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My New Strategies in my Epic Battle for Work/Life Balance

Like many in the mind body fitness industry, I’m a classic over-worker. I take on too many clients, cram extra teacher training courses wherever I can stuff them into an overflowing schedule, travel so frequently and far it’s become the subject of studio jokes, and I take on crazy projects on top of it all, such as writing five Pilates teacher training manuals just because someone asked. I’m also a single mother to a nine year old boy who needs my time and attention. And I have a relationship with quite possibly the world’s most understanding man.

The notebook I kept beside me as I worked on my 2019 calendar

After yet another stint of about six weeks of intense working without a day off I realized I was doing again what I had just sworn (while finishing a manual as I sat next to my best friend on her sofa in Dublin, typing instead of talking to her) that I wouldn’t ever do again.

I got home, got terribly sick with a lingering cold and, when I recovered, stated to my boyfriend that I mean it this time. He calmly raised an eyebrow and made some supportive, yet doubtful comment.

Over the years of promising not to over schedule myself I’ve collected a lot of ideas for making change. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, when I have time to think, that is. I’ve asked a lot of colleagues for their approaches to the problem. Interestingly, I find my European colleagues tend to be the most clear in their focus to defend their leisure time and have some reasonable solutions. Many of my American colleagues simply praise me for my productivity.

As I sat down to plan out my schedule for 2019 here are the five strategies I kept repeating to myself to keep my schedule and my life in better balance.

Make a list of the things in your life that are important for you to make time for in your daily and weekly schedule. Keep this list next to your calendar, prominently positioned, while you block in your schedule. I’ve made a list, which you can check out in the photo, of what these are for me. These categories mostly break down to:

Activities that get cut too often when I’m over scheduled

Time for family and friends

Intellectual growth

Just being at home with my cats.

I do my schedule annually, but maybe you would do this every three month or so if you’re not conducting courses.

Block out free time first. A few years ago my friend Josefin, who owns a studio in Sweden, was telling me I should really take a proper vacation. All my recent travel, of which there had been quite a lot, had been for work. I said I’d like to, but it was hard to find time to schedule a vacation around all the courses in my calendar. She said matter of factly “Why don’t you block off your vacation days before you schedule your courses?” At the time I thought it was a brilliantly simple idea, and felt a little slow for it having to be pointed out to me.

I thought, yes, I should do that. But I didn’t. When I started to put together my calendar for the following year I felt so much pressure to fit all the requested courses into my schedule, as well as the courses I wanted to take as a participant. I found myself in the same, over scheduled position again.

But this is my year I’m determined to schedule my work around my free time, rather than the other way around as I have always done.

3. Schedule buffer days and weeks before and after major courses, projects, and travel. As a dancer, on at least one occasion, I went directly to rehearsal after landing from a flight back from Ireland, then started back at work the next morning with my still-full suitcase sitting where I’d left it as I got in my front door.

As I began to travel more and more for work I kept this approach, dragging myself through until I finally got a day off to sleep in and unpack my bag. In my 2019 schedule I've tried to block off buffer days, so if I get back from a trip at 11:30 pm I’m not up for work at 5am the next morning. Or if I finish teaching a Gyrotonic Foundation course I give myself the space of at least a week before teaching a weekend of Pilates Cadillac training.

This, I hope, will give me a sense of calm and allow me to be more settled. I expect I’ll more fully appreciate and enjoy the courses I teach if I’ve taken the time to relax.

(Although, admittedly this has not been off to the best start this year, as I was recently teaching in the studio the day after returning from Cambodia, and because we finally, suddenly got the GYROTONER® machine we’d been on the waitlist for and I couldn’t help but mash two GYROTONER® courses into the schedule for February and April, backed up against the other courses I was already scheduled to teach. Sigh.)

4. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, employer, employees, or anyone else who effects or is effected by your schedule that you are reigning things in. Explain to people at work why you feel you need to make a change. Maybe you’re concerned about your health, or your child is at a stage where he or she needs you more. Maybe you can’t find time to workout for yourself or are generally feeling burnt out or run down.

People at work, including clients and bosses, should understand that you teach your best when you’re refreshed and healthy. Friends and family may help keep you on track if you start to fall back into over-scheduling with an occasional raised eyebrow and a gentle “Weren’t you cutting back?…”

5. Let go of busyness as part of your identity. While the over-valuing of busyness does happen across many cultures, the Americans I know seem to fall into this trap a lot more frequently than my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from other places.

We seem to equate busyness with importance. But is being busy more important than your family? Than getting out and experiencing life? Than sitting on a Friday evening after work and having a glass of wine with friends instead of plunging into weekend three of a teacher training course? Is it more important than your health? Or even than sitting in bed in your pajamas on a Saturday morning drinking coffee and listening to NPR with your cats? Honestly I don’t think it is anymore.

Lounging with cats is on my 2019 priority list

Do you have any approaches to protecting your time that work for you? Are there aspects of your weekly schedule or your yearly calendar that keep tripping you up? Let me know!

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