"Balance" isn't the right word for the mix of career and home duties for work-life consultant Lori Strom. The family resource center coordinator at Michigan State University prefers "work-life synergy." "You put energy into one thing and later into another," she says. "It's placing your time, there is no balance. It's just an exchange of energy." Though there may never be true and equitable balance, Strom has suggestions for improving the synergy between the demands on you at home and work.
It all comes down to what's important to you, even when you feel the pressure of external demands. "We have to look at every moment of our day and what energy we're putting into those moments," says Strom, citing the importance of what really matters to you personally. Craig Cincotta, vice president of brand communications at Porch.com, writes on Entrepreneur.com that he's seen many people wasting time working on things that don't matter. He calls it making noise and suggests that balance -- or synergy -- requires scrutiny, planning and structure for many to achieve.
"We're only given 168 hours in a week," says Strom. "How you divide it up is important." After sleep, you have only 112 hours to cram in everything else. Strom points to the four domains of self, work, family and community as the recipients of your time. Your priorities determine how you divide those hours among the domains, and everyone's personal blend is different. "It's about what matters to you and how you delegate to each of those four areas," says Strom.
Lean on Supporting Players
When you're overwhelmed with jobs and tasks, panic can set in and shut you down completely. It's then that an effective support system is essential, says Strom. At work, she suggests that the one-on-one relationship you have with your supervisor may be a key support and, if you work for a large organization, human resources may have other service options. Your husband, older children or other family members are the logical go-to people at home. "Don't try to go it alone," Strom says. "Know that you need to have a support system."
Take Care of Yourself
As mom, you may feel in charge of everyone's well-being but your own. Neglecting your own needs leads to burnout. The Mayo Clinic points to the need to nurture yourself when striving for that elusive balance. A healthy diet, adequate sleep and physical activity are necessary to preserve your resources for those in your care. "Don't feel guilty" about taking time for yourself, says Strom. "Don't compare yourself to others. To be physically and emotionally strong you have to take time for yourself."
Monitor Your Efforts
Strom places a distinction between excellence and perfection. "You have to let go of stuff that doesn't really matter," she says. "Have a plan without being rigid." Perfection is over-rated and overly demanding, allowing little flexibility. Excellence, when balancing career and home demands, comes from matching time and priorities, those key factors again. Cincotta stresses the need to understand pace -- when to ramp up your efforts and when to lay back.
Guarding your time and priorities seems obvious, but in practice it can be tricky to achieve. Learning to respectfully say no to requests and projects might require you to overcome feelings of guilt or sense of obligation, but when these requests don't fit your priorities, turn them aside. Embrace the off button, Cincotta says. Cellphones and email can wait and when you unplug from the electronic world, you can gain valuable perspective, a key tool in recognizing what you really value.