NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
As the year began, I felt extremely unbalanced. I wasn’t sleeping much, I felt “behind the 8-ball” with my tasks and goals, I was spending far too much time on Facebook, and I was drowning in information overload. It was very clear to me that something needed to change; thus, I selected “balance” as my theme for 2016. In one of my early January posts, I wrote about what balance means to me and highlighted the specific changes I need to make in my life during 2016 to further this objective.
In my regular accountability updates, I will let you know how I’m doing in terms of creating better life balance. However, when I have more than a paragraph or two to say on the topic, I’ll also periodically dedicate a standalone post to updating you on my theme for the year. This is one of those times… In today’s post, I’ll share the balance wins and challenges I have experienced thus far and what I plan to do to address my ongoing difficulties.
Close to two months into 2016, I have made some definite progress, so let’s start with some of the positive changes I have made.
Fewer blog subscriptions
I have pared down the blogs to which I subscribe from 51 to 26, so I’ve basically cut the number in half. What’s more, of those 26 blogs, 6 of them are what I consider “dormant” in that they rarely publish posts any longer. I could unsubscribe from those blogs, but in the event that they do post a new article, I’d like to read it. Since cutting down my blog subscriptions, I spend much less time on blog reading, which has opened up more time for other types of reading, including books.
Less time on Facebook
I used to check Facebook first thing in the morning and multiple times throughout the day. Although I would periodically scroll through my feed, the bulk of my Facebook time was spent messaging with my friends there and in the private group I founded. To give myself an idea of how much time I spent on both of those activities, I decided to start tracking them. I was astounded at what I learned. In early January, I was spending upwards of 20 hours per week engaged in just those two activities – that’s like a part-time job! No wonder I felt like I didn’t have enough time for other priorities in my life.
Since that rude awakening, I’ve changed my Facebook habits dramatically. I no longer log in early in the day and I am far more deliberate (there’s last year’s word again!) in how I allocate my time there. I have reduced my Facebook time by about a third over the past few weeks, thus freeing up time for other activities. I would still like to cut back even more, but I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made since the beginning of 2016.
I started the year with a lot of full in-boxes: my email folder, blog reader (Feedly), article queue (Pocket), and physical files. I usually waited until I had a big chunk of time to dedicate to decreasing backlogs, but I decided to approach things differently this year. I’ve opted to spend smaller time blocks on dealing with my various queues, often setting a timer for 30 minutes and paring things down as much as possible during that time frame. Sometimes when the timer goes off, I’m willing to spend more time on the project, but even the shorter windows have allowed me to make progress.
I have found that I’m now more willing to be ruthless in tackling my backlogs, often deleting articles without having read them and recycling papers that I may have elected to keep in the past. My backlogs still exist, but they now feel more like small mountains rather than the size of Mount Everest. I plan to continue with my daily (or at least 4 or 5 times per week) backlog time moving forward so I can continue to get rid of both physical and digital information overload.
Better email management
My email in-box was one of my backlogs, but it had greater implications than the others in that I had become delinquent in responding to people. There were messages to which I had yet to reply that were over a month old, some of which were from readers of this blog! Part of the reason for the delinquency was that I was spending so much time on Facebook rather than on email and my in-box kept filling up more and more over time.
I have always prided myself on being responsive, so it was important for me to turn this around. Fortunately, I have been able to do so and am now back to responding to most messages within a day or two. I try to spend at least 30 minutes per day going through my email so that another huge backlog doesn’t recur. I’m mastering writing shorter but still meaningful responses so I can acknowledge those who write to me in a shorter time period. I have also been removing myself from various lists to keep the inflow of email down to a more manageable level.
More face-to-face connections
One goal that I set for myself back in January was to aim for one face-to-face interaction per week, whether it be getting together with a friend or attending a class or a group meeting. I am not yet at the weekly level, but I did have three such interactions during January and three in February thus far. These were all one-on-one meetings, including getting together with someone new I met through this blog and two friends whom I hadn’t seen in six months or more. These meetings helped me to feel more connected and less alone and I’m glad I made them happen. As an introvert, I don’t need a lot of “face time” to feel fulfilled and a little goes a long way. I would love to get involved in one or two group activities (classes or Meetup groups) moving forward, as well as continue getting together with friends periodically.
More time on activities that matter to me
About a month ago, a friend and I decided to try a new approach toward better time management. Instead of rigidly approaching time management by tracking all of our activities and scheduling virtually every moment of our days, she suggested that we each select three pastimes that we find fulfilling and make them a priority in our lives. I selected my photo-taking walks, movies, and personal growth reading.
Not long after making this declaration, I found myself dedicating more time to those three things. I’ve now seen quite a few movies, am more than halfway through reading a great book on habits, and generally go on walks with my camera two or three times per week. I’ve noticed a number of occasions when I thought I should be doing one task or another, but upon remembering my commitment, I opted instead to take a walk at sunset time or see a movie (or even watch a favorite television program) in the evening. I have faltered a bit with prioritizing these activities as of late, but writing this post is serving as a positive reminder for me!
An unconventional journal
The same wise friend who suggested making time for fulfilling activities (check out the inspiring guest post she wrote for the blog) told me about a new practice she took on a few months ago. She called it her “bitch journal,” which she started after noticing that she was complaining a lot. She began writing down her complaints and going back later to read them, at which time she noticed that the same things were being noted over and over again. This recognition helped her to make changes in her behavior and start taking better care of herself in her relationships. A few of her relationships were positively transformed as a result of her “bitch journal.”
Upon hearing how much this type of unconventional journal helped my friend, I decided to start one myself about two weeks ago. It’s “early days” still, but I’ve already seen some patterns with my complaints. I find that I complain a lot about my poor time management, lack of sleep, spending too much time on Facebook, long phone calls, and my various health woes. While I haven’t yet made many changes through my “bitch journal” practice, I’ve started to improve my self-care and set some boundaries in my relationships. I plan to keep writing down my complaints and I hope that I’ll take more steps toward changing the things that are in my power to transform. Stay tuned…
It’s nice to see that I’ve taken so many positive actions to create more balance in my life, but I remain challenged on several fronts, some of which I wrote about in my original post. Here are what I see as my top two ongoing challenges:
Lack of sleep
I continue to go to bed far too late and often sleep 6 or fewer hours per night (I also struggle with insomnia, so that’s part of the reason). I typically feel very tired when I wake up and again in the afternoon and early evening, but then I get a “second wind” and feel wired into the wee hours of the morning. So I stay up late, often on the computer, and the cycle continues day after day. I really need to turn this around. I find that I’m dragging more and more each day, such that I feel sleepy while driving and struggle to get things done (case in point, writing this blog post has been much more arduous than it should be).
I need to limit my late night computer time, get ready for bed earlier, and do activities late at night that will help me to wind down (e.g. reading, listening to music). I’m re-committing to my target 12:30 bedtime and will change my environment and habits such that it will be easier for me to honor this commitment. I know that I will feel better for it and be more productive as well.
Poor time management
Staying up too late leads me to sleep in later and “lag” in the mornings. This type of domino effect results in poor time management and not getting my priority tasks done, which then leads me to work on things late into the evenings, perpetuating the vicious cycle I wrote about above. I get so frustrated by this, but I keep doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result (this is the definition of insanity!).
Going to bed earlier and getting more sleep will allow me to feel more rested, get up earlier, and have a better start to my days. I’m also going to set 1-3 key tasks each evening for the following day so I know what my priorities are in advance. Before logging on to social media or doing other such “time sink” activities, I need to spend at least one hour on a key task each morning. That will enable me to build momentum and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what I’m doing.
I also have a lot of health-related appointments, which often take up big chunks of my days. Whenever possible, I’m going to “batch” these appointments into a single day. If I can schedule two appointments on a given day, I won’t lose so much time that I could be spending on other tasks. That said, improving my health is my most important goal, so if I need to be out of the house on multiple days each week for health appointments, so be it. I’ll just do the best I can to consolidate my appointments when it’s possible to do so.
Summing it all up
For clarity’s sake, I’ll sum up the commitments I have made in this post:
- Go to bed by 12:30 am each night (Sunday through Thursday). Stay off the computer close to bedtime and engage in more relaxing, wind-down activities instead.
- Each weeknight, set 1-3 key tasks for the following day.
- Don’t log in to Facebook or other social media outlets until I have spent at least 1 hour on one of my key tasks for the day.
- Continue to track and cut down on my Facebook time. Aim for 10-12 hours per week total (this includes time in my private group).
- Spend 30 minutes per day Monday through Friday working on eliminating my information overload backlogs (email, Feedly, Pocket, browser tabs, physical files).
- Spend at least 30 minutes each day (M-F) reading and responding to email.
- Continue to aim for one in-person activity (one-on-one meeting, class, Meetup) per week.
- Make photo walks (2-3 per week), movies (1-2 per week, including at home), and personal growth reading (3 times per week) a priority in my life.
- Batch health-related appointments and errands as much as possible to maximize productivity.
If I do all of the above things, I know that my life will not only be more balanced, it will also be happier and healthier! I will check in on these things in my February accountability update in a couple of weeks.
Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts:
- What do you do to help maintain balance in your life?
- How are you doing with your theme and/or goals for the year?
- What are you committed to in the coming months to help further your goals?
I invite you to weigh in on the questions above. You’re also welcome to ask me questions and comment on what I have written in this post.