Katie Byrne: The good habits to get you closer to a better work-life ratio
They say life is a balancing act but I'm beginning to realise that 'act' is the operative work.
Like everyone else, I've tried to find the perfect ratio of work, rest and play. Now, a little older and wiser, I've accepted that the ebb and flow of life tends to take its own direction.
We all have an idea of what the work-life balance should look like and, sometimes, for a fleeting moment, we actually achieve it.
But then the dishwasher breaks down, a work crisis arises or a child gets sick. And we're back to square one all over again.
We should all strive to have more balanced lives but we should also accept that we prioritise different aspects of our lives at different times. One month you're knee-deep in a work project, the next month you're in 'the zone' with a fitness programme. One year you're in the honeymoon phase of a new relationship, the next year you're in the hurly-burly of a new job.
The truth is that we'll never have truly balanced lives, but we can cultivate habits that ensure the pendulum doesn't swing too far in one direction. Here are a few ideas:
• Follow the two-minute rule
David Allen's 'two-minute rule' can be a lifesaver for those who are always putting things off until tomorrow. If it takes less than two minutes, says the productivity consultant, do it now.
For larger and more daunting projects, try the five-minute rule. Commit to spending just five minutes working on something you have been avoiding and you'll notice that the benefits are twofold: you overcome the initial obstacle of getting started, and you often end up spending a lot longer than five minutes on the task at hand.
• Declutter in spurts
In an ideal world, we would spring clean our homes in one fell swoop. In the real world, we barely have the stamina to organise our sock drawers. If home organisation isn't your strong suit, try taking the slow and steady approach to decluttering instead. Marie Kondo tells readers to declutter categories - clothes, books, electronics, etc - rather than locations, eg rooms and outhouses.
The one-in, one-out rule also works a treat. Every time you bring a new item into your home, you identify another item that is ready for the recycling bin.
• Timebox your tasks
Those who struggle with time management are probably familiar with Parkinson's Law: an old business adage that says work expands to fill the time available for its completion. To avoid falling into this time trap, try 'timeboxing' your tasks. Simply allocate a maximum unit of time for the completion of a task - even if it's just cooking dinner - and notice how much more time you have on your side.
• Read on the go
If you love reading but feel like you don't have the time for it, try bringing a book with you when you leave the house in the morning. You'll be surprised by how many small pockets of time arise to read a few pages - and it might help you put your phone away too.
• Hara hachi bun me
Diets can sometimes seem prohibitively complicated, especially when they involve calorie-counting and food group restriction. This is probably why we put healthy eating plans on the long finger: we think we need time and energy to put them into action.
If you feel like you're too busy to lose weight, why not start with the simple yet effective Confucian philosophy of hara hachi bun me, or "eat until you are 80pc full". You won't drop a dress size in a week, but you won't buckle under the pressure of a dictatorial diet either.
• Pencil in date night
If it feels like your partner becomes less of a priority when you're busy, try scheduling a regular date night. Better still, book tickets, restaurant tables and babysitters well in advance so neither of you can wangle out of it.
• Sit down to a mindful meal
A lot of people want to find outlets that relieve stress and promote a sense of calm, but they don't have the time to practise yoga or learn about meditation.
If this sounds like you, why not try sitting down to at least one mindful meal a day? Set the table, turn off all electronics and take the time to notice the aromas, flavours and textures of your food. This simple exercise will help you connect to the present moment, without the need for a yoga mat or a meditation stool.
• Pay yourself first
If you're forever tying to strike the balance between spending and saving, you could try adopting the money mantra of Warren Buffet, Robert Kiyosaki and, indeed, any financial expert of note: 'pay yourself first'.
The financially empowered spend what is left after saving, rather than save what is left after spending.
More to the point, they don't procrastinate about "getting their finances in order" because they know this simple principle tends to keep things in check.
• Reframe Friday
It's important to find the sweet spot between planning and doing before you even attempt to balance all the other aspects of your life. The trick is to tap into your natural rhythms and cycles by using the wind-down period of Friday afternoon for planning.
This end-of-week to-do list will only take a few minutes but the knock-on effects are immense: your weekend becomes more enjoyable when you have a ritual that signs off the week, and your Monday morning becomes more manageable when you have a plan for the week ahead.
• Find your Ikigai
Our lives start to feel more balanced when we have a sense of purpose or meaning, but that's easier said than done. If your focus is scattered, you could try exploring the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which is roughly translated as 'reason for living'.
Better still, take a look at the Venn diagram created by the authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life.
Ikigai, according to the authors, is the intersection of what you love, what you're good at, what you can get paid for and what the world needs.
Health & Living