More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Is Your Life Running You Ragged?
September 05, 2007
By Sherry Rauh

You take care of your kids, your parents, your job, your home -- but what about yourself? Find out whether your balancing act needs a tune-up.

"Me time" is a distant memory for Kate Wiley. Most days she can barely catch her breath between caring for her 18-month-old son, working, and studying to become a dietitian. "Housework, spending time with my son, a date night with my husband, working, schoolwork -- the list goes on. There are weeks when I feel like I am running at 110% with no time to stop," Wiley tells WebMD. "The house isn't clean, I have too many things to do for my internship, and I want to spend time with my child -- quality time where we get to sit and read or cuddle or play. There doesn't seem to be enough time for it all."

If this sounds like your life, you're in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most parents with children younger than 18 work outside the home, including a majority of mothers with infants and toddlers. It's no surprise that working moms and dads, particularly those with additional responsibilities such as caring for an aging parent, find it difficult to make time for themselves. Activities that contribute to health, such as preparing nutritious meals, exercising, and pursuing hobbies tend to become elusive goals if they make the list at all.

"The last thing on my list is time for me," Wiley says, "and the lack of downtime often makes me feel overwhelmed and ready to crack."

Almost everyone feels overwhelmed on occasion, but how do you know if your life is chronically out of balance? Prominent personal coach Laura Berman Fortgang tells WebMD, "You know it's time to make a change when misery and stress outweigh joy on a daily basis for two weeks or more."

Fortgang, who is the author of Living Your Best Life and NOW WHAT? 90 Days to a New Life Direction, recommends evaluating the state of your life with the following quiz.

True or false:

  1. I have more than enough time to do what I want to do.
  2. I am on a health regimen that helps me feel energized.
  3. I look forward to every day.
  4. There are no people in my life (at home or at work) who drain me.
  5. I love my home (location, contents, the feel, the style).
  6. I have no clutter in my home and/or office.
  7. I live a life pursuing what I want instead of what I should do.
  8. My work is satisfying and rewarding.
  9. I take at least two weeklong vacations a year.
  10. I do not work on weekends.
  11. I get plenty of sleep.
  12. I have plenty of quality time with my children and/or the people who matter to me.
  13. I have at least one hobby or pastime outside of my work and family activities.
  14. I eat foods that make me feel energized instead of sluggish.
  15. I have the space to take at least 15 minutes of silence a day.
  16. I have friends that are easy to be with and a joy to spend time with.
  17. I carry no heavy emotional burdens or addictive behaviors.
Give yourself one point for every time you said "true." If you answered "true" more often than "false" (a score of at least 9), you are probably living a well-balanced life. If you scored 8 or less, your lifestyle may need some fine-tuning.

So you flunked the quiz -- now what? "Stop. Take two days off immediately to regroup and relax," Fortgang advises. "Ask yourself what you are hating, tolerating, or resenting about the current state of your life. Make a list and start doing your best to correct things right away."

Why is it so important to get your life back in balance? "Without change, everything will get worse, not better," says Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Kent State University. Allowing your life to overwhelm you week after week, year after year, can lead to exhaustion, depression, and anxiety disorders. Your health, your family, and your career will suffer as a result, Hobfoll tells WebMD. "Relationship problems will get more serious, burnout will become more severe. You will do your job badly and possibly get fired. ... The romantic parts of your relationship will become part of some deep webs of your memory."

Hobfoll and his wife, Ivonne Heras Hobfoll, co-authored Work Won't Love You Back: The Dual Career Couple's Survival Guide. Rather than viewing your family and job as competing commitments, Hobfoll recommends shedding "the mythology of the rat race." He says investing time in your relationships will benefit you career. "Intimacy is one of the main things that counteracts burnout and stress." Similarly, investing time in yourself will benefit your relationships. That means creating space to do the things you enjoy, even if you have to neglect the dishes on occasion and ask friends or family to help out with your kids.

"I thought I could do it all on my own, but when I stopped and asked for some assistance, things got much easier," Wiley says. "I have realized that taking a break from the baby can be a great thing. I am a better mother if I get time to myself and time with my husband. "

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Five Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance
WebMD guides you through 5 practical steps toward better work-life balance.
September 5, 2007
By Sherry Rauh

If you scored poorly on the life balance quiz in part 1 of our series, let your quest for a more balanced life begin here.

1. Figure Out What Really Matters to You in Life
Personal coach Laura Berman Fortgang, author of NOW WHAT? 90 Days to a New Life Direction, says getting your priorities clear is the first and most essential step toward achieving a well-balanced life. The important point here is to figure out what you want your priorities to be, not what you think they should be.

"I use an exercise for figuring out what matters most," Fortgang tells WebMD. She has her clients take a couple days off from work to contemplate the following series of questions:

  1. If my life could focus on one thing and one thing only, what would that be?
  2. If I could add a second thing, what would that be?
  3. A third?
  4. A fourth?
  5. A fifth?
If you answer thoughtfully and honestly, the result will be a list of your top five priorities. Fortgang says a typical top-five list might include some of the following:

  • Children
  • Spouse
  • Satisfying career
  • Community service
  • Religion/spirituality
  • Health
  • Sports
  • Art
  • Hobbies, such as gardening
  • Adventure/travel
Ismael Al-Ramahi, a graduate student at Baylor College of Medicine, says his current priorities are his wife, his 4-month-old son, and his research. He tells WebMD the key is not only knowing your priorities, but devoting your full attention to just one priority at a time. "Split your time and your mind so that you're thinking about work when you're at work and you're paying attention to the baby when you're with him."

2. Drop Unnecessary Activities
By making a concrete list of what really matters to you, you may discover you're devoting too much time to activities that aren't a priority, and you can adjust your schedule accordingly. Since having a baby, Al-Ramahi says he and his wife have become much more efficient in managing their time -- cutting back on television, for example.

If at all possible, Fortgang recommends dropping any commitments and pursuits that don't make your top-five list, because "unnecessary activities keep you away from the things that matter to you."

3. Protect Your Private Time
You would probably think twice before skipping out on work, a parent-teacher conference, or a doctor's appointment. Your private time deserves the same respect. "Carve out hours that contribute to yourself and your relationship," says Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Kent State University, and co-author of Work Won't Love You Back: The Dual Career Couple's Survival Guide. Guard this personal time fervently and don't let work or other distractions intrude. "Stop checking email and cell phones so often," Hobfoll advises. "Few people are so important that they need their phones on at all times."

If work consistently interferes with your personal time, Hobfoll recommends discussing some adjustments with your boss. "There's a mythology in the workplace that more hours means more," he tells WebMD. Demonstrate that you can deliver the same or better results in fewer hours. Your job performance "should never be judged in terms of hours of input," Hobfoll says. Protecting your private time often leads to "greater satisfaction in both work life and personal life, greater productivity, and more creativity."

If you're your own boss, it's up to you to create boundaries that keep work from intruding on family time. Lachlan Brown is president of Tech for People, a small business consulting firm specializing in Internet marketing. "I make it very clear at the beginning of any new business relationship that if I work nights and/or weekends then this is purely by choice," he tells WebMD. "I've told clients more than once that if they call me at night or on the weekend that they shouldn't expect me to a) answer the phone and b) reply until the next business day."

Brown, who has a 9-month-old daughter, doesn't see his reluctance to work after hours as compromising his career but quite the opposite. "I believe that if I truly honor the different aspects of my life, such as work, play, and family, I will be more successful and fulfilled in each area. If I skimp on family time or 'me' time, then my success in my career will suffer as a result. I look to my daughter to remind me of how to be open-minded and excited and curious about life ? key ingredients for innovative, breakthrough thinking. If I don't spend time with her now, this opportunity will be lost forever."

4. Accept Help to Balance Your Life
Allow yourself to rely on your partner, family members, or friends -- anyone who can watch the kids or run an errand while you focus on other top priorities. "Try tag-teaming," Hobfoll suggests. "One spouse works out before dinner, one after dinner, while the other watches the kids."

To get more alone-time with your partner, accept babysitting offers from friends and family, or try arranging a regular trade-off with another couple. "'I'll watch your kids this Saturday if you watch mine next Saturday.' Tag-teaming is a great way to create extra free time," Hobfoll says.

5. Plan Fun and Relaxation
Fun and relaxation are an essential part of living a well-balanced life. That's why Brown makes time for weekly guitar lessons, a yoga class, a date night with his wife, and a guys' night out a couple times a month. In addition, he exercises on a trampoline in his backyard most days of the week. How does he squeeze in all this playtime while running his business and sharing the responsibilities of raising a daughter? "If you believe that the most important thing is to be happy in life (not when I'm a millionaire or when I retire but right now) then you can always make time."

Until you get into the habit of taking time for yourself, set aside space in your planner for relaxation and fun. Plan what you're going to do and make any necessary arrangements, such as childcare, to ensure you'll be able to keep your commitment. "Remember, you make time for what you want to make time for," Fortgang says. If something is important to you, don't brush it aside with a dismissive "I don't have time for that." You are in charge of your own schedule -- it's up to you to make time.
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