Now that my boys are in the activity-filled elementary years, I’m flipping the calendar way too fast, often wondering how it can be Friday yet again! As I look to 2012 and ponder what kind of life I’d like to lead, a blend of satisfying professional work and quality family time tops my list. But unless I plan to ensure work/life balance in 2012, it’s going to be May before I come up for air — and almost half the year will be gone. Here’s how I plan to take control.
Step One: Ask Yourself, “How Did Last Year Go?”
Rushing stresses me out, so I like to start my days, and projects, slowly. To that end, I’m beginning the 2012 planning process by reflecting on 2011. On the positive side of the ledger, we enjoyed our yearly reunion with my husband’s family in the summer and took two vacations (first trip to Disney!) with my side. I also stole away for a girls’ weekend with my oldest friends in November — I needed that time away from my family to appreciate them all the more. “Scheduled fun” like this gives me something to look forward to, and knowing that relaxing breaks with loved ones are ahead motivates me through heavy work periods.
Even so, the spring and early summer weren’t balanced for me. I was zipping all over the country to promote my work/life balance book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect and, ironically, the scales tipped too heavily to the work side. I don’t regret putting that effort into my book launch, but I realized that weekly travel was not going to be a good fit in the long term. That’s important for me to remember as I plan my speaking schedule for 2012.
What went well for you last year? What did you learn in 2011, and what can you do to avoid the same mistakes moving forward?
Step Two: What’s Realistic for 2012?
In the course of my research, I learned that it’s not realistic to shoot for a perfect blend of work and the rest of life on a daily basis. Some seasons are more heavily tilted toward one side or the other, and that’s okay.
That being said, if you don’t plan, you can’t profit. Work/life balance doesn’t just happen, and sometimes baby steps set us on the right path. For instance, a lawyer I interviewed for my book said she really wanted a new job, one that would offer more flexibility and time with her two young children. However, a new position wasn’t going to instantly materialize — she needed to take deliberate steps, and starting small made that possible. Instead of resenting the extra hours she spent at work, she began asking her boss for comp time — and she got it! That step pulled her out of a funk and got her thinking about possibilities. She talked to a career counselor and started networking with former colleagues. In the end, she landed a new job that better fit her professional and personal goals, and it wouldn’t have happened without that first hop forward.
Are there some small steps you can take to make sure the scales don’t tip too heavily toward one side or the other in 2012? Two examples from my life: I love singing and hanging out with like-minded women, but neither would appear on my calendar without some initiative on my part. I auditioned for a singing group last fall and now enjoy a weekly rehearsal and performance opportunities. And I’m finally going to join the book club that my friend Melissa has been nagging about for months! How about you?
Step Three: How Will You Assess Your Progress?
With the pace that so many of us keep, it’s easy to set goals — and then forget about them. This happened to me too often in 2011, so for the next year, I’m going to use the last Friday of every month as a time for reflection. (I’m actually writing it on my calendar!) For example, I’ll look back and see how many yoga classes I hit, how many articles I wrote and speaking engagements I booked, and how many hours I spent volunteering at my kids’ school.
That being said, I’m not going to worry if I don’t reach every goal. A recent study of more than 1,200 older Americans reported that “worrying too much” was a big life regret — one for today’s generation of parents to avoid. “Worry wastes your life. Worrying never solved anything. So don’t,” the survey’s respondents implored.
So I’ll try to shrug it off if I don’t hit every marker, but building an assessment process into my schedule will help me reshuffle if I need to. Better still, it will make my successes easier to spot and celebrate.
I wish you much success, happiness, and balance in 2012!
Hollee Schwartz Temple is the coauthor of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin Nonfiction). A law professor at West Virginia University, she is a frequent conference speaker on work/life balance.