At 9 pm on Saturday night, I left the courthouse. I had been selected as a juror for a trial a little more than two weeks earlier. It was only two weeks, but the whole experience felt like an eternity in some kind of parallel universe. The first weekend that fell during the trial included a death in the family and an unexpected trip out of town. The second week included being sequestered for three days without phones or any personal electronics.
Needless to say, I spent this past Sunday in a transitional fog, trying to focus on chores that had been neglected and figure out where I had left off with life in general at the beginning of the month. I was back at work early Monday morning, replying to emails and making a plan for how to get caught up with projects and deadlines that had been abandoned while I was away.
By Tuesday morning I was feeling pretty overwhelmed, having no idea how I was going to successfully juggle the various commitments for multiple clients. I was about to pour myself another cup of coffee and dig in, but instead did something out of character…I decided to change clothes and head to a yoga class.
I sat quietly on the mat before class started, struggling with a mix of guilt and panic – how could I just leave for 90 minutes when I had so much to do? The answer came a few minutes later when the instructor told us the theme for the day: in order to successfully change any external situation, we must change our own behavior.
As she continued, she referenced two other influential teachers, Viktor Frankl and Jerry Seinfeld. Frankl believed when we are faced with situations that aren’t working in our lives, it is our responsibility to change our actions and our mindset. And Seinfeld’s lovable loser George Costanza demonstrated this principle in one episode of the TV show when he resolved to do the exact opposite of what he would normally do in every situation and suddenly his life started moving in the right direction. I chuckled to myself and felt some validation for my decision to come to class.
Back at work later that day, some interesting things happened. One client moved a deadline to the end of the week, and on another project, an issue came up with one of the consultants that meant there would be a three week delay in getting the information we needed to complete our part. Suddenly I had breathing room and it looked like I would be able to proceed at a more “normal” pace, focusing on the other critical items first.
Who knows? The same things could have happened if I hadn’t taken time for the yoga class, but because I did, I felt physically and mentally better able to focus on whatever was in front of me.
I laughed when Prime Women suggested I write about making time for yourself in your work life. My first thought was that I was totally the wrong person for this assignment about work-life balance. Then I remembered that old saying about how people teach best what they most need to learn, so I said okay. For much of my career, working 60-70 hours a week was typical and expected. And since I started my own business a few years ago, it feels like there are even fewer hours in the day. Honestly, I’d never been very good about prioritizing self-care.
As I thought more about the topic of work-life balance, I reflected on other small changes I’d made recently and the positive results that followed. I started writing them down. As I studied the list, I realized that after all these years, maybe I finally have started taking baby steps in the right direction. That was a huge revelation. I proceeded to group those baby steps into three categories and then developed personal instructions for each one. They are now becoming blocks of time regularly scheduled on my calendar that must be completed with action items:
Take a break and do something to clear your head. This could be physical or mental: exercise, mindfulness or meditation, even a favorite hobby that requires concentration on something other than work. Making time to change scenery and go inward in a different way helps me to be better focused and more productive when I get back to my desk.
Celebrate when you complete an assignment or meet a deadline. Maybe get a massage or treat yourself to a new pair of shoes!
Making an effort to reward myself for accomplishments encourages me to keep going, even if that just means watching a little Carpool Karaoke on YouTube because I’ve only got 15 minutes to spare that day.
Make time for social activities – meet a friend for lunch, RSVP to that happy hour or neighborhood gathering, and catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while. Although it feels like doing this will leave me further behind, including these types of activities in my schedule actually puts me in a better frame of mind and gives me more energy to tackle what’s waiting back at the office.
I recently came across a quote by Maya Angelou, a woman with no shortage of sage advice:
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”
Her complete poem “A day away” can be found here.
That poem is going up on my wall, as a goal to work toward. For now, I’m still in training to learn work-life balance, one baby step at a time.