How To Balance It All… Sort Of

By Madison Olle on May 3, 2017.

During my AmeriCorps Project Conserve service term I have been trying to learn a lot about professional and personal development to better balance everyday pieces. In this blog post I offer possible solutions for setbacks that arise whether in personal life, service position, or workplace. My current service position is Volunteer and Community Engagement Associate with Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC). While every day varies - they generally involve balancing emails, phone calls, and in-person meetings to ensure CMLC keeps volunteers engaged and accomplishing meaningful projects.

Now time to offer some tips, tricks, and resources I have found that I love and find to be rather life-changing - for service, work, and fun. Click away!

First and foremost, if you have not heard of TED talks, you must cancel your day’s plans and absorb yourself in the wonder that are free TED talks. There are talks about everything including what your body does while you sleep; how to write a love letter; the origin of the FB like button - all ranging from 5 minutes to 45 minutes. With that said, my first resource is a TED talk titled, “How To Gain Control of Your Free Time” by Laura Vanderkam. I know, I know - I was skeptical too. But here I am, living by the advice given in the talk and I love it. The talk is 11 minutes and 54 seconds. We all have time for that… after all, it’s a life-changer.

Now you’re probably wondering - suggestions for what to do in your free time; how to make sure you have more free time without forgetting anything; and a thousand other questions our constant brain has.

Well, here is something you can do in your free time that I have been experimenting with myself: bullet journaling. Now don’t be scared away by this topic because you’ve seen artsy pictures or whatever else the Internet chooses to show you. Because anyone can bullet journal! First, here is the official Bullet Journal website - the origins and fundamentals of it all:

Now, if you want to see more artsy examples and how you can achieve them (because everyone is creative!) - check out Boho Berry’s website. She has a whole series on how to Bullet Journal along with another post showing her Bullet Journaling mistakes (because all those pretty pages had to come with some mistakes. Never forget that.) Love these pages and want some more ideas? Check out another bullet journaler and her ideas for daily and monthly along with weekly layouts on Tiny Ray of Sunshine. So many great resources!

But how do you ensure everything gets done so you have time to Bullet Journal? Well, for one you could use the Bullet Journal as a to-do list - but I personally prefer my service or work and personal life separate so do not put service/work-related items in my journal. I am not going to pretend there is one magical way that makes it so everyone is amazingly productive and stress-free - because that’s not true. Finding your way of becoming productive, or at least a little less stressed takes a lot of trial and error. But you got this.

If keeping your to-do list in a journal doesn’t work for you, I suggest todoist. It is a computer platform and app that comes with a free and premium version. I have tried countless to-do list apps and programs, in the search of the perfect free one. Todoist is it for me. You can prioritize tasks, label, move, have subsets, and all sorts of features. Another great one is Wunderlist.   

Now the topic of emails… the one thing we all dread, but need. We all crave ways to get through our emails faster. Let me start by saying you may think you hate the idea of “Inbox Zero” - but that is probably because you haven’t found your own personal way to rock email to get to inbox zero. In my personal experience I used to keep my inbox as a running to-do list, but then would quickly mix emails that I responded to with emails that I was using a reference for a project. I had folders but I was using them all wrong. I had 18 million instead of a few. What has worked for me is to now have simple folders such, “Need to respond,” “Waiting on Response,” or “Reference.” “Need to respond” folder is my saving grace. No motivation to get to inbox zero? When figuring out how to modify email to my needs, I realized I love how little apps have pictures or other motivating pieces to reveal once you achieve inbox zero - sadly my work email did not have that. So, I emailed myself a cute meme congratulating myself for reaching inbox zero. Serves as a nice pick-me-up to continue through my emails. Time for a real trick on getting through emails… check out this FastCompany 45 second clip of a CEO explaining how she gets through emails so fast. FastCompany is another amazing platform - they have a magazine and a website that showcases great ways to work smarter, balance work and life, and just be overall awesome. The Muse also showcases great professional articles about how to find a job and excel at work while still having a personal life.

All of the above items are for you to physically do… but what about solely listening? Have you tried podcasts? You can listen to them on your commute to and from work; while cooking; cleaning; lounging on your couch; hiking… wherever, whenever.

Here’s the link to the website for a podcast - which is how I heard about Bullet Journaling. “The Productive Woman”

Want something intellectual but also relevant to pop culture? NPR’s “Hidden Brain”

Something hilarious with bits of stand-up comedy? “2 Dope Queens”

How economics is relevant to everyday life? NPR’s “Planet Money”

Stories of people and how others live their lives, especially amazing women? Lena Dunham’s “Women of the Hour”

The point is - there are countless podcasts, articles, and other pieces of info to get you through your day-to-day with grace and ease. A lot of it is buried in the depths of the Internet and sometimes hard to find. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to find information that is actually helpful on the Internet. Just because I’m a millennial doesn’t mean I just snap my fingers and information comes to me - my mom is still better at uncovering things on Google than me.

We all have the same amount of time each day, but we all spend it so differently - which is fascinating and mind-blowing! We are all so unique so it only makes sense for us to find things that get us excited not because we feel we have to be excited about something, but because we are actually excited. (Speaking of how people spend their time: a cool website is “My Morning Routine” where each week someone’s new morning routine is posted.)

In this post I have given you a small insight into what websites I check each day, podcasts I can’t live without, and tricks I implement in attempts to keep my service and work life a little less hectic along with defining that service/work-life boundary. It is my hope that at least one person reads this and gets something useful from the information… Don’t be so hard on yourself either. We are all living and learning. Cut yourself some slack - experiment with new things for a few days or few weeks. Not every routine is going to stick as a habit, but always fun to try new things and see if they work for you. Be kind to yourself. I could go on and on about self-care; being protective of your personal time to prevent burnout; and other topics - but you have better things to do! Now go meditate, run, check emails, sleep, or whatever it is you want to fill your time with.

May you be happy, may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you know love and peace. All the best wishes on your journey!