Balance Is 'When To' Not 'How To'

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

Recently, when chugging my morning coffee and clearing my inbox, I came across the below quote and it was just one of those gems that caught my eye exactly when I needed it to.

Balance is timing, not intensity.
It is not doing multiple tasks at 80%, but developing the skill of turning it on and turning it off.
Sleep fully, then work intensely. Focus deeply, then relax completely. Give each phase your full attention.
Balance is 'when to' not 'how to.'

-James Clear

With all of the changes we've dealt with recently, balance is certainly something that I felt flew out the window for me and I feel like I'm likely not the only one.

This topic comes up a lot in my work, and as part of the coaching process I usually favour the use of the classic Ron Swanson quote, "Don't half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing".

(I've placed the clip below because it's a solid Swanson scene, you're welcome).

Being able to compartmentalise, meaning to switch on and off at will, is a skill that requires proper attention and practice. I've read plenty on how some very successful people have been able to manage this skill and attribute it to their good fortune, and I've also heard many of them attest to it taking years of practice.

I've certainly not mastered it by any means, just ask my wife! I often get my best work done when I should be trying to go to sleep or focussing on just being at home. In saying this, I have had some luck being productive when I have managed to successfully compartmentalise my day.

As mentioned, compartmentalisation is tricky. So if you're not sure how this looks, and you too are finding yourself in a bit of distress, I've come up with 3 steps for you to try and gain back some of that balance

This is not a "How To Compartmentalise" guide, but it should help ease you a little closer to it.

1). Time Audit

Chances are if you're feeling like I have been, there's a mis-match of resources being placed on things that don't deserve it. This may be because they don't align with what you value or they fail to provide any significant enough return for the time being spent.

A potentially helpful task is to perform a 'time audit' on yourself to understand exactly how you are spending your most precious resource. Sometimes we think we know where it's going, but it's not a bad idea to occasionally perform a pulse-check so we know for sure.

You can be as specific as you like and use whatever scheduling tools you usually use. Map out and track your hours, days, weeks, months, quarters, whatever works for you.

What have you noticed? Are you spending less time on things that require it? Are you leaking minutes in any unexpected areas? Is there time not accounted for? Note down anything that you feel is important, that surprises you or that you would like to improve.

2). Design Your Ideal Day

Ok, so now that you know where your time is being spent thanks to the audit you've just performed, from here we can take a look at how this can be improved.

Using whichever calendar device or software you use, book out what you would have your day look like in your perfect world.

This is completely up to you here, go nuts. What do you notice?

3). Add A Dose Of Reality

Now it's time match how you are spending your time currently up against what you value and what is truly possible.

Now if it's important to note that if your time is spent doing something you don't like, it is likely for a reason, so make sure you know exactly what that is first. Everything we do serves a purpose for us, even stress-eating, so we have to understand what that purpose is before we can do anything about it.

For example, if you don't like your job but it's chewing up your time- it would be poor advice to just say "stop doing that and go do what you love". That's fluffy and has no substance and I can't stand that stuff, personally.

So start by planning out your day and provide dedicated times for the tasks that need doing. Be as realistic as you can and ask yourself:

When is as close to an optimal time as possible for each task AND your ability to get it done?

For example, in an ideal world I would walk the dogs in the morning before work, but if I'm starting at 6am, accounting for time to get ready and commute, in order for me to walk them properly I would need to set off for a morning walk between 4-4:30am...and that's a no from me. So instead I walk them in the evenings for now until that changes (which thanks to COVID-19 it has, so now the dogs get walked in the mornings- silver linings everywhere!).

Once you've been able to do this for a single day you can move on weeks, fortnights, months ect. Now you have much more of a plan that you have decided is balanced and are in control of.

Practising little exercises like this give you mindfulness over your actions and your time which can help relieve some of the stress that comes from things feeling out of balance. I particularly like the idea of compartmentalising despite my inability to do it consistently, it's something I will be attempting to get much better at.

It might take a few goes but this practice is worth doing, and it's what I'll be doing for the next few weeks as we weather new conditions. There will always be uncontrollable circumstances that throw this out a bit, but that won't matter as much if we are able to take the time to decide what we can control with small exercises like this. Balance is 'when to', not 'how to'.

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