Years ago, my professional and personal lives collided at every turn. I was being pulled in a million different directions every day. I was drowning in guilt because my family was not getting the best of me (or even much of me) and my team did not know what they were supposed to do next.
When I finally had a quiet moment after the phones stopped ringing each day, I was so exhausted from serving everyone else that I would just collapse. I had nothing to show for my days except high cortisol levels, sleepless nights and physical weakness.
I realized that I was allowing other people to design my life and manage my time, which was not benefitting me or the people I love. I started on a personal journey to figure out how to take back the power to design my own life.
The strategist in me stepped up, and I started doing what I do best – identifying the problem and finding a solution. Instinctively, I knew that solving the problem included me reclaiming ownership of all my time and stopping the hacks.
It took a couple of years for me to piece together the solution that I can stick to in order to eliminate my time hacks. Here are my daily commitments to myself that I follow and that have given me back my time and allowed me to create my own life balance.
1. I Follow My Morning Ritual
I am the most creative early in the morning. No one else is awake in my house so I can focus 100%. I spend 60 minutes, starting at 5 a.m., reviewing my time commitments for the day and focusing on special creative projects that need my undivided attention. Then I share a cup of coffee with my husband, get my teenager off to school and head to the gym or yoga mat for 60 minutes.
By the time I get to the office, I have already finished significant projects, spent time with my family and figured out exactly what I need to meet my own expectations. It sets the tone for the rest of my day as I continue to build on my accomplishments.
2. I Say No
Most people perceive the word “no” as a negative word. It most certainly is when we tell a child not to touch the stove or tell someone that their performance is not as expected. For me, however, “no” is an empowering, positive word. When I say “no” to a project, a commitment or some other request, I am saying “no” because it does not align with my personal and professional goals.
A mentor once told me to always “stick to my knitting,” which was a very nice way of telling me that I cannot do everything for everyone, all the time. Now, before I respond to a request, I ask myself if this is part of my knitting or someone else’s. My answer allows me to stick to my knitting.
3. I Live In The Present
I finally realized that I can learn from the past, but I have to live in the present to create my future. This is still a daily challenge for me, though I do like living in the present much better than the past.
It is so easy to get off track. I have discovered that my phone is not my present and neither is email. I check email at certain times during the day so that I can create blocks of time to work on productive things in the present without distraction. I think that people are frightened by a few minutes with nothing to do, so they get on their phones as a default response. I see far more present value in reading a book, meeting a friend for coffee or going for a run.
4. I Trust My Body
Yoga is a significant part of my life. Having practiced for more than 20 years, I know that if I don’t do yoga regularly, the door opens for other people to hack my time and my energy. I even introduced my husband to the benefits of yoga and now we get to practice power yoga together.
Last summer, I spent time with a prominent physician who told me I have the body of an athlete (who knew!), and that I was not leveraging my full potential. He encouraged me to fuel my body like an athlete, and promised this would provide not only physical strength but mental and emotional strength.
So my personal trainer and I created a plan to leverage my natural athletic build and identify the foods that I need to fuel my body and keep me at peak performance – physically, mentally and emotionally. I am now a gym rat of a certain age who looks forward to my 60-minute sessions, leveraging my own body weight, my balance and my capacity to lift more. I love the physical sweat and the mental benefits of my hard work.
So my four daily commitments – my morning ritual, saying “no” in order to stick to my knitting, living in the present and trusting my body – guide my life. It has been an amazing journey to live by my commitments and feel that I have more balance in my life.
As with everything else in life, my plan is a constant work in progress. Have I solved my life balance? For now. Will it change? Most likely. Will I ever get there? Probably not, as I’ve also discovered that “there” includes the changes in life that come our way, welcome or not.
I have found that my very selfish protection of my time has delivered far greater returns to myself, my family, my friends and my company. This is the path that has delivered the greatest benefit to me.
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