Conscious Prioritization: Balancing Work and Family

by Jacqueline McLaughlin Hale

Over and over again, day in and day out, I hear people complain that there aren’t enough hours in the day, that they’re too busy and that they’re burned out. This seems to be their credo; sometimes it feels like their badge of honor. Ultimately it makes their lives less enjoyable and in the end it hurts only them.

And so as a society we spend millions of dollars a year on books and self-help products that teach us how to simplify our lives and how to reduce some of our stress. We search ravenously for anything that seems as though it could be the “magic formula” for our over committed exhausted lifestyles. We crave a quick answer (because we don’t have TIME for some long drawn out process), some miracle pill or a sudden decreased need for sleep to put our lives back in balance again.

Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy. As we’ve heard so much with respect to weight loss, it requires long term lifestyle changes. So, I don’t’ have a quick answer; I don’t have a miracle pill and I can’t tell you how to obtain a sudden decreased need for sleep. But I can tell you that a more enjoyable life of balance includes:

Conscious Prioritization (a phrase I’ve just coined!)

Conscious Prioritization: Conscious Prioritization involves determining what it is you really want in your life and balancing that with what it is you really HAVE to do in your life. For example: You HAVE to sleep, you HAVE to take care of your children and you probably HAVE to work. Other than that your time is your own. Now I know what you’re thinking, but NO, you really don’t HAVE to clean your house. No, you really don’t HAVE to be involved in the PTA. No, you really don’t HAVE to be a den mother, a little league mom, a Girl Scout leader, a volunteer in your child’s classroom or a deacon at church. I’m NOT telling you to resign from everything but I am telling you that there are a finite number of hours in the day and I’m encouraging you to spend them on activities that bring you the greatest enjoyment!
There’s an old expression in business that says we spend 80% of our time on activities that give us a 20% return and we spend 20% of our time on activities that give us an 80% return. What conscious prioritization is all about is spending 80% of your time on activities that give you an 80% or more return.

So think about your life. Write down the “have to’s”. Remember this list should be short. You have to sleep, you have to take care of your children and you have to work. Taking care of your children does
NOT mean chauffeuring them to all of their various activities. It means feeding them, clothing them, bathing them, getting them off to school or daycare and helping them to learn and to grow in their educational environment. We’ll get to the chauffeuring part later.

Now make a list of the activities that bring you the greatest enjoyment. Perhaps that is supporting your children in their numerous extra curricular activities. If so, GREAT! Maybe it’s reading or hiking or playing softball or cooking or painting or even cleaning the house. Whatever it is, this list should ONLY consist of the activities you enjoy. When your list is completed, rank it, in the order of your enjoyment.

For example, my list consists of spending time with my family, working on the Internet and writing. It’s a short list but so is my available time. Notice that no where on my list do you find cleaning the house. So guess what, my house is not spotless all the time (or even most of the time). When this bothers me, as it does, I remind myself that the cost of having a perpetually spotless home is less time with my family, less time on the internet and less time for writing. Quickly, my sloppy house doesn’t seem so bad.
Every day when I’m tempted to spend my time on activities other than the above, I ask myself if the cost is worth it. Is it worth it to stay up later to write because I’ve spent time cleaning the house? Is it worth it to spend more time at work and give up some hours with my family? Is it worth it to forfeit the Internet for a day to organize my closets? Sometimes the answers are yes! Priorities can and do change daily. But the objective is for YOU to consciously set the priorities each day so that you’re living your life proactively rather than reactively and spending your time the way YOU want to spend it. Guess what? This may mean saying “no” once in a while. That’s okay. You CAN’T do it all

About the Author:
Jacqueline McLaughlin Hale is a CPA and the editor of Between Friends: Living Life Your Way ( Between Friends is a website dedicated to helping women balance their responsibilities so that they can make more time for themselves. It does this by providing tips, tricks and tools for household hints, parenting, money matters and self-improvement. It also offers a FREE monthly ezine: The Balanced Woman. Visit today!