Caring for others, meeting the many demands of work, enjoying family life, and having enough time for ourselves are all important, but fitting everything in can feel like a losing battle! Striking a healthy and enjoyable balance in life means something different for everyone and our priorities also change over the course of our lifetimes depending on our circumstances. Finding balance between work, family and caring duties doesn’t happen overnight but it can be achieved in small steps.
1. Define what your ideal balance looks like
Start by writing down what your ideal balance looks like and engage your family in the process. Don’t assume that your priorities are still the same today as they were a few years ago, so list everything that you do on a weekly basis including chores, work, childcare, caring for older family members, hobbies, exercise, and social time. Once you’ve built up a whole picture of all that you do and every responsibility you have, it’s easier to see your way forward to managing your time in a healthy way. You might also like to ask yourself if some of the responsibilities you have might be reduced in some way. For example, helping an elderly relative or neighbour with their shopping three times a week might be, with careful planning, reduced to a once weekly trip to the shops, or you might want to help them to order online and be there to assist with their delivery.
2. Find out where the hours go
We’re all used to budgeting our money but we rarely create a budget for our time. Starting off by asking how much time you have is better than asking how you’ll fit everything in. There are only so many hours in the day so work backwards by looking at what time you have available. You know, for example, how many hours you work every week and how much time you spend travelling to and from the office. You’ll also know how much time you spend taking care of your children, managing other caring duties and running errands. How much time is left? If you barely have an hour left when you’ve tallied it up, you might be doing too much. Take an honest look at what you’re doing that might be best left until you do have the time, or recruit help with chores from your family.
3. Identify your ‘time robbers’
These are everyday tasks that act as distractions from more important things and ultimately, they rob you of both time and opportunities. Everyone has at least a few of these distractions, but luckily reducing or even eradicating them is easier than you might think.
- Do you regularly take on other people’s problems? If so, ask yourself why you do it. Do you feel responsible for other people’s happiness or are you only distracting yourself from more important things in your own life? Help the other person – and free up your time – by signposting them to resources such as books, support groups or online resources.
- Do you find yourself swamped by non-urgent emails or paperwork? Ask yourself why you’re burning up your precious time dealing with things that aren’t ultimately important. File non-urgent emails and paperwork on a weekly basis and have a quick look at them at the end of the week. You’ll usually find that you only have a cursory look at them before moving on to more important things.
- Can you make chores less time consuming? We can waste an enormous amount of time when we don’t plan ahead. Consider doing your grocery shopping online, register for online banking, set up Direct Debits for ongoing bills, book family members’ medical appointments for the same day to reduce travel time, or consider delegating tasks to your partner or children.
4. Ask for help and delegate responsibilities
Not only is delegation a brilliant tool when time is tight, but asking someone else to take on a new responsibility can help them to develop new skills too. If you have teenagers, ask them to take on certain household chores such as the gardening. They’ll learn a new skill and become more responsible in the process. If your children are smaller, give them a regular, simple chore that they can handle. You’ll help to develop their sense of value to the household while freeing up some time for yourself. Or consider creating a rota with other family members if you have responsibility for the care of an elderly family member. If we don’t let others know that we need their help, they may not even think to offer.
5. Set clear boundaries – and stick to them
Keep your work and home life separate by switching off your work email and mobile at the end of the day whenever you can. When we’re distracted, we can’t make ourselves available to other people which in turn, creates distance between ourselves and the people we care about. Take time over family meals, plan fun days out, or make sure that you have the time and space to talk about the things that matter; identify what’s important to you and your family and make a commitment to budget time for it on a regular basis.
6. Learn when to say no
Few of us like to say no especially if we fear appearing unhelpful or inflexible. While saying no all of the time isn’t realistic, knowing how to say no to something that will cause us difficulty can help us to feel more in control. Saying no when we’re stretched for time is healthy and the following tips will help you to negotiate the balance between wanting to please others and maintaining a good balance in your own life:
- Take a moment before responding to a request. We often act out of habit, automatically saying yes to things we actually can’t or don’t want to do. Don’t respond out of habit but consider the request and if you need to, let the person know that you’ll come back to them. A few minutes won’t do any harm and will give you the space to really think about the impact that yet another task will have on you.
- Look for the win-win. Saying no doesn’t have to be absolute. Is there a way to help out while still protecting the balance you’re working so hard to maintain? You could consider agreeing to help with one aspect of the request but not all.
- Signpost people to useful resources. Suggesting ways for people to help themselves is a positive. Even if you’re unable to support with a specific request, you can show them that you’re more than happy to help them find ways of getting what they need.
7. Balance caregiving with time for yourself
An increasing number of us care for children and elderly relatives in addition to work.
It’s important to make sure that you have protected time where you are doing things that you enjoy and relax you. Age UK offers advice and support on all aspects of supporting an older person who needs your help, and Carers UK is also an excellent resource for anyone with caring responsibilities.
Finding and maintaining a healthy balance takes some skill, but once you’ve decided what’s important to you, you’re more likely to make the right choices to help manage your responsibilities effectively.