We’re all busy – busier than we should be. There’s always something on the task list that needs our undivided and immediate attention. Day in and day out… we’re overbooked, over committed, overworked and overwhelmed all while being under-vacationed, under-relaxed and under-simplified. There’s a reason they call it “the daily grind.”

I’ve tried reading books and taking classes about simplifying your life and living minimally. Those people always seem so happy and satisfied. There are those who have only 30 things in their closet and have all white furniture and carpets. It makes me wonder if that life is real or if behind the glossy pages of their beautiful simple life is the same pile of dirty dishes and cat-hair-laden sofas as the rest of us have.  How on earth do you keep your house spotless all the time? Who has time to clean that much? I certainly don’t. And I suspect I’m not alone.

But I don’t think balance is just about having a clean house. In fact, I think it has nothing to do with having a clean house, a minimal closet, a perfectly manicured lawn and well behaved kids (or cats, in my case).  It’s more about an emotional state of satisfaction and contentment and spiritual fulfillment.

But I still feel like I live a balanced life – even if my kitchen IS a disaster right now. How? Here are five ways I achieve a balanced life.

  1. Do work you love
  2. Schedule downtime
  3. Manage expectations and obligations
  4. Get help
  5. Feed your Body, Mind and Spirit

1.  Do work you love

What’s that saying?  “If you love your work, you won’t work a day in your life” – or something like that. Our goal should be to find fulfillment doing the work that occupies the majority of your day. Whether you have a day job or a full time business or some combination of the two – most people spend 8 to 12 hours a day doing some type of work to generate enough money to live on. Obviously, we all want that job to be something that gives joy and satisfaction.  Some of us are already doing what we love and this is an easy one. But what if you don’t love the work you’re doing?

It’s easy to say, “if you don’t like your job, then get a different job.” But in reality that’s not always possible as an immediate solution.  So if you don’t like your job and the work you’re doing all day, you’ll need to find a way to either transition to a new job, or find a way to uncover pockets of joy within the grind.  If you don’t love the work you do, then maybe you could cultivate friendships with a few coworkers with whom you enjoy spending time. Of if you have to work with difficult coworkers but love the work you do, look for ways to more fully immerse yourself in the work and distance yourself from toxic coworkers.  The key here is to examine what you love (and don’t love) about your work and find ways to maximize the good and minimize the bad – while you’re looking for a job that you really do love.

2. Schedule downtime

Even though you love the work you do, it’s also important to take breaks. I’m not talking about a couple 15 minute breaks during the workday (although that’s important too). I’m referring to blocks of time that are marked off on the calendar as dedicated downtime.  How much time is up to you – you need to determine what it takes to recharge your energy and clear your mind.

Personally I need a “pajama day” every couple weeks – that’s a day when I’m allowed to be a completely lazy bum and lounge in my pj’s all day, watching movies or reading a steamy romance novel. I unplug from the internet and stay off social media and eat junk food all day, if I want. For some people this is overkill and a couple of these days per year is enough as long as they get 1 hour at the end of each day to do absolutely nothing before bed. Figure out what your downtime looks like and block that time off on the calendar.

3. Manage expectations and obligations

How many times a day does someone ask for a favor or a few minutes of your time? This could come in the form of a coworker showing up at your desk with a question or it could be a family member inviting you to yet another Tupperware party through a social media event invitation.  I have a hard time telling people “No!” and often find myself in a situation where I’m only there because I feel obligated to be.

Obviously we’re all faced with a certain level of obligation and expectation that we can’t get out of (at least not without being a total selfish jerk). But it’s important to strike a balance between what others want from you and what you are willing to give of your time and resources. Remember to protect your energy and spend it where you most want to – rather than where someone else thinks you should. It’s OK to be selfish sometimes, just don’t be a jerk about it.

4. Get help

I recently learned the term “superhero syndrome” – Sonia Lakshman defines it well in an article on CareerShifters: “we take on an enormous, emotional, life-changing task, risking our incomes, our reputations and our future happiness, and we try to do it all by ourselves!”

Oh sure, you are capable of doing it all by yourself, but you don’t have too. Even Batman has a sidekick, right? We often don’t have a problem asking for help with we’re faced with huge life decisions or changes, but what about the little stuff we deal with every day? Yes, you’re capable of mowing the lawn yourself, but should you be spending your time on that when you could be doing something that is more fulfilling or more in line with your career and personal goals? I made that decision about four years ago – I hire someone to deal with my lawn every summer and I never give it another thought. In fact, I pay him up front for the entire season so I literally never have to deal with the task again. That task might be something that’s easy to fit into my schedule or is within my skill set – but if I’m spending an hour a week on the lawn, what am I giving up that could be a better use of my time (like writing a book or a blog post or designing marketing materials for a client).

Don’t be a superhero. Ask for help. Pay for help if you need to. But stop trying to do everything yourself and focus on what is most important, instead.

5. Feed your Body, Mind and Spirit

Body, mind, and spirit – it has become a cliché hasn’t it? But it’s the best I’ve got for this section. I’m talking literally here – feed your body the right food so you are healthy and have the energy you need to make it through the day. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals that have the nutrients your body needs. (See what I did there? Recommend healthy meals after just talking about having a pajama day and eating junk food all day. Ha!) But I’m not just talking about food – you have to also take care of your heart, lungs and muscles. Yes, I mean exercise. Gasp! Maybe your exercise looks like aerobic workouts or lifting weights or maybe its yoga or walking along the beach. Combining healthy eating and some type of movement will feed your body in the right way.

Your mind is equally important in this equation. Find something you want to learn and spend a bit of time each day learning that thing. Maybe you have always wanted to learn a foreign language or web design or personal development – pick a topic and find a way to learn about it. Read books, watch videos, take a class, listen to podcasts, find a mentor or just browse a favorite section at the library. I love podcasts and in the past several months since discovering that whole new world I feel like I’ve pumped so much new information into my mind that it could explode at any moment. I’m loving it!

And don’t forget your spirit.  This is going to mean something different to each person – so maybe its spirituality and religious endeavors for you. Or it might be something entirely different and looks more like a meditative walk in the forest while communing with nature. Whatever it takes to feed your soul and give you peace, do that thing. For me it’s a combination of worship at church each week and as much time as I can carve out to spend near the water on a beach with my toes tucked into the sand.

In summary…

Nobody has the perfect life that we see in magazine pages – and if you find someone who does have that life, I’m sure there are skeletons in that person’s closet they’re trying hard to hide. Instead of striving for perfect, focus instead on finding balance. Life is messy. We all deal with a lot of chaos and it’s exhausting sometimes. So find the balance in your life and hold on to those things that bring you joy and peace.