Find the perfect balance in business

Balance has been such a talked-about subject in the last five years that it's become cliché. But that hasn't stopped many of us from continuing to pursue it.

The world has gotten smaller as it's gone more global, and the pressure to do more, faster, with fewer resources hasn't abated. Most people are juggling the demands of two-income households while trying to keep current with all the tasks, details and information necessary to make informed and wise decisions, not to mention time for family, hobbies, volunteer activities, exercise, socializing, self-improvement . . . the list seems endless. And overwhelming.

We seek balance because we're stressed. We gravitate toward balance when our activities are not aligned closely enough with our values or are too taxing to be healthy over the long haul.

But trying to find perfect balance is a pipe dream and wasted effort.

There seems to be more pressure to be successful - in the cultural sense - than ever before. While doing the job of two or three people at work, we're expected to be exemplary parents and also have a life in which we actively enjoy our avocations and hobbies, and take superb care of our bodies, spirits and minds. If you think balance needs to be a daily practice, think again. While it's a wonderful goal, it's not realistic for most folks. Balance becomes another to-do on an ever-expanding and guilt-inducing list.

What if the balance we're looking for in our lives was more like the balance that nutritionists suggest as a diet? For instance, we don't need to eat all the proper numbers of servings from the five food groups each and every day, but if we get a good balance over a month, that's still quite healthy.

Translating that example to the bigger picture; that might mean that there are times when we need to work more than usual and other times when we can take more time off; times when we focus more intently on our hobbies and passions and other times when they go a bit neglected because there are other current priorities. There may be times when we take really good care of ourselves and other times when that slips a bit; times where we devote a lot of attention to our family, and other times when there is less energy and daily time to focus on them. And that's OK - it is as it needs to be.

The aim of balance is to live a well-rounded life and to renew and refresh your productive and creative energies on a regular basis so you can contribute to the best of your potential. Here are some useful tips to help you achieve a realistic balance:

Get mindless. The other side of work isn't only family time, it also includes activities that rejuvenate you, whether that's spa time or a simple hot bath, sports, meditation, fishing, taking a walk, or sitting in your yard and watching the birds in the trees or the clouds in the sky. This "mindless" time is critical to restoring your mental prowess, as well as your physical stamina. It also creates space for spontaneous creativity and problem solving. Don't force it, though. The aim is to relax and enjoy fully.

Employ your calendar. Remember to schedule those activities into your calendar for specific days and times. If you need to contact others to set things up, schedule that into your calendar, too. Seeing the activity on your calendar engenders more of an emotional commitment to it and sets aside time for it, automatically making it more of a priority.

Reduce family performance stress. Quality time with your loved ones needn't be difficult to pull off. You don't need to schedule special activities or spend a bunch of money to spend rewarding, memorable moments with your family and friends. Unstructured time and spontaneous activities are often more fun and are remembered longer. Some ideas include going for a bike ride, sharing an interesting craft project, baking or cooking a meal, going for a hike in a local park or taking a car ride.

Be gentle with yourself. If you start a new habit that soon gets pushed to the side in the onrush of regular life, understand that it's completely normal. You haven't failed, you're just experiencing the same breakthrough bumps everyone else goes through. It's unrealistic to decide to take up a positive new practice and always follow through on it forever more. We know this, we just forget to be more compassionate with ourselves. Ask yourself if the habit was worthwhile when you did it, and if it was, work it back into your schedule. If it wasn't, pick something new to play with.

Make it sustainable. If it's not already part of your daily schedule, creating an expectation that you'll practice silence, or meditation, or journaling, or some other activity every day just isn't realistic. Once or twice a week, or even once or twice each month, may be enough for some balance activities, at least to start with. After all, that's better than before you started, and that's great progress.

Make it yours. Don't get caught up in trendy balance activities if they don't fit your tastes or preferences. Since cultivating our best selves is one of the reasons we seek balance, spend time doing the things you really love to do, no matter what anyone else thinks of them. These are, after all, the pursuits that will truly re-energize and gratify you.

Look for balance between your values and your financial constraints versus a satisfying lifestyle, so that you're living a life that doesn't wear you out too quickly; one that satisfies and engages your potential over months and years rather than daily or weekly. It's a much more forgiving intention, more reasonable and sustainable, allowing you to be productive and effective while not overloading you with expectations that just add unnecessary pressure.

If the pursuit of balance is putting you off balance, remember that while it's a worthy pursuit in moderation, its purpose is to reduce your stress and sense of being overwhelmed, not add to it. Have fun with it, enjoy it and let it be as "do nothing" as you'd like it, and need it, to be.

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