Welcome to the unknown! After college, entering the real world is an exciting but scary time in anyone’s life. Your friends are scattered and with any luck you are beginning your career, or possibly still looking for your big break. Now you have to find a new balance between work, errands, friends, dating, extracurriculars and some relaxation – so what do you do?!
If you’re like me then first you get overwhelmed as you stretch yourself too thin. Then you stop, take a breath and come up with a plan. These skills are crucial to master to set yourself up for success in all aspects of your life. If you cannot control your own schedule then how can you handle the added responsibility that will come as you advance in your career?
It’s been quite a year trying to find the perfect balance in order to position myself for success and minimal anxiety, so I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and give thought to the following 8 essential tips for life balance. However, you should know the first is more of a tool…
- Organization is key
The first step is finding the right method of organizing your life. If you have ever seen 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl then you have seen how horrifying it is to lose a well kept planner.
Personally, I prefer old-fashioned pen and paper, but Google calendar is also a great tool combined with a free mobile app. There are many options to cater to personal preference and I strongly recommend figuring out what works best for you.
Tip 1: Keep your calendar organized and up to date. I also recommend leaving buffer time between engagements in case plans run late or you hit traffic – things happen, so prepare.
In one spot you can plan out your day from waking up, through work and into the evening – everything in one place. Using my planner has helped me to eliminate double booking and helps me to manage my time realistically by, keeping track of errands I have to run as well as prior commitments.
- Whistle while you work
You have a new work schedule which takes adjusting. You may even have an extra job on the side; for example, I babysit most weekends and on the occasional weeknight – can’t beat extra cash flow and an open fridge. Some of you may be workaholics, living to work, while others are working to live.
We live in a world where there is seemingly no escape. Due to technology we are always in reach due to emails coming to our phones, easy access to web platforms and mobile numbers are made as public as company extensions.
Tip 2: Set boundaries! Select a specific time in your schedule and once the clock strikes, it is time to put all work aside.
The world will continue to revolve while we sleep and leave inboxes untouched until the morning. Yet, that red circle pop-up notifying you of an unread message seems to be calling your name. STAY STRONG! Having a resilient work ethic is crucial to success, but so is having a well-rounded life. This is not to say that you should never work overtime, but just like everything else, moderation is key.
- Friends and family
Family guilt is the worst and it’s tough when you feel like all of your friends are out having fun without you. Finding a balance with friends and family can be difficult as you try to find your way with your new schedule.
You may be used to early morning tailgates and pulling all-nighters where time seems limitless – bouncing from plan to plan with the liveliness of the energizer bunny. However, now 5 pm hits and you sluggishly leave the office ready for bed by 8 pm. Or maybe you work late trying to get ahead or meet a big deadline. There aren’t enough hours in the day and therefore you feel you can’t sacrifice valuable time for “fun.” We have all been there.
WARNING: if you ever feel this way, resist the urge to isolate yourself.
Tip 3: Make time for social activities – you won’t regret it.
Spending time with friends and family can positively contribute to your success. Social time spent well will affect not only your health, but will lower stress levels and renew focus. This time will put you in a much better place mentally.
Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the others gold.
Now is also the time to revert back to the childhood tune. It’s time to add more names to the mix. I hope you’re good with faces and name games. Now you have to maintain lifelong friends, college friends as well as newly made friends and colleagues, all on top of your family.
If you feel tight on time try to combine activities with being social. Maybe your friend needs to go grocery shopping or hit the gym. Everybody has to eat – grab a meal. A home cooked meal from mom and dad is also always a nice treat. And remember, not every hangout needs to run late into the night. Hit a happy hour or make the early bird special at your favorite restaurant, which also saves money. My recommendation is to choose a night or two a week to dedicate to social time.
- Love is in the air – or is it?
Whether casually dating or in a relationship, you need to find a way to create balance. Any special someone in your life should provide a mental break from work. Try a new restaurant, watch that new movie getting killer ratings, play mini golf or indulge on ice cream.
Once again, if you are totally and completely cramped with time then select a night or two a week to put aside for love.
Taken: I’ve been in a serious relationship throughout this post-grad process and it is totally doable – yes, sometimes frustrating but definitely doable. There are weeks that we see each other several times, and others that we can’t make work. It all depends on schedules, open communication and mutual understanding.
Tip 4: Support one another through this transition and each other’s career. If you can do this successfully, then I predict it will only strengthen your relationship.
Single: On the flip side you may be dating around like most of my close friends. You may meet somebody at a bar one night out with friends, on a dating app or in line at Starbucks. You never know! Dates can be as simple as coffee or something more creative like a cooking lesson. You may be a more avid dater going on dates four nights of the week, or you may stick to something more casual – this is all about your preference, the prospects and your schedule.
- Fuel your body
Who has time to eat, let alone cook? You do!
To save money, your safest bet is to cook meals yourself. Want a tip?
Tip 5: Prepare meals in advance!
Make and package breakfasts and lunches for the week in Tupperware in the fridge stacked and ready to go along with snacks and utensils, and prep dinners you plan to eat at home.
On busier weeks you may find yourself going out. Lucky for you, dinners often provide leftovers for lunch.
- Work it out
You may want to ask if walking from your car to your desk counts. The honest answer is that you may get a few steps in that way, but definitely not a full cardio routine.
Exercise is important for many reasons – general health, as a stress reliever or for enjoyment. But who has the time?! Again, there are several ways to do this. Some people enjoy early riser runs to pump them up for the day ahead. I, myself, would not be able to function that early in the morning pre-coffee so I prefer to hit the gym during my lunch break or directly after leaving the office.
Tip 6: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you don’t have time for a gym or want to avoid the membership fees (who would blame you?) then try working out at home. Or take walks around your company’s property, corporate center or up and down the block.
You can also try at-home workouts. Sometimes I do crunches, dreaded burpies, mountain climbers and planks in my living room. My neighbors below me must love when I try out jumping squats and around-the-world jumps. Point being there is always a way. It is very easy to make excuses, but once you get into a good habit then it is easy to maintain.
- Errands and chores
The fun stuff, right? Wrong… but they must be done!
Tip 7: Create a “chore day.”
In my book, this is what Sundays are made for – grocery shopping, meal prep, cleaning and any other errands that were pushed off throughout the week. Laundry is a bit easier to squeeze in on weeknights. I usually throw a load in before bed and wake up to nice, clean clothing! Lunch breaks are also a good time to accomplish minor tasks such as running to the closest Rite Aid, CVS or market for common items.
- Rest and relaxation
Good ‘ol’ R&R! In order to maintain any semblance of balance in your life, you must get rest! You have to put your mind and body to ease. Without doing so, your brain will fry, you’ll feel sluggish and you will fall short of everything you want to accomplish. Take it from an insomniac: even if you cannot sleep, lay in bed so that you are resting your body until you drift to dream world.
Tip 8: As much as you have going on – there is always time to sleep.
While I cannot give you a set schedule or block your time for you, I have tried to walk you through the basics and different options. Some may seem obvious to you, but hopefully you are walking away with a new idea to try.
Bottom line: you are not alone in this confusing and hectic point in your life. Others that you know have felt the same and can help you through this transition. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions and remember to step back from it all, zoom out and breathe.
If you are able to master your own schedule, you will be able to get ahead positioning yourself for success and leadership opportunities. You will also be happier and less stressed – trust me, I took the scenic route to this realization.