business owners, coworkers—we all know what it’s like to feel out of balance.
Work-life balance is a hot topic in our overworked, overscheduled and overstimulated culture. It’s a huge problem that we need to get straight, because the way you spend your time is the way you spend your life. But what the heck do we mean by balance?
What is Life Balance, Anyway?
The word balance makes us believe everything in our lives should be divided equally. We think we can manage our time just right to divide our days into perfectly equal parts, with time dedicated to our spouse, children, exercise, faith, work, volunteering, hobbies and every other commitment in our lives. But this isn’t just unrealistic—it’s not even desirable! Life balance isn’t about doing everything for an equal amount of time. It’s about doing the right things at the right time. When you spend your one life on what actually matters to you, you can feel the sense of balance you’ve been searching for.
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Whether you’re a woman or man, corporate professional or stay-at-home parent, barely getting by or at the top of your career, feeling balanced is something we all want. But it’s clear that throughout our country we have a work-life balance problem.
Why Do We Work So Much?
There are a few reasons your work-life schedule can leave you feeling out of balance:
1. In America, there’s a lot of pressure to perform.
I love this country. I love that we have the opportunity to create awesome lives, to learn and grow, to start businesses, and to try new things. But our high standards for productivity come with a tradeoff. The average American working a full-time job puts in 44 hours a week, but there are many people who go above and beyond that number.1 And I’m not ruling out homemakers here! Let’s be honest, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, you probably have a longer workday than most people.
We put insane pressure on ourselves all the time to do it all, be it all, and accomplish it all. No wonder we’re craving more balance in our lives.
2. It could just be the season you're in.
You might be exhausted and burned out because your job has seasons of high demand. Maybe you’re an accountant who can’t take a vacation during March or a basketball coach who doesn’t get time off with their family over the holidays. Maybe you just launched a new product line in your business and you’re on all the time. Sometimes, life’s just insane, and you do what you have to do to get through and survive the crazy season. But, by definition, that season should come to an end sooner or later.
3. You're doing work that you love.
If you’re working after hours when you could be doing anything at all, it likely shows that you love what you do. I enjoy my work so much that I sometimes have to make myself stop working.
If you love your work too, don’t let guilt overtake you. Struggle and discipline are good things. Just make sure you know your limits. At the end of the day, do you feel a sense of accomplishment, or do you feel burned out? I want you to avoid getting to the point of burnout. Otherwise, eventually, you won’t be effective at work, in your business, or as a spouse or parent.
But if what you’re doing brings you joy, even if it’s work, then you’re creating your own version of work-life balance. At the end of the day, that’s the only version of balance that matters anyway!
4. You're doing all the things for all the wrong reasons.
We can easily do the right thing for the wrong reasons. We often try to fix an insecurity or meet a need through accomplishing more. We might live for praise or recognition from others. Or maybe we’re afraid of letting people down, so we say yes to things we don’t actually want to do. In my own life, I can be driven by a need to impress others or a need to be the hero and step in and save the day.
The problem is that these deeper motivations drive us to create busy lives with no sense of balance. Before you commit to something next time, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Are you doing it because it’s important to you and a priority in this season of your life? Or are you trying to please people, prove yourself, or impress someone? Balance is about doing the right things at the right time. When you ask yourself what’s right to do right now, you can make better decisions and resist the pull to be everything to everyone. You can do the right things at the right time for the right reasons.
5 Realistic Ways to Practice Work-Life Balance
The last thing busy people need is another item to add to their to-do list. So I’m going to make this as simple as possible! Here are five ways to create a sense of balance in your life.
1. Recognize the season you’re in.
One of the easiest ways to create life balance is to simply recognize and embrace the season you’re in. Life comes at us in stages, and each one has its own challenges and its own blessings. But when we try to do all the things all the time, without paying attention to our season, we’ll end up frustrated and exhausted.
Before I had kids, my life was jam-packed, traveling from city to city every single week, speaking, coaching, and doing media appearances. I loved that season! But in early 2015, everything changed when Matt and I became parents. Even though I still get to do work that I love—speaking and writing and teaching—I stopped saying yes to every single opportunity because my focus shifted when I became a mom. My priority became staying home and protecting time for my family.
When you embrace your season, you give yourself permission to focus on what really matters at that point. You let go of the pressure to do it all. You can say “not now” to demands and dreams and goals that just aren’t right for this season. You’ll find a sense of balance, knowing that you’re doing the right thing.
2. Be honest with yourself (and others).
Sometimes, it takes courage to tell the truth. But to find balance, you have to first decide to be honest with yourself when you’ve hit your limit. Then, be honest with your spouse, boss, coworkers and friends when you feel your plate is too full—and come with suggestions for practical alternatives.
3. Prioritize what matters.
Prioritizing is hard work, but a good place to start is by asking yourself, What matters most? Make a list of the people, activities and work tasks that are most important to you, then arrange them in order of importance. The more important things go on top and take precedence over the less important things.
There’s no “right” order because your priorities are unique to you—but you should decide which things are most important. Patrick Lencioni said, “If everything is important, then nothing is.” You have to know what’s truly important if you’re going to make decisions that honor those things. Having clear priorities will help reduce your stress and make decision-making much easier when you’re pulled in multiple competing directions.
4. Be 100% present.
Work-life balance isn’t about a 50-50 split. It’s about being 100% present. It’s so easy to let our minds wander in a million different directions—from errands we need to run, to groceries we need to buy, to projects we need to finish, and emails we need to return. But choosing to be present in the moment you’re in not only helps you feel more balanced, but also leads to more happiness overall.
So, be where your feet are. When you’re at the softball game, be fully present for your kids—and don’t let your mind wander to all the other things you “should” be doing. When you’re at the office, be all-in for your coworkers. When you’re on a date with your spouse, dedicate your attention to them. Wherever you are, be there.
5. Learn to say no.
Warren Buffet said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” The truth is that your time is finite, so you’re always going to have to say no. The question is, are you saying no to the right things? You don’t just have the right to say no—you have the responsibility to say no. If you don’t protect your time, no one else will.
Protect Your Time
If you want to find more balance in your life, I want you to read my book, Take Back Your Time. It will help you prioritize and say no to what doesn't matter, walk you through each of the things you do want to accomplish, and schedule everything perfectly into place. It's like having me as your personal time management coach.