I don’t know about others, but I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like “finding balance” should lead to my being able to do everything I need to do, everything I want to do, and everything I think I should do and still have time to binge-watch Netflix every evening. I want to fit everything in. I want to be the adult who is on top of everything and can always be relied on while also being the “cool girl” who is spontaneous and fun and never says no to a fun time. (In reality, I am the boring girl who always says no to a fun time.) But I believe that balance is, at its core, more about sacrifices than additions. What you add into your life matters, sure, but what you take away is more important when it comes to finding balance.
When it comes to deciding what to keep in my life and what to take out, I think it helps to treat your life like you would treat the first draft of an essay. My writing process doesn’t include a lot of detailed planning. Brainstorming, researching, jotting down notes, finding connections… it contains all of those. But when it comes to straight-up outlining, I just don’t do it. My most structured outlining technique in grad school involved writing brief ideas or quotes onto notecards and then putting them in a rough order. After that, I’d start addressing them one at a time, always willing to grab a notecard out of order to address if the flow of my writing was pushing me that way.
So I would end up with a first draft full of all the ideas that had kind of grown out-of-control. It was wordy and sometimes convoluted. The ideas were there, but the execution was a mess. One of the important questions I would ask myself while editing papers was “What purpose does this serve?” followed closely by “Can I take it out?” Sometimes, the direction of my argument had changed enough in the drafting process that an entire point was no longer really relevant. Sometimes, an example was relevant, but I could cut down my explanation of it and merge it with a similar example in the previous paragraph. And sometimes, I found an idea that I hadn’t fully explained and that I needed to expand in order to fully take advantage of it.
I think a similar process can be useful when examining your daily routine. Look at what you are doing and ask yourself why you are doing it. If you can’t come up with a good reason, you can cut it out. I feel like it’s important to note here that something like “It gives me a chance to relax” is a totally valid reason to keep doing something. Sometimes, I need to space out in front of the TV or my computer and do nothing in particular. I need to turn my brain off. It relaxes me, and that’s reason enough. However, sometimes a task or activity loses its value. For instance, in the past, I’ve gotten up much earlier than I need to. I like having some time in the morning to relax before heading off to work. However, a week or so ago, I looked at my routine again. Now that I take the train to work, I have plenty of time to relax, check social media, and catch up on blogs before work. I realized that it is an absolute waste of time for me to get up earlier than I need to. So now, I give myself just enough time to get dressed and get out the door. And the extra thirty minutes of sleep is crucial.
This isn’t always an easy process for me. I want to be a good triathlete. I want to be a good employee. I want to be a good partner. I want to be a good sister, daughter, and aunt. I want to be a responsible adult. And sometimes, I run myself ragged trying to fit all this stuff in (a shout-out to any parents reading here—I don’t even know how you all do it!). I don’t always take out enough, and when I do, my tendency is to focus on taking out aspects of my routine that benefit me (thirty minutes of sleep here, an easy evening in watching TV, etc.). And while the desire to do everything for everyone does come from a good place, in the end, it’s bad for everyone. I get overwhelmed and withdraw emotionally. I get so cranky. Of course, I can tell I’m being cranky, so then I feel bad for not treating my loved ones well, and you can imagine the kind of negative cycle that starts!
So I’ve had to learn to say “no” to other people or to take them up on offers that I know are an inconvenience to them. Sometimes, when Rob wants to watch a movie, I have to tell him I can’t because it’s already 8:00pm and that’s too late to start a movie (so sad, but so true!). Recently, my parents offered to give me my old car from high school because I am currently carless and my daily commute via public transit was absolutely killing me. I hated taking them up on the offer because I know, at the very least, getting the car out of storage and taking a look at it and transferring the title will be a pain. But my current commute is simply not feasible while training for an Ironman. Maybe it would be for some people, but it’s not for me.
In my next (and final!) post in the series, I’ll talk a little about dealing with the emotional downside when you need to make those decisions to value your own time or sanity over another person’s desires or convenience.
Has anyone else taken a hard look at what is needed or not needed in their daily schedule?
What techniques do you use to make the tough decisions about what to focus on and what to say no to?