As a caregiver, spouse, mom, entrepreneur, and CEO of ianacare, the most common question I’m asked is, “𝐇𝐨𝐰 𝐝𝐨 𝐲𝐨𝐮 𝐛𝐚𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞 𝐢𝐭 𝐚𝐥𝐥?” This seems to imply that I have an answer to this age-old question, a claim that rarely feels accurate. My days are full, my lists are long, and it’s not often that I feel like I have met all of my priorities and goals at the end of the day.
Last spring when my three young children began distance learning, I was one of those people that put together a beautiful color-coded schedule for each child for each day. In it, I designated time for exercise, homework, screen time, helping around the house, etc. I told myself that by creating and following these schedules, each of their days would be well-balanced. That way, in at least one part of my life, I could feel like we had accomplished it all, every single day.
As you can imagine, or perhaps even discovered firsthand in your own house, my color-coded plan did not work. It flopped not because we didn’t try, but because striving for perfect balance each and every day is not realistic. What if I told you that every single meal you ate had to reflect the food pyramid recommendations? You would likely give up before you began, recognizing that my rule was not practical. Why then do we expect our time and days to live up to those expectations? We beat ourselves up if, at the end of the day we realize that we did too much of this or not enough of that, lost our temper here or forgot to check in there.
Now that distance learning is back in session and my caregiving, work, and other responsibilities are as busy as ever, I’ve decided to leave the color-coded daily schedules behind and try a new approach that I call my 3-day rule. Instead of trying to make each day a perfect representation of a balanced life, I am going to extend that window to three days, not just for my kids, but for me as well. I’m not going to judge my success at the end of each day anymore, or try to jam all the things into one 24 hour window. Instead, I will give myself the space of three days instead of one, along with a hefty dose of grace for myself, a reminder that I am one human who’s doing her best.
I chose three days because it feels long enough to allow realistic execution. Yet, it’s short enough to keep me accountable. Otherwise, 3 months (or 3 years) may go by and I might find myself wondering why my life looks the way it does. I begin by reflecting on what matters to me and how I can, in a three day time frame, spend sincere and intentional time in each area. For me those areas include faith, family, friends, work, and exercise.
Next, I schedule time for each of those areas into the next three days. As I do, I ask myself, “In this 3-day chunk of time, are my priorities reflected? Am I planning to spend my time and energy where I want it to be?” By loosening up the timeframe of achieving that balance, I am able to meet all of my priorities instead of feeling like I need to choose just one.
At the end of each three days, I check in on those priorities. I ask the people in my life, “Am I there for you? Am I present?” Even if adults don’t, kids are good about telling the truth. I don’t always get the answer I want to hear, but I’m grateful to have that information after just three days so that I can adjust quickly instead of finding out at the end of a month or a year. I then take my reflections and the answers I receive and make adjustments for the next 3-day plan. It’s not a perfect science, and sometimes my three-day rule turns into a four or five day one instead, but I find that it gives me more breathing room while keeping the things that are important to me in focus.
As we head into this new school year, one that may very well be the most challenging one we have ever experienced, allow yourself to loosen up the timeframe of expectations. Give yourself the space, three days instead of one, to get things done. Then be ready to give yourself grace when things don’t work out. Keep yourself accountable, but be kind to yourself. If, at the end of three days, you didn’t accomplish what you’d hoped, don’t forget: there are three brand new days ahead of you. You’ve got this. We’ve got this. Three days at a time.