- Don't confuse adding more "life" to your schedule with adding more balance. Many women trying to live more "balanced" lives add family, community, or volunteer activities to their schedules, thinking that's what balance means. Yet, they either maintain the same work schedule, or they overcommit to these "life" activities. When they do this, they're essentially adding to their plates without taking anything off, and that typically increases rather than decreases stress. What to do? Recognize your limits and stay within them. If what you "add on" is time-limited (like volunteering to help with a school musical) and you're aware of the commitment going in, this kind of temporary addition can be very fulfilling, even energizing. But be careful that you don't inadvertently end up adding another full-time "job" to your life.
- Be realistic. Look at achieving work/life balance the same as you look at wanting to become a billionaire. Most of us would like to achieve it, but the reality is that very few of us ever will. There's nothing wrong with having it as a goal; it's a good thing to strive for, but if you're not realistic about it, it will only add to your stress. At the end of each day, if you expect everyone in your life (including yourself) to be perfectly content because you've devoted the right amount of time to each of them, you're setting yourself up for failure.
- Redefine balance. Defining balance as ending each day (or each week for that matter) with a perfectly balanced scale-equal work and equal life-isn't realistic. In fact, true balance in today's world is rarely achievable (unless you're one of those people who can do anything she wants to do whenever she wants to do it with no time restrictions, and I don't know anyone like that). Although balance is important, don't feel that you have to give each aspect of your life the same amount of time or attention. If the reality of your life requires that you spend 70 percent of your time at work (or maybe that's how you want it to be), then that is your life. If you can't (or don't want to) change that, then why stress over it? Commit to making the remaining 30 percent of your time as balanced and stress-free as possible, knowing that some days you won't even be able to come close-and that's okay.
The bottom line is that balance needs to be self-defined; it's what works for you and your family. If you allow it to be anything else, you're only adding another thing to your "to-do" list. And frankly, isn't that list full enough?
For more insights on how to reduce stress and avoid burnout in your high octane life, pick up a copy of Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter's new book, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, available in bookstores or online at Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle) and BarnesandNoble.com.
Dr. Bourg Carter is a psychologist and an author who writes on the topic of women and stress. She first began counseling women and children with stress-related problems in 1989, and she continues to consult with women throughout the country on stress-related issues through her private practice. Dr. Bourg Carter's most recent book, High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, is one of numerous publications she's written on the topic of work-related stress and burnout. She also writes the "High Octane Women" blog for Psychology Today.