Robin Angell Carroll - 11/24/2010 - Biz tips

Are you always in search of the elusive “balance” in life? My dream is to make sure all of the different compartments of life are each getting the attention they need. The reality is, most of the time, something falls by the wayside.

In searching for ways to balance it all, I’ve come up with some tools that help bring me back to center.

The Lure of the List

To start, I’m a checklist/schedule girl. I have to admit, there’s a real sense of accomplishment in creating a list of “to dos”, going through and checking those suckers off one by one. And having a schedule to keep, keeps me on track. Most days. Of course there’s also a level of stress involved in the process of lists and schedules. “Why didn’t I get more done?” “There aren’t enough hours in the day!” And so on.

But I subscribe to the theory that the more you do, the more you CAN do. Less — in the case of getting things done — is not more. I find when there’s not much on my plate, pretty much nothing gets done. I mean not even a dish is washed. But give me a day filled with work deadlines, children’s activities and household administration to accomplish, and I’m all over it. And somehow, even when I’m stressing about why I didn’t more get done, it does all get done. Eventually.

The lure of the list is, if you can write it down somewhere, then you can get it out of your head and leave room in there for more important things.

Life Schedule

I start with a time management plan that attempts to cover all bases: work, family, my time, exercise. I break it down into 2 hour increments for each day of the week and slot those increments with activities I want to accomplish. That doesn’t mean that things don’t change, but having an idea of what I’d like to do during those times, helps me commit to an activity when I do have those slots available. And this schedule also changes with the seasons because I have children.

I even take a step to color code items (pink for my time, blue for time with my son, etc.) so I can visually see what colors are getting more time than others. Maybe a little OCD, but that’s what works for me.

Meal Plan

Because eating right is critical to everyone’s health and energy, I plan out dinners (breakfast and lunch always seem to work themselves out) for every nite of the week. That in turn helps me plan my grocery list, and I find I waste WAY less food, and that we’re all eating healthier because I’m not making the last minute call to hit McDonald’s or have an always popular, “Breakfast for Dinner!” night.

A friend told me about this genius – FREE – website that sets out to help you organize your personal and work life in the simplest way possible. It lays out your calendar by Day/Week/Month and has customizable To Do lists that you can set up and title, and easily move items up and down in priority.

And how cool is it to be able to ditch the old-timey paper grocery list in lieu of one you can pick up on your phone? I keep my laptop in the kitchen and type in my grocery list to the Shopping section as I think of things. You can even move the items around on the list and place them in the order you walk the store so you’re not running back and forth. (Especially handy when you have little children!).

If you can stomach all of the ads everywhere, I highly recommend this fabulous free organizational tool. Oh, and if you so desire, you can share your schedule with business partners, life partners, etc.

Taking a Birdseye View

Lists and schedules are great and all, but it’s also critical to step back and take a global view of your life from time to time. I ask myself: Am I spending enough quality time with my kids, or am I dashing off to do dishes and chores too often? Am I giving my clients 100% of my focus during the chunks of time allotted to their projects? And what about my poor husband? Marriages take work and communication and nurturing. Am I doing enough to stay in touch with him while the rest of life swirls around us? But let’s not forget about the one nearest and dearest to me: me! Am I carving out enough time in each day (excuse the Oprah-moment) to feed my soul?

When you answer these questions, you’re bound to turn up an imbalance here and there. Note it, make adjustments, and you’ll be back on track. At least until the next time something falls off the radar. It’s all part of life and growth and dimension and character.

A Work in Progress

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the lists I keep (my Holiday gift list is a sight to behold), but the ones above cover the general bases if you’re ready to jump on the list bandwagon. It’s all a work in progress. And one that can often be inspired by friends, colleagues and family who have wonderfully different perspectives on life, some of which you’ll want to adopt, and some of which will inspire you to go in the opposite direction. Just always stay open to suggestions and making changes on your journey.

I read in a gossip magazine the other day that none other than Heidi Klum keeps to-do lists. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like such a square for my manic list making. Here’s to achieving that balance. Good luck and Auf wiedersehen.

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