Last week I had a chat with David, who works in a large law firm in New York City.
David, like many other lawyers, is struggling with life balance. He is putting in long working hours, and because of that he rarely has the time and energy to hang out with his family and friends, let alone have time for himself.
And you’ve probably been there as well. You’ve probably spent long hours working in your office, took an exhausting one hour commute home, and then all that you wanted to do was lay on your bed and watch TV.
After working all day, you probably just want to go to sleep.
But sometimes, that just wouldn’t cut it. There is your wife who wants to go out on a date with you. Your friends want to go get some drinks. And you probably also want to work on your projects eventually. But you just don’t have the time for it.
David said that he wanted to write an e-book to help law-school graduates get the legal job of their dreams. But that was a big project that would require a lot of hours to finish. Hours that he just couldn’t find.
I know that I used to be in the same situation before. I wanted to spend more time with friends. I wanted to have fun evenings with my girlfriend. I wanted to exercise regularly, and work on new projects.
So I decided to make life balance a priority for myself. I promised myself that I would find a way to have a balanced life. I’ve set up a schedule for myself that looked something like this:
7.30 Wake up
17.00-18.00 Lunch with my family
18.00-20.00 Spending time with my girlfriend
20.00-21.00 Working on my own projects
21.00-23.00 Drinks with friends
My life finally seemed to be balanced. I had time for everything that was important to me.
But here’s the truth. I wasn’t happy.
Yes, I had the time for everything, but it wasn’t quality time. Everything was very hectic. I often had to leave in a middle of an interesting conversation with a friend. And when I started working on my project and got into the flow, I was frustrated when I had to leave for drinks.
I didn’t have time to cook an awesome lunch like this. Yes, I can actually make lobster pasta!
It was also incredibly boring to have every day exactly the same, and there was never enough time to do something really exciting.
I started thinking to myself that this just isn’t right. I’ve achieved something what in many peoples’ eyes was perfect life balance, but it wasn’t satisfying. It made me feel frustrated instead of happy.
I didn’t give up just yet though. I wanted to find a way to balance my life without taking the quality away from it. I wanted to be able to work on an e-book without isolating myself from my friends and girlfriend for a month.
Eventually I realized that I was approaching life balance from the wrong perspective. I wanted every day to be perfectly balanced, but there just wasn’t enough hours in a day.
I then switched to weekly life balance. Each week, I would spend 40 hours working, 5 hours at gym, 5 hours with my family, 10 hours with my girlfriend, 10 hours with friends and 5 hours working on my own projects.
From Monday to Wednesday, I would focus on getting a lot of work done. On Thursdays I worked on new projects. On Friday I spent more time with friends, and on weekends I would spend time with my family and girlfriend.
This was much better than the previous solution, but it still didn’t work out. There were just too many random events happening. I couldn’t attend a conference over the weekend, I had to say no to my girlfriend when she wanted to go out on a Wednesday evening, and I couldn’t go to my friend’s birthday on Saturday.
If I decided to break my rules, my whole schedule would fall apart, which would frustrate me again.
So I kept looking, until I’ve finally found a system that worked for me.
According to Linkedin recruiting statistics, people who follow such a system are more likely to be hired and to recieve raises. This system allows me to have an intensive working week without alienating myself from my friends and family. I can work on writing an e-book without delaying client work. And I can take a spontaneous week off and fly to US.
In November, I flew to San Francisco for a week. This is the view from my hotel room.
And today, I’ll share this system with you, together with a worksheet that you can use to create your own system.
The core of the system is long-term life balance.
Yes, that’s right.
It’s not about having a perfectly balanced day, or a perfectly balanced week. It’s about having a balanced life.
Instead of trying to improve in all areas of your life in one week, ask yourself this question:
What is the minimum amount of effort that you need to put into improving in an area of your life if you just want to keep it at the same level?
What do you need to do each week to keep your wife happy? What do you need to do to stay in shape? What do you need to do to prevent your business from falling apart?
Write down the answers, and be very specific about the time it will take you.
Work: Be at the office for 40h/week (because otherwise you will get fired)
Family: Have lunch with my parents once a week (1 afternoon)
Sports: Go to the gym 3x/week (3x 1.5h)
Friends: Grab drinks once a week (1 evening)
Girlfriend: Go to 2 dates (2 afternoons/evenings)
To make sure that you do these activities, you can create habits out of them, or simply schedule them as recurring events on your calendar.
A week has 168 hours. To maintain the same level in all areas of your life, you will probably need around 60 hours. You’ll also want to sleep for around 50 hours. Some of the time, probably at least 20 hours a week or so, will be wasted on eating, commuting, showering, etc.
In the end, you’ll be left with about 40 hours of free time. It might be a bit more or less, depending on how many hours you need to work on average.
Some of this time, you will probably spend just watching TV and browsing Facebook, and that’s ok. But in any case, you should be able to find 10 to 20 hours a week that you can invest into anything.
And in 10 to 20 hours, you can actually get a lot done. You can take a weekend trip with your girlfriend to another city. You can organize a party for your friends or a family reunion. You can work on a new idea to add more value to your company and get that raise that you’ve always wanted. You can even develop a new skill.
You can take a weekend trip to the zoo and feed some giraffes.
What you will do is entirely up to you, but I would recommend you to plan it in advance and make a project out of it. After a week, you want to be able to say: “In this week, I’ve done X”.
In order to do that, ask yourself this question:
“If I have 10-20 hours this week to get to the next level at [INSERT AREA OF YOUR LIFE], what can I do in that time?”
Once you know what to do, it’s way more likely that you’ll actually get it done.
So, what happens once you do that? What happens once you define your weekly minimums for each area of your life, and invest each week into getting one of your areas to the next level?
You get results.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how many hours you put in each week. What matters is what you get done and what are the outcomes of it.
Each week, you will be able to get something meaningful done in an area of your life. You will be able to grow your social circle by going to conferences and organizing parties. You will be able to have an amazing anniversary trip with your wife. And you will be able to grow your business by developing a new product.
You can even expand on this. If you have a product launch that takes longer than a week, you can take that time to really focus on it. You can always balance other areas out later on once you’re done. You can take a one week vacation, or catch up with your friends.
In the long run, you will actually get your life balance. You will be able to progress in all areas of your life consistently.
And the best part is, that your life won’t be boring any more. Every week, you will have an exciting new project to work on, and every week will be different. Once you look back at the last few months, you will be able to remember a lot of great experiences, which just won’t be possible if you try to balance every single day.
Now, it’s time for you to take action and implement this into your life. Here’s a worksheet that you can fill out:
If you don’t want a fancy worksheet, here are your action steps.
4 steps to Life Balance:
1) Write down all of the areas of your life that are important to you
2) Define a weekly minimum for each of those areas
3) Block out some time on your calendar each Sunday evening to plan your next week
4) During your weekly planning, think of a project that you can work on during the week to get to the next level in one area of your life
Now if you liked this article and you know a friend that’s struggling with life balance, why don’t you e-mail it to them? Your friend will love you for it, and I’ll thank you as well.
I have to be honest with you though. When you try to create new habits, especially the ones that include things like exercise, sleep and socialising, we love finding excuses not to stick to them. We say that “we don’t have enough time”. We are too lazy to go there. We ignore our calendar appointments.
If you want to make sure that your life balance system becomes really bulletproof and actually sticks with you, get my free guide to creating bulletproof habits below. It will give you a step-by-step framework to bulletproof your habits and get the results that you want.