Note: This article was previously published on another blog platform and has been updated to reflect a few (wonderful) life changes
Between work, school, the gym, dinners with friends, birthdays, holidays, laundry, family time and anything else you may be juggling it’s easy to overbook yourself. With the constant pressure to be able to do it all despite only having 24 hours in a day what starts as an easy to manage schedule can quickly become a nightmare. I know from experience.
Right now I am juggling a lot. I have a full-time job in marketing, work at Lululemon on the weekends, I run my own blog and Instagram, am training for the 2018 Chicago Marathon and just got a puppy. Not to mention I have a wide social circle and a boyfriend all who need my love and attention, boyfriend especially! Just writing all of this out feels like a headache, and I’m just writing down a list, not actually doing anything (well, okay technically I’m blogging right now).
My friends, family and coworkers are constantly asking me how I’m not banging my head into a wall, stressed out of my mind, functioning like a zombie, and trying to quit half of my responsibilities. And while some days I think they’re right and that it would be easier to just give something up, the reality is all of these things bring value and joy to my life and I don’t want to have to say goodbye to any of them. So instead, I’ve spent the last few months (well, years really) figuring out how to stay afloat when I should be drowning.
It may be self-proclaimed, but according to everyone I know who watches my balancing act I’ve become an expert at staying sane when, from the outside, it really looks like you shouldn’t be. But how do I do it? I’m glad you asked.
Set Aside at least One day a Week Where you Don’t Book Anything
This is one of the most crucial steps to managing an otherwise overbooked schedule. When the whole world seems to be piling up on you there’s nothing more calming than knowing the finish line is in sight. Having a day to look forward to where you can sit around your apartment, pant-less, eating ice cream from the container can make or break a stressful week. (You don’t actually have to sit around without pants and eat ice cream, but it’s definitely an option and I’m not judging!)
When I say a day aside to do nothing I do not mean that it has to be a full 24 hours, though it can be. With my work everyday schedule it’s impossible for me to spend 24 hours with nothing in my planner, but I do set aside one night during the week where I do not commit myself to a single thing. I have the entire evening open to do whatever I want. That way, if my schedule overbooks on other days and I need the extra time to catch up on laundry, blogging, or a late night at the office I have the time available and don’t have the added pressure of fitting it into an otherwise jam-packed schedule. And, if I’m all caught up on life, I have an extra night available to say yes to a last minute happy hour, catch up on The Real Housewives, cook dinner, or whatever I feel like. Just because you don’t plan anything for that day doesn’t mean that you have to spend the day doing nothing. It just means you cannot commit yourself to anything ahead of time. If a last minute event pops up and you have the capacity to take it on, go for it! This isn’t intended for you to miss out, just for you to have extra time available should you need it.
Find Something that Helps you Decompress, and do it Often
This can be anything that helps you feel centered, and it doesn’t have to just be one thing. For me the list consists of boxing, an at home Scratch Goods mask + skincare regimen, watching trashy Bravo TV shows a la Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules, and drinking a hot cup of tea.
That’s not to say that ever time I’m feeling overwhelmed I take a boxing class then come home and watch TV with a mask on while drinking tea (I wish I had that much time to spare!), but I figure out what I realistically have time for and make sure to fit one of those in. When I can get to the gym I try to prioritize it because it has even longer feel-good effects for me personally, but if I need to be doing laundry I put a face mask on while it’s in the dryer. Or I’ll fold my clothes in front of the TV watching Real Housewives. Or, if I don’t want to go out on a Friday night after a long week I’ll spend the night in relaxing, watching TV, and doing my full on skin care regimen. It’s about finding a way to make time for things that make you happy. To stay high functioning it’s essential to treat yourself every once in a while.
Find Balance in the Types of Commitments you Make
Balance is quite possibly the key to keeping it together. Without a balance of the types of commitments you make it becomes easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. When I say balance I don’t mean having an hour of work for an hour of play – though I wish that were the case – rather a balance with commitments and activities that compliment each other rather than mirror each other. Let me explain:
As I mentioned, I work two jobs for a total of 7 days a week on the clock. Everyone I know, even my coworkers at both jobs, ask me how I haven’t lost my mind yet. As soon as I got a full time role most of my friends and family assumed that I would quit Lululemon. But that was absolutely not the case! In fact, I extended my seasonal contract into a permanent part-time role there and couldn’t be happier! The two jobs are perfect compliments for one another and both fulfill a different need I have.
My full-time role is more independent. While some of my work is collaborative, I’m often grinding away at research, content creation or marketing plans. I’ll put headphones in and just power through to get my to-do list fully checked off. And by Friday afternoon I’m craving more conversations and connections. So I head to Lululemon.
Lululemon is the complete opposite. Here we are full of guests all day long and my main responsibility is connecting with them. Yes, you heard me, my job is to connect with others; not sell clothes or push product, though, yes, this is the by product of those connections, but really it’s to meet my guests, engage with them, and learn about how they spend their time so that I can relate to them and share my experiences and knowledge with them. For one or two days a week I go there and chat my butt off with guests about everything from Lululemon product, to what brings them to Chicago (my location gets an amazing amount of tourists with some amazing stories), favorite places to eat, working out, or meeting their adorable dog that is helping them shop that day. I love every second of it, but by Sunday night I’m tired of talking. So on Monday morning, I head back to my full-time job, put on my headphones and get busy. If both jobs were about connections 24/7 or both jobs felt very isolating I would not be able to manage my roles, but because the type of work balances out I’m able to manage both without becoming overwhelmed.
Let your Friends and Family Know your Commitments so They can Support you
My life became so much easier when I was open with my friends about my commitments and my hectic schedule. At first I was worried to tell the friend who texted me for dinner plans that I wasn’t free for three weeks, or to tell my family that we couldn’t celebrate Hanukkah until Christmas because I didn’t have a day off work, but once I started being honest about my goals and commitments for the year they were extremely understanding.
It also helped so that my friends with similar goals and hobbies could find ways for us to get together while still working towards something. My friends who also run will text me to get together for a run instead of for a happy hour. And my friends who also blog reach out to me when there’s a blogger event or if a new restaurant opened and they want someone to go with. By making your commitments known and surrounding yourself with friends who support them, you are able to maintain a flourishing social life while still working towards your goals.
Don’t Feel Bad for Saying “No” & Create a System for Doing so
In the age of FOMO and constant invites to events and birthdays and happy hours saying “no” can be one of the hardest things to do – but it is also one of the most powerful tools we have. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the word. I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or miss out on what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime event, so rather than politely decline I would work myself to the brim, go nights without sleeping, never have clean laundry, and only functioning off a solid 7 cups of coffee a day. I quickly learned that this was no way to live and that even though I was physically attending every event for every friend I wasn’t really present there. My mind would be wandering thinking about when I could squeeze in laundry, I’d have to leave half way because I double booked, or I’d be half asleep in a chair because I was so tired. I may as well have saved myself the stress and not gone in the first place.
Rather than wear myself out to the point of getting sick (I was always coming down with something due to my exhaustion) I now have a way to determine the value of attending something or if I should say no. This system won’t work for everyone, but I highly suggest creating your own. In order to really commit to something I need to meet two out the following:
- No conflicts at that time (conflicts can also be considered your one day a week where you don’t book anything in advance)
- An event for a friend
- Does it have a positive impact on my career
- Is it “on brand” (does it help with content or promotion of my blog)
- Does it have a positive social impact
- Do I truly want to be there (this can be for a rational or irrational reason. If something sounds fun as could be and I have no conflicts than I’ll say yes, even if it doesn’t support one of the other four categories)
While my list is not an end all be all, black and white holy grail for event attendance, it really has helped me personally justify my commitments and those are turn down. If you haven’t thought through how you determine what is valuable for your time I highly recommend taking the time to. When you start to value your time as money (an easy way to do that is to figure out what you make in an hour at work) you start to realize the impact of the commitments you make versus other things you could be doing with that time.
Photos by Laura Waldron Photography