Reading Length: 7 minutes
I didn’t have a life. I practically worked the entire day with little sleep. I neglected my family, my friends and my health. And I’m ashamed to say that I was actually proud of this lifestyle and identity. A devoted workaholic. It made me question: What was I working so hard for anyway? Why couldn’t even eye cream save my eye bags? Why was I sacrificing everything for work? Was it worth it? The obvious answer was no. But time and time again, I didn’t learn my lesson. It took a billion burnout sessions before it occurred to me that serious changes needed to be made. I had to make a life.
Everything in our life is demanding for our time and energy. Especially work and school. We practically work like machines till we’re numb. Even the machines feel sorry for us. But we have the power to choose what to do with our time and energy. So how do we live a life on our own terms instead of being dominated by work? Let’s get right into it!
1.Identify all your important life categories and action steps.
“You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.”– Charles Buxton, Writer, and politician
This was figuring out all the life areas which I wanted to start paying attention to and focus on. I go very specific on my life areas. For me, these are: Health, Family, Other Relationships, Work, Finances, Spirituality, Self Development, Hobbies, Spanish, and YouTube and Blogging. Everything else in my life is considered not a priority.
For each life category, I write down a few specific activities I need to do in order to make progress in it. For example, in my health category, my specific action steps are these:
- Drink at least 8 cups of water everyday. Use a water tracking app.
- Cardio exercise and strength training for at least 60 minutes everyday.
- Eat a meal with veggies everyday.
I have all of this written down in an excel sheet under each life category. I usually do a weekly review to see if I had accomplished my goals in those areas by giving a rating out of 5. I go more in-depth about this in another post on work-life balance.
2. Write down your ideal life-balance day.
“You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you are satisfied by life.”–Heather Schuck, The Working Mom Manifesto
Here’s what my ideal day looked like: wake up feeling well-rested, exercise, work on my MITs, exercise again, have a healthy lunch, walk, exercise again, call up friends, work on school assignments, guitar playing, Spanish learning, dinner with family and then end of routine ritual.
Sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? That’s exactly where I went wrong. I stacked up so many activities, thinking I could fit it all in 24 hours. Well, I failed to factor in how long each activity would take.
Something that helped me was reflecting on each activity I wanted to do and estimating how long it would take to complete that activity. For example, here’s how I started off planning the time:
- MIT work like blogging and YouTube (3 hours)
- Guitar Playing (1 hour)
- Spanish (1 hour)
- Lunch ( 1 hour)
- Exercise (1 hour 30 minutes)
- School Work (2-3 hours)
- Friends (1-2 hours)
- Dinner with Family (2-3 hours) We talk a lot.
After reflecting on the duration of each activity, it instantly made sense to me why I could not fit it all in one day. So I needed to be more realistic on what I could fit in my day based on these time estimates. That’s why I highly suggest for you guys to do the same.
Write down all your activities with estimated time duration to complete them. Remember to always factor in extra time. After that, you can figure out how you would like to arrange it on your calendar based on the duration of each activity. Keep these questions in mind: What does a work-life balance look like to me? What does my ideal week and day look like? How can I arrange it according to its time duration? Are there things I need to cut out? Or, can I theme my days?
3. Theme your days.
“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”– Dolly Parton, Country Singer
You can try theming your days based on what you would like to focus on each day. We already know that it’s practically impossible to fit it all in one day. So an alternative way is to theme your days. Here’s an example for how I theme my days:
Notice that on the weekdays, I focus more on my work and productivity. Fridays and weekends are reserved more for my relationships and self care. At the moment, this is my ideal work-life balance week.
So instead of fitting all my important activities in one day, I break it apart and reserve it for certain days of the week. I feel less overwhelmed with my load, and it keeps things fresh and exciting too.
4. Time block and prioritize.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”– Stephen Covey, Author
I follow my Google calendar practically like it’s the gospel. There’s just something powerful about time blocking it and being reminded to do the activities I set for myself. Not to mention, when things go wrong or something pops up, I could easily move around the activities. But there’s more to just time blocking. It allows me to schedule what matters most to me. My non-negotiables. You know, things I would do even if the world was ending like 2012.
So it’s not about just time-blocking on your calendar. It’s about intentionally scheduling your priorities. Because chances are if you don’t schedule it, you’ll forget about it. Like a forgetful grandma like me. Maybe you have a gap between your classes or work to do an exercise session. Maybe you can use your long commute time to catch up with a friend. Maybe you can replace your nighttime scrolling with family time. I know I’m asking a lot. Sacrifice the nighttime memes.
5. Set boundaries.
“No one on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.”– Paul Tsongas, Politician
I often fall into the trap of letting school and work dictate my life. I used to drop everything in order to get more work done. This led to lost sleep, no friends, neglected family, and lost sanity. But I realized I had it backwards. I should prioritize my health and relationships first and then work comes second.
So we shouldn’t let our work dominate us. In the end, you’re choosing to do what activity to do right now this moment. Like reading this post from your screen. Good choice. But we need to start setting boundaries in order to differentiate work and other life areas.
By the time it hits 6pm, I’m done with work. I don’t care about what progress I had made in my work anymore. Workaholic Jean has signed off. I just enjoy dinner with my family and fully relax. The key is being present in each activity you intentionally schedule for yourself. This means not thinking about work when you’re with your loved ones or recharging your body. It’s saying no to your boss, your professor, and your workaholic brain. It’s saying: I’m done.
- 1. Identify all your important life categories and action steps. Write down all the life areas you want to focus on. Write down specific action steps for each life area. Give a weekly performance rating out of 5.
- 2. Write down your ideal life-balance day. Plan out all the activities you wish to do. Figure out if it’s possible to complete it in one day. If not, seek alternative ways like cutting down, prioritizing or theming your days.
- 3. Theme your days. Reserve certain activities for specific days of the week.
- 4. Time block and prioritize. Time block your most important activities on a calendar. Evaluate what comes first to you.
- 5. Set boundaries. Start saying no when it comes to overworking or other life demands. Set a shut down time.
It can be so hard to juggle between so many things going on in our life especially in today’s hustle culture. But it starts with prioritizing what matters most to us whether it’s more time spent with family, friends, health, self development, etc…I’m pretty sure just like me, there will continue to be a constant battle between work and life but at least we have a sense on what to do in order to maintain a better work-life balance.
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