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May 30, 2019

The Importance of Balance in Our Lives

Kayak on a still mountain lake with text: Are You in Balance?

Finding a good work-life balance is tricky for just about everyone. That often goes double for writers, as our writing can fall into its own category that’s not quite work…and not quite personal.

Unless we’re writing full-time and treating it as a full-time job, we might think our writing doesn’t “count” as work—especially if we’re not earning decent money from our writing. Yet if we want to treat writing as more than a hobby, we likely don’t want to count it as personal either, as that can imply “me” time, which wouldn’t allow us enough opportunities to write.

In addition, many writers fit in writing time around a day job, which means our writing can eat into our limited family or personal time. We might feel guilty for taking time to do something for ourselves if we’re not bringing in enough money yet to justify the time as a job. At the same time, when family, life, or personal obligations overwhelm us, we can feel guilty—like we’re not prioritizing our writing “enough” for days, weeks, or months at a time.

In other words, finding the “right” balance for writing in our lives is a constant and never-ending struggle. Despite the difficulty, we need to pursue our life vs. writing vs. work balance, or we can suffer in multiple ways.

The Many Types of Imbalances

We experience an imbalance if we have to spend too much time, attention, and/or focus on one aspect of our lives. Whatever our circumstances, we’re likely to experience each one of these imbalances at some point.

Too Much Work

Just about everyone can fall into the trap of spending too much time focusing on work. Our work is an expert at making us feel guilty for not doing enough. After all, work is what pays us and allows us to eat.

Our day job can demand so much time that there’s not much left for writing or life or personal time. In fact, if we’re not careful, we can let work take up all our focus and attention.

We’ve all heard the risks of burnout, and this type of imbalance is most likely to create a sense of burnout. Focusing too much on work can make us burned out to the point that we can’t write, we have no energy for personal life, and we dread work. Not good.

Too Many Life Obligations…

Obligations outside of our work can take up too much time and attention as well, and family-related obligations are also quick to provoke guilty feelings. Even if we don’t have a day job, this type of imbalance can interfere with our ability to write.

Maybe we have family obligations, like caring for an elderly parent or young child. Maybe we’re organizing big personal projects, like a home remodel, family vacation, or earning a degree. Or maybe we have a chronic illness or disability that takes up most of our energy.

Whatever the circumstances, we risk burn out with this type of imbalance as well. Whatever the cause, burnout makes it difficult to function, much less write.

Too Much Writing?

Yes, it’s possible to have an imbalance of too much time, focus, and attention on our writing. *smile*

In the struggle for balance in our life, is it possible to focus too much on writing? Click To TweetAsk those who participate in NaNoWriMo, and we’ll hear stories of writers who “won” NaNo—and then had to take the next month (or more) off writing due to burnout, needing to catch up on life, issues from long hours at the computer (including wrist/hand pain, strained eyes, shoulder/neck/back soreness), etc.

We love to get into the writing groove and feel the words flow through our fingers, but the rest of our obligations don’t cease to exist when it happens. Many a writer has forgotten to eat, sleep, shower, or even go to the bathroom when our focus is single mindedly on writing. With too much of a focus on writing, we might even get sick of our story.

If this narrow focus is limited in time, such as during a planned writing session, we won’t suffer too much. But like with the month of NaNo, a longer-termed writing focus can start to cause problems similar to the other imbalance categories.

The Risks of an Imbalance

When it comes to risks likely to crop up when we’re lacking a healthy balance, we’ve already mentioned the biggie: burnout. As I’ve written about before, we can burn out on our story, to-do lists, goals, publishing schedule, obligations, creativity, or expectations of what we “should” do.

But there are plenty of other issues we can run into with imbalances in our lives as well:

  • A lack of downtime can cause physical issues, such as sleep interference, aches and pains, etc.
  • Too much writing output doesn’t allow us time to replenish the well of creativity, and our ideas can dry up.
  • Not enough time for writing due to work or life can interrupt our good habits of squeezing in writing, or it could make our writing “muscles” feel weak and flabby from disuse.
  • Feelings of guilt (from any source) can twist our goals and priorities or can prevent us from making the right choices for our situation.
  • Impostor syndrome can crop up if we feel like we’re not being serious enough about writing to deserve the title.
  • Etc., etc.

My Struggles with Balance

I’ve mentioned for years that I’ve been struggling with burnout. Health issues, life issues, publishing issues, writing issues, and you-name-it issues have all added up to too much for me to shrug off.

Where does writing fit in our work-life balance, and how can we find a healthier mix? Click To TweetThe problem is exacerbated every time life and other obligations create an imbalance. For the past few weeks, family stuff has kept me so busy that I haven’t had time for anything else.

My overstuffed email inbox no longer even pretends that I check it regularly. I haven’t written anything but blog posts for longer than I can remember. And I haven’t had time read any writing or publishing stories to get ideas for future blog articles, so each post I write is like pulling teeth, adding to the unhealthy feeling.

How Can We Work Toward Balance?

Step #1: Is It a Chronic Issue?

For chronic issues, we have to make bigger changes in our lives to fix the cause and not just address a symptom. In my case, I’ll be shortening my Thursday posts, much as I did for last summer:

Starting next week—and continuing at least for June, July, and August—my blogging schedule will be as follows:

  • Tuesdays: New blog content like usual.
  • Thursdays: Sharing other content:
    • guest posts,
    • rerunning older posts,
    • favorite post I discovered online that week,
    • linking to all the writing-related posts I tweeted about that week,
    • etc., etc.

(I made that schedule work only half the time last year, so we’ll see how I do this time around. *smile*)

In addition, I see a light at the end of the tunnel for the overwhelming family obligations that have eaten up my past month. So I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get back to my usual slightly-less-off-balance life soon. *grin*

Step #2: Identify the Imbalance

For non-chronic issues, we need to first identify the type of imbalance. When we feel off balance or we feel the first edges of burnout, we want to ask ourselves…

  • What’s eating up our time? What’s taking up our attention and focus?
  • Does that match our priorities?
  • Is there a specific reason (deadline, etc.) that it’s taking up more time than usual?
  • Do we expect things to go back to “normal” soon? If so, when? (With an end date, we might feel better, or we might set a reminder to check back with ourselves later to ensure the issue has resolved itself.)
  • Is the reason for the imbalance in or out of our control? (Remember that while we can’t control others, we can control our reaction to them.)

Step 3: Brainstorm Ways to Fix the Imbalance

Once we know what’s off kilter, we can brainstorm ways to fix the issue:

  • Can we reset others’ expectations?
  • Can we get an extension on a deadline?
  • Do our priorities need adjustment?
  • Should we try scheduling our time for a better balance?
  • Should we let go of guilt getting in our way?

We might be able to change our focus, or we might just need to do a little self-care to feel less off balance. For a few ideas, we can try…

Whatever the type of imbalance, we won’t be functioning on our best level until we can find a better balance. When we’re in balance, we feel productive and fulfilled, and that’s a healthier place to work and live. *smile*

How much do you struggle with finding a healthy balance? What types of imbalances do you tend to experience? What causes your imbalances? What’s helped you resolve your imbalances? Do you have any insights to add?

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Cali Bird

It’s like you are in my life. I am really struggling to balance writing with family obligations. I wish I had more time to write. I think the solution is to accept what you can get done. But I’m not always good at that!

Deborah Makarios

Food for thought, Jami – thanks!
My own form of imbalance tends to take the form of feeling I should be on top of absolutely everything in my life, being paralyzed by the weight of it all, and frittering my time away on the internet instead of doing at least something.
In other words, my time usage does not match my priorities, because I can’t bring myself to de-prioritize things that Need To Be Done – in my mind at least. Admitting that something isn’t top priority feels like committing to never doing it.
Food for thought indeed.

Sieran

When someone tells me, “You need to stay on top of things!”

I want to ask them, “Are YOU staying on top of everything in your life? 😉 ”

I don’t think it’s actually possible to be on top of everything all the time… Unless they are a student enjoying their winter or summer break, or a retiree.

Roland R Clarke

Excellent post and invaluable advice, Jami. I’ve got an email box that’s stuffed with emails from April when I was taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge and wrote 26 posts – a novella in 26 episodes. Coming out of the month was not quite the post-NaNoWriMo burnout but almost. As I have a chronic disease – multiple sclerosis – balance is doubly critica in my life. Or should that be treble? I’m an online gamer and gaming is addictive too – there are paras where I can replace writing with gaming.

Julie
Julie

Thank you for this fantastic post. Everything you said was spot on. The struggle is real. Balance IS what I strive for, but your words make me realize I’m not allowing myself writing time, cutting that out to make way for all those other life obligations, while suffering from guilt, unchecked email overflow, and imposter syndrome., and everything else you mentioned. I need to rethink —and then incorporate writing into my routine for more balance.

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks! I was definitely feeling burnout towards the end of my college year recently. While I didn’t come down with physical symptoms, I know this can lower the immune system.
I heard of a young lady who was completing her Masters degree around the same time and her stress was so bad, to get the work submitted in time, that she broke out in psoriasis. This kind of stress has a knock-on effect and prevents socialising, whereas I think a lot of it is caused by isolation in the first place.

Maybe we need to examine priorities and decide if the temporary stress is what is needed or if this is optional.

Nothing suits me better than some cleaning and decluttering to recover from overdoing it!

Darianne
Darianne

I live my life by small lists. I work (with a bank), go to the gym after. Except on Mondays. On Mondays, there is no gym (too busy at the gym) and I don’t have to write. Monday is my French day where I study and read French and this -funny enough- became my most relaxing day.
I do see writing as ‘the other world where I want to live in’, I visualize it with a New Zealand landscape, being well known in my niche, making some money with writing. And that keeps me going. I have a muse, an older guy with a pipe. He doesn’t speak but he just sits there and sometimes nods and grunts in an improving way. This is all in my imagination, my dream world, where writing works as a meditation. Until the clock tells me I have to get to work.

Sieran

Hey Jami, Great discussion post as usual! My solution to the life-work balance, is to do as little as possible, take on as few responsibilities as possible, lol. So I was one of those kids who joined as few extracurriculars as I could get away with, and the few I did join, were the drop-in, no commitment type (e.g. creative writing, art, and LGBTQ clubs). Even if I don’t want to cut out anything, I could at least do them less often. For example, I used to go to all of the Monday LGBTQ comedy shows, but now I only go about once or twice a month. There are a number of queer and trans support groups I frequent, and even for them, I don’t attend every meeting like I did before. Sometimes I don’t attend, not because I dislike them, but because I need more time to do other things, such as my practicum work. At first, I felt bad about doing less, and I also felt guilty for seeing fewer clients than the other students at my placement do. Yet, now I’m learning not to feel so guilty. At the end of the day, I’m not a slave; I’m not a machine whose sole purpose is to work nonstop. I prioritize my health a lot more than before, which means more exercise and more sleep. Rarely do I get fewer than nine hours of bedtime. Often I stay in bed for 10 hrs, lol. No need to feel…  — Read More »

Pete Springer

Wow, you hit on a biggie! Thanks for writing about this, Jami. I’m a retired teacher (thirty-one wonderful years) but I struggled with being a workaholic my whole working career. I committed everything to my students, and it eventually took a toll on me. One can only work so many sixty + hour weeks under stress. I think I’ve been a good husband, father, son, brother, friend, and teacher—BUT the one person I didn’t look after enough was myself. In retirement my life is in much better balance. This writing thing is more of a hobby for me, and I like it better that way.

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