Friday, February 18, 2011

The Art of Balance

The efforts we put into work, school, family, and social life can be a hard enough without our continuous obsession for writing. So how do we go about putting these things into perspective? How to we effectively balance so many aspects of our lives without going mad? Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that work well for me. Some may help you, some may not. Please feel free to add your own suggestions and what you find that works for you in the comments.


The first things to consider are my objectives and compare that to the list of things that need to be done: otherwise known as prioritization. From my personal experience, I find that priorities, despite my attempts to etch them into stone, still have a strange way of changing from day to day. To keep from going crazy with these continuous changes, I set aside time each week specifically for deciding what it most important. Some weeks, my main focus is on family - especially around the holiday season. Sometimes, I find that work and/or school must take priority. On those rare occasions that neither of these takes precedence, I attempt to focus on y writing. Oh, that’s not to say things won’t still change. One needs to be flexible, after all. But, with a clear list of what’s important, I can move on to the next phase:: setting my goals.

Setting Goals

It’s important to set realistic and attainable goals. Set your goals too high and you never achieve them, creating frustration and the feeling of helplessness. Set them to low, and although you easily accomplish them, there’s no satisfaction or desire to push harder and further. So, what makes a “realistic” goal? Let’s try an example. When I’m writing longhand (yes, I do tend to do that for my first drafts), I know that I can fill about two to three pages in a steno notebook per hour, front and back. The way I write, that equates between 350 and 500 words per hour - let’s say 400 on average for easy math. I have a busy week planned, so I’ll only have about an hour each day to write. Simple multiplication makes that goal 2700 words/week. That’s certainly doable, but I want to push myself just a little more. Rounding that to 3000 words makes sense. It means throughout the week I’ll have to find an additional hour to write, but figuring that it’s only a few extra minutes a day, it’s agreeable. If I really want to stretch, I might even shoot for 3500.

Even if I should fail to reach this goal, at least I had my sights set on something. Without a goal, it becomes easy to meander off and not accomplish anything at all, with no expectations. Easy on the mind, but it lacks for the soul.


Once a goal is set, the next step is to focus on the task at hand. Depending on my priorities for a given week, I take one of two approaches.

Set Aside Time

One method is to divide the day into segments and decide what activity needs to be performed within each time block. This creates a schedule that’s easy to follow and elevates the expectation that I should be working on something else. If something is more important or more time consuming, then I schedule more time for that activity. While performing the scheduled activity, focus only on it. Don’t let your mind wander to other things; there’ll be time enough for those when they arrive for their appointment. I find this can free my worried mind when I have allot that must be done.

Complete the Task Then Move On

This approach is to work on a single task until it’s completed before moving on to the next. I find the approach works well, particularly when school or work are involved. Again with this method, stay focused and don’t become distracted until the task is finished. It builds a considerable amount of confidence and self worth when I can say that I started (and completed) the objectives I laid out before me. At the end of the day, I have a list of things I can say are done. Is there a better feeling?

I must admit, however, that I often find myself using both methods. Writing a novel, for example, is a long process. Sometimes I want to write for a particular amount of time. Other times, I want to write a particular number of pages before I stop. Most often, I write in scenes and want to finish the scene before I quit for the day. Consider playing with these two methods and seeing what works best for you.


Rest is the silent killer. Too little and one looses perspective, makes sloppy mistakes, and becomes mentally unstable. Too much, and one becomes lazy, uncaring, and loses sight of one’s goals. So how do we know when it’s time to work and time to rest? I suspect each one of us will have to decide that for himself/herself.

Me? I try to rest at least one day a week, doesn’t matter much which day, but on that “day of rest” I do nothing, or everything. I make no goals and have no expectations. If I feel like writing, I write. If I feel like shopping, I shop. If I feel like doing yard work, I do. And, if I feel like none of the above, I may watch TV, go out to lunch, visit the computer store, or any other number of things that make me happy. The point is, this is my day, when I can do whatever it is I want without constraint to goals or worries.

Each of us must decide how must rest we need, but it’s important, in my opinion, to give in to indulgence and let our weary minds relax - if only for a short while. Rejuvination can often lead our subconscious to many wondrous ideas.

Q4U: How do you balance your busy life? What types of things do you do to relax?

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