Have you ever been ice skating? Maybe you wobbled when you first got in the rink, nearly tipping over.
Once you found your balance, though, I bet it was magical to glide along the surface of the ice, feeling the wind in your hair as you moved with momentum and speed.
Of course that graceful balance may have been interrupted by an errant move here and there that sent you tumbling, but I’ll bet you found a way to recover and continue on your way.
Finding balance in life isn’t so different: You start with a conscious effort, establish your equilibrium, and recover when life trips you up.
The good news is that success boils down to a handful of practical time management techniques. Here are 5 ways to achieve the balance you desire in 2013:
Capture all your to-dos in one place
Scattering your to-dos and appointments among a variety of systems is a recipe for confusion and worry about what you might be forgetting. Decide on a single, consistent planning system (paper or electronic) and use it to record 100% of your calls, appointments, and to-dos. This gives you a complete picture of everything on your plate and allows you to prioritize in context.
Schedule “when” you will do things
A to-do not connected to a “when” simply doesn’t get done. Schedule tasks into your planner on the specific day you intend to do them. Add a time estimate next to each item to make sure you are planning your days realistically—and not allowing one department of your life to monopolize your time at the expense of others.
Use the 4 D’s to lighten your load
Balance requires that you make the best use of your time. Proactively streamline your workload (at work and at home) by applying the 4 D’s: Delete (discard tasks), Delay (reschedule for a more appropriate time), Diminish (create a shortcut), and Delegate (give to someone who can do it better, faster, or at least good enough).
Group similar tasks
Batching tasks boosts efficiency, and minimizes the time and energy lost when constantly switching gears. Group to-dos separate from calls, and separate work tasks from personal ones. Identify the core activities that require your time (e.g. client service, strategic planning, sales, administration), and create a Time Map that designates regular time for each of those roles—and you’ll find that you will get significantly more done, in less time, at a much higher quality of output.
Plan tomorrow +2 at the end of each day
People who plan their day find that time stretches—-they get much more done, feel less stressed, and avoid getting caught up in unnecessary crises. Close-out each day by spending 15 minutes reviewing what you completed and your schedule for tomorrow plus 2 days beyond that. A 3-day arc gives you the necessary perspective to adjust your balance as needed and mentally prepare for the upcoming days.
Given that the U.S. ranked 28th (out of 36) in a global study on work-life balance conducted by the OECD, chances are pretty high that a better balance is one of your New Year’s Resolutions.
Keep in mind that just as with ice skating, balance is not about a perfectly smooth journey in which nothing ever goes wrong. It’s about having the techniques, determination, and forward focus to get back on track whenever life trips you up.
The reward is well worth the effort—that graceful, energizing feeling of a life rich with the perfect blend of activities that’s right for you.
Julie Morgenstern, dubbed the “queen of putting people’s lives in order” by USA Today, is a professional organizer and productivity expert, and bestselling author of 5 books including Time Management from the Inside Out. This January marks the launch her new Circa Balanced Life Planner, a paper based system for the digital age, designed to help you make good decisions about where to spend your time. Available through Levenger.com