NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
As the year began, I felt extremely unbalanced. I wasn’t sleeping much, I felt “behind the 8-ball” with my tasks and goals, I was spending far too much time on Facebook, and I was drowning in information overload. It was very clear to me that something needed to change; thus, I selected “balance” as my theme for 2016. In one of my early January posts, I wrote about what balance means to me and highlighted the specific changes I need to make in my life during 2016 to further this objective.
In my regular accountability updates, I will let you know how I’m doing in terms of creating better life balance. However, when I have more than a paragraph or two to say on the topic, I’ll also periodically dedicate a standalone post to updating you on my theme for the year. This is one of those times… In today’s post, I’ll share the balance wins and challenges I have experienced thus far and what I plan to do to address my ongoing difficulties.
Close to two months into 2016, I have made some definite progress, so let’s start with some of the positive changes I have made.
Fewer blog subscriptions
I have pared down the blogs to which I subscribe from 51 to 26, so I’ve basically cut the number in half. What’s more, of those 26 blogs, 6 of them are what I consider “dormant” in that they rarely publish posts any longer. I could unsubscribe from those blogs, but in the event that they do post a new article, I’d like to read it. Since cutting down my blog subscriptions, I spend much less time on blog reading, which has opened up more time for other types of reading, including books.
Less time on Facebook
I used to check Facebook first thing in the morning and multiple times throughout the day. Although I would periodically scroll through my feed, the bulk of my Facebook time was spent messaging with my friends there and in the private group I founded. To give myself an idea of how much time I spent on both of those activities, I decided to start tracking them. I was astounded at what I learned. In early January, I was spending upwards of 20 hours per week engaged in just those two activities – that’s like a part-time job! No wonder I felt like I didn’t have enough time for other priorities in my life.
Since that rude awakening, I’ve changed my Facebook habits dramatically. I no longer log in early in the day and I am far more deliberate (there’s last year’s word again!) in how I allocate my time there. I have reduced my Facebook time by about a third over the past few weeks, thus freeing up time for other activities. I would still like to cut back even more, but I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made since the beginning of 2016.
I started the year with a lot of full in-boxes: my email folder, blog reader (Feedly), article queue (Pocket), and physical files. I usually waited until I had a big chunk of time to dedicate to decreasing backlogs, but I decided to approach things differently this year. I’ve opted to spend smaller time blocks on dealing with my various queues, often setting a timer for 30 minutes and paring things down as much as possible during that time frame. Sometimes when the timer goes off, I’m willing to spend more time on the project, but even the shorter windows have allowed me to make progress.
I have found that I’m now more willing to be ruthless in tackling my backlogs, often deleting articles without having read them and recycling papers that I may have elected to keep in the past. My backlogs still exist, but they now feel more like small mountains rather than the size of Mount Everest. I plan to continue with my daily (or at least 4 or 5 times per week) backlog time moving forward so I can continue to get rid of both physical and digital information overload.
Better email management
My email in-box was one of my backlogs, but it had greater implications than the others in that I had become delinquent in responding to people. There were messages to which I had yet to reply that were over a month old, some of which were from readers of this blog! Part of the reason for the delinquency was that I was spending so much time on Facebook rather than on email and my in-box kept filling up more and more over time.
I have always prided myself on being responsive, so it was important for me to turn this around. Fortunately, I have been able to do so and am now back to responding to most messages within a day or two. I try to spend at least 30 minutes per day going through my email so that another huge backlog doesn’t recur. I’m mastering writing shorter but still meaningful responses so I can acknowledge those who write to me in a shorter time period. I have also been removing myself from various lists to keep the inflow of email down to a more manageable level.
More face-to-face connections
One goal that I set for myself back in January was to aim for one face-to-face interaction per week, whether it be getting together with a friend or attending a class or a group meeting. I am not yet at the weekly level, but I did have three such interactions during January and three in February thus far. These were all one-on-one meetings, including getting together with someone new I met through this blog and two friends whom I hadn’t seen in six months or more. These meetings helped me to feel more connected and less alone and I’m glad I made them happen. As an introvert, I don’t need a lot of “face time” to feel fulfilled and a little goes a long way. I would love to get involved in one or two group activities (classes or Meetup groups) moving forward, as well as continue getting together with friends periodically.
More time on activities that matter to me
About a month ago, a friend and I decided to try a new approach toward better time management. Instead of rigidly approaching time management by tracking all of our activities and scheduling virtually every moment of our days, she suggested that we each select three pastimes that we find fulfilling and make them a priority in our lives. I selected my photo-taking walks, movies, and personal growth reading.
Not long after making this declaration, I found myself dedicating more time to those three things. I’ve now seen quite a few movies, am more than halfway through reading a great book on habits, and generally go on walks with my camera two or three times per week. I’ve noticed a number of occasions when I thought I should be doing one task or another, but upon remembering my commitment, I opted instead to take a walk at sunset time or see a movie (or even watch a favorite television program) in the evening. I have faltered a bit with prioritizing these activities as of late, but writing this post is serving as a positive reminder for me!
An unconventional journal
The same wise friend who suggested making time for fulfilling activities (check out the inspiring guest post she wrote for the blog) told me about a new practice she took on a few months ago. She called it her “bitch journal,” which she started after noticing that she was complaining a lot. She began writing down her complaints and going back later to read them, at which time she noticed that the same things were being noted over and over again. This recognition helped her to make changes in her behavior and start taking better care of herself in her relationships. A few of her relationships were positively transformed as a result of her “bitch journal.”
Upon hearing how much this type of unconventional journal helped my friend, I decided to start one myself about two weeks ago. It’s “early days” still, but I’ve already seen some patterns with my complaints. I find that I complain a lot about my poor time management, lack of sleep, spending too much time on Facebook, long phone calls, and my various health woes. While I haven’t yet made many changes through my “bitch journal” practice, I’ve started to improve my self-care and set some boundaries in my relationships. I plan to keep writing down my complaints and I hope that I’ll take more steps toward changing the things that are in my power to transform. Stay tuned…
It’s nice to see that I’ve taken so many positive actions to create more balance in my life, but I remain challenged on several fronts, some of which I wrote about in my original post. Here are what I see as my top two ongoing challenges:
Lack of sleep
I continue to go to bed far too late and often sleep 6 or fewer hours per night (I also struggle with insomnia, so that’s part of the reason). I typically feel very tired when I wake up and again in the afternoon and early evening, but then I get a “second wind” and feel wired into the wee hours of the morning. So I stay up late, often on the computer, and the cycle continues day after day. I really need to turn this around. I find that I’m dragging more and more each day, such that I feel sleepy while driving and struggle to get things done (case in point, writing this blog post has been much more arduous than it should be).
I need to limit my late night computer time, get ready for bed earlier, and do activities late at night that will help me to wind down (e.g. reading, listening to music). I’m re-committing to my target 12:30 bedtime and will change my environment and habits such that it will be easier for me to honor this commitment. I know that I will feel better for it and be more productive as well.
Poor time management
Staying up too late leads me to sleep in later and “lag” in the mornings. This type of domino effect results in poor time management and not getting my priority tasks done, which then leads me to work on things late into the evenings, perpetuating the vicious cycle I wrote about above. I get so frustrated by this, but I keep doing the same things over and over again expecting a different result (this is the definition of insanity!).
Going to bed earlier and getting more sleep will allow me to feel more rested, get up earlier, and have a better start to my days. I’m also going to set 1-3 key tasks each evening for the following day so I know what my priorities are in advance. Before logging on to social media or doing other such “time sink” activities, I need to spend at least one hour on a key task each morning. That will enable me to build momentum and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what I’m doing.
I also have a lot of health-related appointments, which often take up big chunks of my days. Whenever possible, I’m going to “batch” these appointments into a single day. If I can schedule two appointments on a given day, I won’t lose so much time that I could be spending on other tasks. That said, improving my health is my most important goal, so if I need to be out of the house on multiple days each week for health appointments, so be it. I’ll just do the best I can to consolidate my appointments when it’s possible to do so.
Summing it all up
For clarity’s sake, I’ll sum up the commitments I have made in this post:
- Go to bed by 12:30 am each night (Sunday through Thursday). Stay off the computer close to bedtime and engage in more relaxing, wind-down activities instead.
- Each weeknight, set 1-3 key tasks for the following day.
- Don’t log in to Facebook or other social media outlets until I have spent at least 1 hour on one of my key tasks for the day.
- Continue to track and cut down on my Facebook time. Aim for 10-12 hours per week total (this includes time in my private group).
- Spend 30 minutes per day Monday through Friday working on eliminating my information overload backlogs (email, Feedly, Pocket, browser tabs, physical files).
- Spend at least 30 minutes each day (M-F) reading and responding to email.
- Continue to aim for one in-person activity (one-on-one meeting, class, Meetup) per week.
- Make photo walks (2-3 per week), movies (1-2 per week, including at home), and personal growth reading (3 times per week) a priority in my life.
- Batch health-related appointments and errands as much as possible to maximize productivity.
If I do all of the above things, I know that my life will not only be more balanced, it will also be happier and healthier! I will check in on these things in my February accountability update in a couple of weeks.
Now it’s time for you to share your thoughts:
- What do you do to help maintain balance in your life?
- How are you doing with your theme and/or goals for the year?
- What are you committed to in the coming months to help further your goals?
I invite you to weigh in on the questions above. You’re also welcome to ask me questions and comment on what I have written in this post.
22 thoughts on “Off to a Good Start with My 2016 Balance Theme”
I love the idea of a bitch journal! What a great way to spot behavior(s) that are not moving you forward. Do you have separate bitch and gratitude journals? I mean, I assume they are separate but do you write in both every day? Your goals sound quite reasonable. That said, I know that burst of energy that happens at 10 pm. (I wish I felt that good in the morning!) Night owls are called that for a reason, lol, so if you achieve a stable bed time and wake time that will be a big achievement. I’m going to try to keep a regular bedtime, my pre-sleep routine of tooth and skin care seem to calm me down enough that I rarely need to read. Staying asleep is a bigger problem for me. I’m not sure what to do about that.
I feel I am making better choices this year. Knowing that stress makes me feel like buying clothes has taken the stress relief our of buying clothes!
Yes, the bitch journal has been great for me, Diane! I’m actually not doing a gratitude journal right now, although I have done one quite a bit in the past. I do write regularly in the gratitude thread in the “End Closet Chaos” group, though. I don’t even write daily in the bitch journal, just as things come up (and then I will often write a few things at a time). The bedtime issue is SO challenging for me! I have trouble staying asleep sometimes, too, but getting to bed (and often to sleep) is my main issue. I really hope I can turn my bad habits around and stick to the commitments I have made in this post. I’m glad you are making better choices this year. Sometimes awareness of our issues can help us to turn things around. Once we put a spotlight on a behavior, it’s hard to be mindless about it anymore.
I need a bitch journal. Oprah has her gratitude journal, which is also helpful don’t get me wrong, but this one sounds like it might help document problem areas faster. Thanks!
I think both types of journals can be helpful, Jane. I have kept a gratitude journal a lot in the past and now I am more present to gratitude in my life, which is wonderful. The bitch journal is helping me to get clearer about ongoing issues and I have already noticed a shift in some of my choices. I’m going to keep it up for at least a few months and will report in about how it’s helping me in a future accountability update.
Debbie, the person you got the bitch idea journal, learned about it from me. But I called it my “griping” journal. She loved the idea as did others in the FB ECC group and it was renamed “Bitch” journal. But there is a catch! And it probably got lost in process of passing the idea along from one person to another. The catch is that it is crucial to write down both your gripes/bitches and at least 3-5 things you are grateful for each day. In your gripe/bitch journal write as fast as you can for three pages all of the things that you hate and want to rid your mind of. Work at letting those thing go! AND at a different time of the day, ideally before you go to bed, write down 3-5 things you are grateful for.
Otherwise, if you only write down your bitches, you will strengthen your weakness and make the things you dislike grow larger than the things you love and appreciate about your life. Trust me, I know.
Thanks so much for clarifying how the “griping” journal is intended to be used. It makes sense that the gripes should be balanced out by things we’re grateful for. I have used a grateful journal a lot in the past and found it helpful. I also used to note down 3-5 “successes” in a given day because I felt like I wasn’t doing well in my life. That helped, too. So far, I am not even writing my “bitches” every day, more like every few days and I will write down 3-4 things. I don’t feel like those things are getting larger. Rather, I feel like my subconscious mind is going to work at finding solutions for them or new ways of looking at those situations. At least that has been the case with a few things. I like your idea, though, so I will build in the practice to keep the gratitude journal as well. I definitely want to be present to what I love and appreciate in my life in addition to what is bothering me.
Darlin’ Debbie, What an inspiration you are. You are going to save me a ton of time. I feel you have condensed some great personal improvement techniques that you have read about into one post. I loved the idea of setting aside smaller blocks of time. That would greatly help me to tackle those tasks that have piled up because I absolutely hate them. I am going to put that into action immediately. Making a list at night for the next day is a classic idea but not one that I have regularly practice.
If I can get in the habit of using these two ideas effectively, maybe, just maybe, I might be able to give up my late night TV time-wasting, sleep-depriving behavior.
Happy to inspire, Gail! Yes, I have read a lot of personal improvement books over the course of my life, but I haven’t always used the tips I’ve learned. The shorter time blocks really do add up. Even 10 minute time blocks add up to more than an hour in a week, and we can build momentum that way. The list of action items gets us in the mindset for out tasks in advance and can prevent laziness and procrastination. I engage in a lot of late night, time-wasting activities, too. It used to be all about watching TV, but lately it’s computer and Facebook. These can all be good things, but not when they lead us to be chronically sleep-deprived. Best wishes to you with making changes!
Great post! It seems to me that a lot of these issues are rooted in perfectionism and its close relative, completionism (if that’s a word). I definitely spend a lot of time fretting about the types of tasks you mentioned and trying to muster up the energy and, in some cases, confidence to tackle them rather than just setting a timer and chipping away at them. If I want a life that doesn’t revolve around procrastination and mustering up energy for big projects, I absolutely need to start approaching projects in increments and with “balance.”
I know that a lot of my tasks, like how you mentioned trying to read a bunch of blog posts, are self-invented: I have hundreds of Internet bookmarks that sometimes I wish would just disappear because I’m so set on going through them all at some point, and although I’ve become better about this, I had a terrible habit for years of buying a book if it even captured my attention for a moment, so I have a backlog of both physical and digital books that I’ve never read or only read a few pages of before getting distracted. This year I finally got rid of a number of unread physical books that I just had to admit I had no real interest in reading anymore, but I still have a number that I’m determined to get through — why I have no real idea. Continued good luck with your quest for balance… 🙂
Thanks for sharing your insights, Alex. I agree that many of the issues I mentioned are rooted in perfectionism and “completionism” (don’t know if that’s actually a word, but it’s descriptive and I like it). These are both major problems for me! You hit the nail on the head about “self-invented” problems. I certainly don’t NEED to be reading all of the blog posts and online articles. I hear you on wishing they would just disappear somehow. I remember my computer crashing in the past and my losing all of my browser tabs (now, they just pop back up). I was both upset and relieved. I struggle with buying too many books, too, but not as much as in the past. Good for you for letting go of books you weren’t interested in any longer. I did the same, but still have some others, too, that I’m not sure why I kept. It’s like the books have feelings that I’m hurting if I pass them along. Hopefully both of us will get to a better place with all of this in 2016!
Hi Debbie. I’ve made great progress with my balanced approach to clothes shopping but reading this post has clarified that I do not apply this principle to my day to day activities. Like Alex has mentioned perfectionism & completionism (that is so a word!) hijacks me daily. I love reading inspirational books but I treat them like a how to manual, rather than choosing to read & take on tips that actually relate to my circumstances! Case in point my current book has a large section on hoarding which I have diligently read despite being the most minimal person I know. I shop a lot but also purge regularly so have few possessions. In the last few days I have met up with 2 friends for coffee & gone for a couple of walks in the countryside, so I am taking baby steps to a more balanced life.
It’s interesting how even for shopaholics (not saying you’re one, but I am many others are), the clothes and shopping issues can be easier to tackle than these other issues (I love the word “completionism,” too). I’m like you about books and fear that I will miss out on some life-changing tip if I don’t read the whole thing. I’m the same way with blog posts and online articles, but I’m getting better at letting go now. It’s a big relief to just click “delete” and unburden myself. Sounds like you are making progress. Those baby steps add up over time! Best wishes with cultivating a more balanced life this year.
“Completionism” is a brilliant concept the way you guys are using it here. I googled quickly and most references for the word come up as rpg/video-game related – it’s the “goal of achieving every objective in a game, as opposed to merely completing enough objectives to win.” Really good food for thought there and I can identify. Thanks for bringing this up, Alex.
And I am such an advocate of small, even tiny, minuscule steps that hardly look like steps, but not only do they count they are critically important. For example, there’s a task I have been chipping away at recently. It’s very important and seems on the surface to be fairly straightforward, but it really isn’t and has been an exhausting process that has stretched out for weeks. At times, I was reduced to the tiniest step, like “bookmark this form” and “put out a pen with the papers” and “fill out one easy section/line” and even have a day of rest from it in-between the small steps. And now I am nearing the finish line in a matter of days, and I know if I had pushed myself too hard I would (a) not have gotten it done in time and/or (b) experienced a mental break.
Debbie, this was a great post and the commentary substantial. Much appreciated, and I really hope you are able to take some steps soon, whatever the size, in your management of the time and sleep issues. Even this post is a significant step, I’m sure. Virtual hugs to you!
You’re welcome, Claire! I haven’t played video games since the late 90s, but when I did, I (unsurprisingly) did feel that I did have to achieve every objective in the game to be fully done with it. My most recent “completionism” habit that I seem to have acquired is dog-earring any page in a book that has a word I don’t know or a reference I don’t get so that when I’m done reading the book, I can go back to each and every page and look those up before I finally set the book aside. It’s more frustrating than helpful for me for sure. I also know this all is essentially obsessive-compulsive behavior at its core — which also ties into my compulsive shopping issues.
I identified a lot with what you both wrote here, Claire and Alex! Claire, I like the concept of taking very small steps toward a task that seems overwhelming. I have a few of those looming over me at present and I’m going to use your method! Sometimes all we have the energy for are those baby steps, but they will add up into something big and meaningful over time. When I push myself too hard, sometimes I give up, so the process you outlined would work well for me. Alex, what you wrote about dog-earring the pages in a book to go back to is SO what I would do – and have done! I have almost never gone back to those pages, though. I know that I am obsessive-compulsive in many ways, but I didn’t realize until the past year or so just HOW OCD I am. It definitely ties in with my shopping issues, as well as my information management and overload problems. I hope that now that we have more awareness of our tendencies, we will find a way to conquer them.
Gosh, you sound just like me. I go to bed very late, feel rubbish in the morning and can’t get things done, waste too much time on FaceBook and have an overflowing email inbox. I need too much coffee to start me up and too much wine to slow me down.
I have too many ideas of what I want to do and not enough energy to do them during the day. I have a low point at 6pm and by 9pm I have my second wind. I’m a classic night owl and would happily do my housework at midnight.
The trouble is it doesn’t fit in with conventional working and waking hours and that’s part of the problem. I can’t do the housework at midnight as it disturbs everyone else. In reality there is nothing wrong with being a night owl. Most creative people are. So why do we beat ourselves up about it ? I’ve never heard of a morning person beating themselves up about that.
Carolyn (and Debbie), there is nothing wrong with being a night owl and no reason to beat yourself up about it. However, it sounds to me that what both you and Debbie are experiencing is inadequate sleep. Not getting enough sleep can have profound negative effects on your physical and mental well-being and can manifest itself through a multitude of seemingly unrelated symptoms. For the vast majority of people 7-8 hours of sleep is optimal. And going for years with less than that on regular basis can have affect your health and well-being in a bad way.
I hope you can both figure out how to accommodate your natural night owl tendencies while still getting enough sleep every night.
Yes, we DO sound so much alike, Carolyn, except I no longer can use the caffeine or wine to speed up or slow down. I always get those low points (now at multiple times each day) and the second wind in the late evening. I smiled when you wrote that you would happily do your housework at midnight. Me, too! I really like what you wrote about how morning people don’t beat themselves up for their tendencies, so why should we? That is right on! I agree with what Izeve wrote about sleep deprivation being the problem rather than our night owl tendencies. I think I am now experiencing the profound physical and mental issues associated with lack of sleep. I think that has been the case for a while, but I am now at “rock bottom” with it all. That was part of the reason I selected “balance” as my theme for the year and for setting the goals in this post. I really do hope that both of us can start to get more sleep, Carolyn. This is no way to live on an ongoing basis.
I’m another one that finds shopping easier to control than other issues, so your posts in this series are really inspirational. I’m sure these obsessions are all related (whether clothes, cosmetics, perfumes, internet…), I just move from one to the other as avoidance techniques. The one I really want to tackle this year (although so far am failing to) is managing my internet time, so I will join you on your aims 2,3, and 6. The last of these is especially important for me. I find as soon as I am connected to the internet I start browsing, leaving worthwhile correspondence unanswered, and I would like to reverse this.
I’m so glad you are inspired by these types of posts, Alice. I plan to do more of them, as I suspect many of us struggle with other issues besides shopping. Like you, I move back and forth between obsessions and often have a few going at any given time. That’s great that you plan to join me on my goals 2, 3, and 6. I agree that the last one is very important, as our relationships can suffer from neglect. I have been good at responding to Facebook messages, but not email, so I need to balance it out. I think the goals I set in this post will help me with that. I hope those goals will help you, too!
Wow, you have great goals… Realistic and achievable. As someone with a little experience with insomnia, I offer a suggestion. It can be kind of miserable to try to force yourself to fall asleep early when you are accustomed to staying up late. The trick is to make yourself tired earlier. Part of that is turning down the lights well before bedtime (no staring at glowing screens before bed). The other part is slowly adjusting bedtime. Start by moving your wake time a little earlier. This will gradually make you sleepy earlier at the end of the day. The transition can be tough but worth it!
Thank you so much for your advice on getting better sleep, Misty. What you wrote makes good sense. I have started to go to bed and wake up a bit earlier, but I still have a long way to go on both fronts. But I do think making slow changes will more likely lead to positive results. It’s so hard to get away from being on the computer late at night. It’s a really bad habit of mine. I know TV can be bad, too, but I think it would be the lesser of the evils in this case. I thought I was being so minimalist by moving my magazine and book reading to my iPad, but that is still a glowing screen. Maybe I need to try the “old school” way of reading for a while to see if it helps.
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