I always had a lot of things going on in my life. I love to be involved, sometimes a bit too much. One thing it has taught me is how to balance work and life.
When I was in high school, I was taking all my courses, working, volunteering, and playing volleyball on a competitive level.
In college, I took a full course load, volunteered, worked, and lived by myself (I moved out of my parents’ house at the age of 17).
I often get remarks from my friends about how I’m able to do it all. I think I was able to do it all because I have improved my time managing skills A LOT. I know how to manage the tasks I have to do efficiently and effectively.
I’m not perfect at it but I’m learning.
Continuously improving my way of working and trying to minimize my time wasted.
I don’t consider watching a movie I want to see or interacting on social media with my friends wasted time – but I need to be careful that I don’t start mindlessly scrolling. That’s what I consider wasting time.
As With Anything, There Is Growing Pain
Okay, I have to admit, in the beginning, it was hard. I didn’t master my work-life balance naturally. It took a lot of work.
When I started to improve a little, there was growing pain.
You know that kind of pain you would have as a kind when you grew too quickly? That kind of pain.
In the beginning, it was tough to manage everything at the same time. I also noticed that I was trying to please people all the time, making for a skewed balance.
When you say ‘yes’ to everything, it takes away a lot.
Some nights I got 4 hours of sleep, other days I didn’t have a minute for myself. Exhausting. This continued for several years.
Then I told myself I wanted to learn to say yes only to the things that I enjoyed, in order to manage my life and work better.
When I first started to say no to friends, it was hard. I needed to think about what I wanted, for example, if I wanted to join an event or not. I developed my own ways of saying no.
It freed up a lot of time, made me feel better, and taught me a lot in the process.
If you have major goals that you want to accomplish, balancing different areas of your life is one great skill that you can use in that process.
Here is what I did (and still do) to get everything done and have fun in the process:
I Get Up Early
I am a big advocate of getting up early. I get up every morning at 6 am and I spend 1.5-2 hours on the blog until I need to leave for work.
Working in the morning on a passion project is something that has helped me a lot.
One thing I noticed is that my creativity and productivity were way down at the end of the day. I just want to go to the gym, cook food, and chill when I come home from work. Writing isn’t something I can do when I only have half the creativity and energy that I normally have.
It’s funny because I am NOT a morning person. Without an alarm clock, I will sleep until 10-11 am.
But when it’s about writing on the blog and being creative, I LOVE to get up early and write.
Interesting how that changes when you do something you enjoy!
I Take Time For Myself
There is one thing I wouldn’t have expected when it comes to becoming a work-life balance master: taking time for yourself.
This used to be very hard for me, but now I’m coming around to it and really doing whatever I want to do.
I love to spend time on my hobbies, especially reading is one of my absolute favorite activities. Besides that, there are several other frugal self-care activities that I’m doing.
For example, I love taking a bath. I don’t have a bath myself, but every time I visit my parents I’m sure to use the bath. It’s just so amazing.
Since I’m getting more time to myself, it’s easier to unwind and relax.
I feel more energized and ready to conquer more things on my to-do list.
I Use A To-Do List To Get Things Done
I don’t know about you, but I can’t live without my to-do list.
I have a terrible memory, forgetting things almost instantly after I’ve heard them.
Without something like a to-do list, it would be difficult for me to remember what I should get done. I would spend the majority of my day trying to remember what I should actually do. Oops.
So yeah, my to-do list keeps me on track for real.
Plus, it keeps me motivated.
I love to cross things off my to-do list, I’m a nerd like that!
I’m All About Timing
When I was in college, I was always making sure that my classes and working hours were perfectly in sync.
Because I worked at university, it was very easy for me just to go to work straight after I came out of class. Other times, I would schedule medical or psychological experiments in between classes to earn money (yeah I actually did that).
I was making sure everything would fit perfectly.
That also came with practice. At times I would make my planning too tight, meaning that I was running to get to my appointments on time. I don’t like to stress, so I adjusted that fairly quickly.
In the Netherlands, you can’t decide your class schedule. If you’re signed up for a class, you’re going at the times that are specified for you.
Luckily I had classes on 3 weekdays most of the semester, a good thing the university doesn’t have too many contact hours.
I was surprised how many of my classmates didn’t do anything in between classes. If you had a semester that wasn’t planned so well, you could have a few hours between classes. They didn’t do anything in those hours, wasted time if you ask me.
While I’m not in university anymore, I still try to make the timing work out perfectly. It’s a habit I’ve built that allows me to use my time efficiently.
I Stopped Multitasking (So Should You!)
Another way to master your work-life balance? Stop multitasking!
Some people claim they get more done when multitasking. While research tells otherwise (up to 40% of productivity loss), I believe that most people are not good at multitasking.
Multitasking results in wasted time, making every activity longer than it has to be. They also call it: switch-tasking, because you’re never fully focused on both tasks at the same time.
Switching between tasks takes time. You need time to stop the task at hand and start another task.
I’ve also read this article, which stated that you take 25 minutes to fully get focused on any given task at hand. That adds up over time!
What you can try to do: determine which task you want to do and stick to it. Choose how much time you want to spend doing it, and give up any distractions.
Stop trying to work, while chatting on Whatsapp, while watching TV, while cooking dinner. I was that person and I can tell you: it doesn’t work.
I Complete Tasks In A Specific Order
When I’m at work, I have a specific order of things that I would like to follow.
Usually, I do the more complicated and urgent tasks in the morning, where I still have a lot of my thinking power left.
When I get the complicated things out of the way in the morning, I can spend the rest of the day doing small tasks that aren’t really needing my full attention.
Other days I’m doing the smaller and quicker tasks first. It depends on the kind of day I’m having.
I am convinced I could do my work in 4-5 hours of concentrated work, that’s why I feel that the traditional 8-hour workday is outdated.
Know that there is no right or wrong way to arrange the tasks you want to complete in a day.
I Try Not To Waste Time
In the world of the internet and social media, there are so many time sucks out there.
I’m very guilty of wasting time, but I’m improving!
Common things people waste their time on are:
- Social Media. Nowadays pretty much everyone is spending too much time on social media. This is the way to keep connected with your friends and family, so Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter can be very distracting. Once you are scrolling, you deliberately have to stop yourself.
- Television. It’s something that many people are guilty of. Once you are watching, it’s hard to turn it off. Confession: I don’t own a TV, which is the easiest way to eliminate this distraction.
One great thing that would help me waste time, is if work would allow me to go home earlier when I finished. That would be amazing and free up A LOT of time!
Until I’m working more flexible hours, these are the ways I master my work-life balance.
Some I Aspire: Outsource As Much As Possible
As I am always living together with others in shared housing, I never had more than 160 square meters that I should clean.
Honestly, I hate cleaning. If I’m going to live together with my partner, I’m considering hiring someone to clean the house.
There is value in hiring someone to do these tasks. You need to value your own time and see if your time is better spent somewhere else.
Let’s see about that when it actually happens.
How do you master work-life balance?
Founder of Spark Nomad, Radical FIRE, Journalist
- Expertise: Personal finance and travel content
- Education: Bachelor of Economics at Radboud University, Master in Finance at Radboud University, Minor in Economics at Chapman University.
- Over 200 articles, essays, and short stories published across the web.
Experience: Marjolein Dilven is a journalist and founder of Spark Nomad, a travel platform, and Radical FIRE, a personal finance platform. Marjolein has a finance and economics background with a master’s in Finance. She has quit her job to travel the world, documenting her travels on Spark Nomad to help people plan their travels. Marjolein Dilven has written for publications like MSN, Associated Press, CNBC, Town News syndicate, and more.