A question that I’ve gotten time and time again throughout my professional journey is how do I balance all the different elements of my life. When I was in graduate school, the question was how do I balance graduate school and blogging. When I got married, I shared how I balance school, marriage, and work, while still carving out time for myself. Now that I’ve added mom and non-profit executive director to my list of responsibilities, there is even more to balance and juggle. So here are a few strategies and tips for how I balance it all — motherhood, marriage, research/scholarly work, two different businesses, and my own self-care & sanity.
Accept that you can never balance everything equally
The most important thing for balancing the different aspects of your life is accepting that you can never actually balance them. You don’t want to show up only 25% as a mom, 25% as a wife, 40% at your job, and 10% for your side hustle. Ideally, you want to give everything that you have 100% of your energy, but obviously, that math doesn’t math. So rather than thinking about how to balance your different roles, responsibilities, and interests, think about how everything can exist in harmony. More Venn diagram and less scales. P.S. This is idea of balance & harmony is the only aspect of my Libraness that I fully endorse!
There will inevitably be times when your circles of responsibility will be larger or smaller, depending on what’s happening in your life. Right now, my mommy circle is a bit smaller than it was a year ago when my kid was just a few months old because he no longer depends on me for food and can entertain himself a bit on his own. And my research & writing circle is bigger than it was last year because I wasn’t writing last year.
Are you trying to get a promotion? Then your work circle might need to get a bit larger for a season. Need to invest some time in therapy? Your self-care circle might need to get a little bigger. No matter the sizes of your circles, you still exist in the middle of them, in harmony. If you thought about everything as things you’re balancing or juggling, the moment you need to commit a bit more time or energy to one aspect of your life, everything is thrown off (because the scales no longer balance out or the balls are uneven!)
Share the load & save brain space
There’s an idea that I’ve seen discussed a lot over the past year called operating in your “zone of genius,” meaning that you do work that you’re 1. really good at and 2. can only be done by you. Although it’s been used mostly in business spaces, I think it’s most useful when actually thinking about work that needs to be done at home. Unless you are a 5-star cleaner, somebody else (perhaps even multiple people) can support that work in the house.
Maybe it means that you write out a cleaning schedule with chores designated to different family members every day so it doesn’t pile up. Maybe it means you order a meal-delivery service like Hello Fresh that even a self-proclaimed “bad chef” can’t mess up (sidebar: a LOT of guys are getting by not doing any housework because they’re “not good at it” — it’s an acquired skill, so they’ll never get good if they don’t practice!). But part of living harmoniously with all your different responsibilities and passions means creating space for them, which means getting rid of the more mundane things on your to-do list that other people can support.
Even if you live by yourself, you can share the load by automating or simplifying some of the decisions you make each day that take up brain space from the real things you want to be working on. One of my greatest dissertation writing hacks was ordering Hello Fresh for a month so I wouldn’t have to think about what to eat every day or what to buy at the grocery store, and then having Jonathan prepare all the meals to share the workload. And when I start my postdoc, I’m planning on doing the same thing so I don’t have to worry about what to buy and what to cook, the decision is already made for me. Another way to limit your decision-making and save brain space is to simplify your wardrobe by creating a capsule wardrobe or coming up with an outfit formula so you don’t spend time thinking about what to wear every day. Or planning out your meals & prepping them all in advance so you don’t spend precious time during the week trying to figure out what to make.
Trade Money for Time
Folks like to say that you have the same hours in a day as Beyonce, but that’s really just not true. Beyonce and many other celebrities, business owners, and people we generally feel are accomplishing a lot, have more hours than the average person because they trade money for time. They essentially buy time — by paying someone to do their laundry, cook their meals, watch their kids, choose their clothes, do their hair & makeup. I know that not everyone has extra money lying around, but if you’re in a particular season where one of your circles is so large, it’s threatening to take over the whole Venn diagram, then you might need to trade some of your money to buy a bit of time. You can buy time by paying for a housecleaner (saves 2 hours, minimum, every other week), dropping off your laundry (saves 2 hours), getting childcare, etc. My simple formula for deciding whether I should outsource something is:
- Do I have the time to do it? If yes, then do it. If no, continue.
- Do I like doing it? If yes, do it. If no, continue.
- Do I earn more per hour than what it would cost per hour? If no, do it myself. If yes, outsource.
Laundry is a great example because it’s actually really affordable. When we dropped our laundry off (prior to having a nanny/cleaner who does our laundry), it cost around $20 to wash & fold. If we were to do laundry ourselves, we would spend at least an hour of active time loading, unloading, sorting, and folding, not to mention the passive time just waiting for the loads to finish. My hourly rate is more than $20/hour, so it’s a better use of my time to work and then pay for laundry than use an hour I could be working to do laundry. What are some things that you’re spending more time on than they are worth?
Be Intentional With Your Time
Lastly, once you free up some of your extra time, you have to be a really good steward of your most valuable resource, your time. Aside from using a planner, one of the ways that have really helped me stay on top of my never-ending to-do list is time blocking. When I first started time blocking at the start of the year, I was scheduling out every single hour of my day. That proved to be a bit too rigid for my needs — if a task went over by 15 or 30 minutes my whole day was thrown off. And while I still generally set aside my morning hours for research & writing, afternoons for Cohort Sistas, and blogging in the evenings and weekends, instead I started to think about my days thematically. Here’s my new time blocked calendar, which is more of a day-to-day block:
- Sundays: Rest & Prep — I rest, listen to a sermon/go to church, and spend time with the boys and meal prep.
- Mondays: Planning & Organization — I have internal team meetings for both Cohort Sistas and Safe Journey Media and plan out my content for the week. Once I start teaching, I’ll also do course prep on Mondays.
- Tuesdays: Meetings — this us when I schedule all external meetings, whether meeting with a potential donor for Cohort Sistas or recording a podcast interview. I also meet with my manager to talk about brand campaigns and will schedule my office hours for Tuesdays once I start teaching. I have a mental note to try and call a friend on Tuesdays too.
- Wednesdays: Writing — I do the most writing in Wednesdays, carving out a 4 hour block to do academic writing with the Cohort Sistas writing group. I also plan to do most of my blog writing on Wednesdays, though I’ve been slacking lately!
- Thursdays: Admin — This is when a lot of the backend work is done, when I send bulk emails to brands or individuals I want to connect with, when I respond to non-urgent emails, and when I do light bookkeeping. For teaching, I’ll do grading on Thursdays, since both of my classes will be done for the week.
- Fridays: Reading & Creation — Fridays are for reading, mostly for scholarly work, but also when I catch up on other blogs and go through Medium to see what’s new in my stories. I also shoot for the blog/social media on Fridays, and have this as another day to record for the Cohort Sistas podcast.
- Saturdays: Live & Socialize — I’m trying to take Saturdays off from work, although part of my work is documenting my life so I will do some vlogging on Saturdays. But Saturdays are for living and socializing, so those are days when I can be out and about!
Now obviously your time blocked calendar won’t look like mine, but I find that compartmentalizing activities to either specific days or times of the day help provide much-needed structure to your everyday life, so that you don’t waste time scrolling endlessly (or in my case, searching Pinterest for DIY inspo). If you’re struggling with finding time to achieve all the different things you do, think about time blocking, or at least, thematically organizing your calendar, to help define your time.
I hope some of these tips on how I “balance” it all have given you ideas on how you can better stay on top of all your different responsibilities. As a quick recap, remember that there’s no such thing as true balance, and there will be seasons when different responsibilities take up more of your time and energy than other. When you need to free up more time, figure out ways to either distribute the workload with members of your house, simplify and automate different aspects of your life, and/or buy extra time by outsourcing tasks that aren’t worth your time dollar wise. Finally, be a good steward of your existing time by time-blocking and planning out your tasks, so you create some structure to your life.