Balance is hard to plan.
When I want to accomplish something in my life, my first instinct is to create a plan for how I should set out accomplishing that goal. For instance, when I wanted to start exercising, I decided on a time during which I would exercise, and the length of time for which I would work out. Then, I put these ideas into practice and executed on my plan.
However, creating a plan does not work out when it comes to attaining balance in your life.
Yesterday, I was tempted to create a plan for how I should spend my Sunday. Indeed, I started to spend a lot of time searching for the right article to read in the morning, and I considered all the things I could possibly do -- code, write an additional blog post, plan out a project I have been thinking about for a while.
I resisted creating a plan, and instead I allowed myself to wake up with no clear path of how I was going to spend my day. I knew that I wanted to write in the morning, and read, but I did not set out a clear set of “goals” that I wanted to achieve. I gave myself freedom to do what I wanted to do.
The reason I was conscious of not planning out today is because, recently, I have become aware of a simple yet hard-to-accept fact: balance is hard to plan.
When people talk about work-life balance, the first thing that usually comes to mind is “how many hours am I working?” I understand why this is the case -- the amount of time you spend doing something is an important part of balance -- but I think it misses out on a crucial component. There are no set number of hours that define a “perfect work week” in most cases.
Some evenings, I have the energy to take on additional calls. I feel as though, in the moment, I am able to power on and achieve even more than I usually do. But on other evenings -- weekends, especially -- I feel more tired, and I tell myself that I need to relax.
I could argue that, on the weekends, I just need to power through and keep going. Yet I have chosen to adopt a different perspective: when my mind tells me that I am doing too much of something, I need to trust it and take a step back.
This is an example of a simple rule whose simplicity seems deceiving. In fact, telling someone who has a busy schedule that they cannot plan out a balanced life -- which was the position I was in -- seems ridiculous. After all, if you are busy, then it seems like a good way to get out of it is to create a plan for when you should work and when you should rest.
Over the last few days, I have allowed myself more slack when it comes to implementing my personal rules. This morning, for example, I had a cup of tea. I told myself that I was not going to drink tea or coffee, but this morning I just felt like I needed a cup of tea.
It was wonderful. I was fully present when I was drinking the tea. My mind lit up after every sip, and the beverage allowed me to reminisce over times I spent drinking tea with my grandparents (which, today, are among my fondest memories).
I could not have planned out this moment. If I had said to myself “no tea”, then practiced that rule this morning, I would have missed out on this liberating experience.
When I feel like I am being pushed to my limits, I should take a step back and think about whether or not I feel balanced. If I need extra time to rest, I should take it; if I feel like I can work more, then I should do so. The key is to make sure that, in each moment, I am doing what feels right.
I could reason that this idea could make me less productive -- if I allow myself flexibility, some of my personal rules will not be enforced when they could be helpful. But what matters in life is not just complying with a set of rules you have set for yourself. You need to have fun. You need to live in the moment. You need to do what feels natural.
Life is filled with amazing experiences, and it’s easy to miss out on them in the name of some preconceived notion you have developed in the past. If I see an opportunity to do something new, I should give it a try, because doing so may allow me to learn about an idea I otherwise would not have encountered. If this new thing is prohibited by a personal rule, I should still consider doing it anyway -- if my gut is telling me something, I should listen.
Living in the moment is not just about making wise decisions for your future -- the crux of long-term planning. It is about existing at peace with the rest of the world. And you can’t plan whether or not you will feel like coding for an extra hour today, or whether you will feel like you need to go to bed early. These things just come naturally, in the moment.