Photo credit: mt 23 on flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Keep life priorities in balance: Check.

In my personal life, I’ve always been one to prefer spontaneity over structure; relaxation over regulation. For a long time, I’ve clung to that at home as a way to compensate for all the organization that’s crucial in my work. But this summer, I’ve been trying something more deliberate to keep a balanced daily life. Every day after work, I make sure to do a few things:

  1. Something to benefit my own well-being.
    This comes first for a reason: without sustaining physical and mental health, everything else is bound to come crashing down, all other efforts will quickly see diminishing returns. Variety is important here – I’m not talking about daily activities, but more special ways to do something my body and soul will thank me for later. This year I’ve been focusing a lot on fitness and nutrition, so this often means something like lifting weights or taking the time to prep lots of healthy meals so I can eat healthily on the go. This is also an easy way to work in something I’d like to have as a daily habit, but haven’t quite built up yet. Right now, that’s meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises.
  2. Something constructive that isn’t part of my work responsibilities.
    This could also easily be called “something to benefit others,” as community is another important part of a balanced life. (Have I mentioned that I’m right on the line between introvert and extrovert?) Volunteering, career-building events outside of work, and hobby projects are all good here. Taking time to focus on someone else’s growth – mentoring someone professionally, or even dedicating time to a loved one who is overwhelmed by something – helps put my own life (and stress) in a broader perspective.
  3. Something purely enjoyable.
    I only added this one to the list recently – I thought I didn’t need to make this an explicit part of my list, since I’ve always insisted on enjoying each moment of life. But if I’m dedicating so much to these other efforts, doesn’t this deserve the same recognition in my daily routine? By more consciously acknowledging it, I keep pure responsibility-free fun as a priority amidst everything else. Sometimes this just means doing whatever I want, but I won’t lie: I have some “just have fun with this” items on my to-do list. I also take at least one day of the weekend to intentionally disregard the other obligations. Moderation in everything, including moderation itself!

In terms of how I apply this, keeping the basic principle in my head is the most important part. Just mentally reminding myself of broad and balanced priorities does a lot for me. But after I got more established in this habit, I discovered that it actually complements how I take care of things in my much more structured work life. I work in groups that practice Agile development, and I manage my own work using David Allen’s Getting Things Done method and Nozbe‘s apps. Since my work is a cycle of identifying action items, filing them into a backlog, and picking them out for work at the appropriate time, it turns out that I can use the exact same approaches for the rest of my priorities in life! Having a category in my to-do app for each of these priorities helps me both avoid stressing about something I need to do, as well as get inspiration later on when I’m not sure what to do with these things. I don’t make a to-do item for every single thing, but I’m trying to do more, as the act of checking them off is another positive reminder that I’m growing and living life on multiple fronts.

If you traveled back in time two years and told me I’d be organizing all this just for my personal life, 2012-me wouldn’t believe you. I despise administrative overhead, which makes me run away from a lot of over-organized procedures in the refuge of my free time. But in fact, this system is so low-maintenance that I stick to it – I’m focusing more on the actual priorities, and using lists to keep all the fine details out of my head. So far, it has impacted me in plenty of ways: I’m making constant progress on non-work projects that used to fall by the wayside. My physical health is a non-negotiable emphasis, making me fit to take on the rest. And when something in one part of my life gets tough, this approach gives me the freedom to to stop panicking and just focus on checking items off the list until I’m ready to come back up for air.

I didn’t expect to spend a couple of hours writing this tonight. I have all kinds of things that need to be done, and I’m trying to get to bed earlier, too. No problem! Blogging for the first time since January 1 has been a constructive thing I’ve been meaning to get around to. I’ll hit the exercise bike downstairs for half an hour. And instead of feeling guilty about this post interrupting other stuff I need to get done at home, I’ll go to bed with a good book and a clear conscience. 🙂

Photo credit: mt 23 / CC BY-SA 2.0