February 7, 2018

For years, I’ve been on an endless quest to achieve perfect balance. That “I don’t know how she does it” kind of balance, where I juggle everything effortlessly. I try to complete all the tasks on my to-do list and still find time to have fun. I try to carve out time for friends and family and make all my appointments, meetings, and classes.

Some days, I rock it. I find an even split between all the things that matter in my life—and I feel like I’ve succeeded. But by “some days,” I mean maybe one day a month—if that. Most days: I’m not even close to achieving that blissful balance.

Most days, life happens. A new focus or challenge pops up and demands more time than I thought. Or, a new assignment is dropped on my desk. Or, I’m just simply tired. Even with extensive planning, dividing my calendar into even time blocks, and pushing myself way past my energy limits—I can’t always balance it all. And, after many nights spent wondering where I went wrong, I’m done trying to find perfect balance.

The Perfect Balance Doesn’t Exist

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I’ve finally realized balance isn’t something I, or anyone, can actually master.

Cue moment in 'Mean Girls' when Cady realizes the limit doesn’t exist.

Just like life is always changing, so is balance. I know, you’re thinking, “But balance means everything is equal, so…?” But let’s take a look at the definition of balance: “An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” We tend to focus on that first part, even distribution, when we think of balance. But I’ve realized the last part is more important: to remain upright and steady.

And to remain upright and steady in our day-to-day? We have to constantly shift our balance as priorities and deadlines and that delayed train demand it. Balance isn’t fixed—it’s everchanging. And mastering it means keeping ourselves steady through those changes.

So, how do we balance (sorry, had to) feeling grounded but still wanting to squeeze more into our already-busy schedules? Here, some things I’ve learned that help:

1. You Do You

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It’s easy to look at someone else’s social media feed and compare yourself to them. But reality check: The way you balance your life can differ from the way someone else balances theirs.

The pressure is real, but just because someone can juggle four balls and you can’t keep three in the air doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

Balance is personal.

Even though it may look like everyone else has it together and you’re just barely getting by, you can’t always expect yourself to do it all. What you can do is give it your all. Own the things you can work into your schedule, and try to be truly present in those moments. Own your decision to choose that one thing over the other hundreds of things you could do.

2. Take It Slow

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When I was in college, I juggled classes, a job, and an internship. After college, I took on a job and an internship. I thought, “I can totally take on these two things because I’ve done more in the past, so I’ll be fine!” I thought it’d like riding a bike: I’d get back on and ride in traffic like I used to, no fuss. Wrong.

I survived, but it was rough. After so many years of not riding that bike, I forgot that you have to brake fast—and brake often—in order to make it through. I had to constantly slow myself down before I crashed.

Moral of the story? Don’t sacrifice your steady to do it all. Take it slow, and resist the urge to overload your schedule.

3. Say “No” More Often

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I’m really bad at saying “no” to my friends and family. I want to spend quality time with everyone and go to as many events as I can, but sometimes that’s hard with a full schedule or when I need quiet time by myself.

I used to think saying “no” was a mean thing to do, but now I know it’s necessary. Saying “no” is how you can prioritize what’s important to you in that moment.

Now, when I say “no” to a BBQ, it’s not that I don’t want to go, it’s that I need to finish a story I’ve been writing. Or when I say “no” to happy hour, it’s because I just need a night at home.

Learning how to say “no” to things can help with balance. If you say “yes” to everything, it adds even more balls for you to juggle. Guard your yes, and guard your steady.

4. Figure Out the “What” and “If”

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What is it you’re trying to balance? Do you want more quality time with loved ones? Do you need to find calmness in a chaotic schedule?

Whatever these things may be, it can help to jot them down so you have them on a list instead of floating around in your head.

After looking at them written out, ask yourself if you can actually balance those things. Think: If I tried to do them all in one day, could I still remain steady? Or, would I enter burnout territory?

Through trial and error, you’ll figure out how much you can take on at once. And once you know your daily max, you can start to make time for the things that matter throughout the week, instead of trying to squeeze them in every single day.

5. Get Smarter With Your Time

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I always wished I had Hermione’s Time Turner so I could go back in time to get more things accomplished. But alas, I am a muggle who has no magic or Time Turner.

What I rely on heavily are reminders. I make daily to-do lists constantly, whether they’re in my head or typed out on my phone. This helps me see all the things I’d like to accomplish in a given week.

Schedule time on your agenda to do specific things. You can put a hold on your calendar for Mondays at 3 p.m. for a meditation break. You can also put a placeholder on your calendar for getting specific projects done. This doesn’t just apply for work, either. Put “call high school BFF” or “check in with mom” on your calendar, too. Life gets a little easier when you see all your tasks and events listed out in one place.

Stop trying to balance everything at once and focus on remaining steady through it all.

The best part: Scheduling things on a calendar makes them easy to move. When your priorities shift for the day, you can drag and drop things as needed. And know you haven’t failed if you have to shift around your schedule, or push something to tomorrow. You’re just being reactive to the realities of the day.

Balance changes from one scenario to another—that’s the beauty of how life changes and how you change and grow as a person.

Stop trying to balance everything at once and focus on remaining steady through it all. Trust: You’ll have more energy and be more present when you do get to the things that matter most.


Read next: 5 Simple Tips to Help Create Balance in Your Life