'How Can I Do It All?'

Are the pressures of job and family driving you crazy? Here are five practical strategies for getting some balance--and sanity--back in your life.

By Anne Fisher  (Fortune.com  01-22-2003)

If you're struggling to build a career, have a family life, see your friends now and then, and maybe even get an hour or two to yourself occasionally, you know it can make you feel like a hamster going round and round, faster and faster, on one of those little wire wheels.

"More and more, people feel overwhelmed," says Kurt Sandholtz, a career-development coach in Provo , Utah . "These days it's not so much, 'How do I get that next promotion?' as it is, 'How do I do it all?' "

If the stress is starting to get to you, take heart. Along with three co-authors, Sandholtz has written a practical guide to leading a healthier, happier life by getting that killer schedule of yours under control. Called Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life (Berrett Koehler, $16.95, available at www.beyondjuggling.com), the book describes five ways to find more time for the people and things you love, including yourself.

"Often, people think, 'To get real balance, I'd have to radically change my life.' And that's not practical for many of us. But all you really need to do is make incremental change," says Sandholtz. "Even making two or three relatively small changes, and freeing up a few extra hours a week, can make a huge difference."

So where do you start? First, Sandholtz recommends keeping a detailed diary for a couple of days, just to see where your time is really going. Then look at it and ask yourself which activities you could cut out, or delegate to someone else. (A small but typical example: Did you really have to spend half an hour yesterday picking up dry cleaning? Can you find a dry cleaner who delivers?)

At the same time, decide which area of your life--work, family, friendships, or self-care--most sorely needs more attention than it's getting.

"From dads, we most often hear it's time with the kids that's lacking," says Sandholtz. "From women, it's usually self-care--an hour or two here or there to exercise, get a facial, read, or just think."

Once you have a clear idea of what you're spending time on now, and where you want to redirect some of that time, you can choose a tactic that will help you get there.

Here are five practical strategies that can help you devote more time to the pursuits you truly value:

1. Alternating. This technique involves immersing yourself completely in work for a specified period, and then not working at all for a while--rather like a freelance writer who works feverishly on a book project for a year and then takes three months off. If arranging a sabbatical isn't realistic, at least be sure to go on regular vacations. Too many people neglect to take these vital breaks, and ultimately become less productive.

"If you use your vacation time to catch up on chores--or worse yet, don't take a vacation at all--you're not getting that essential recharging that relaxing time off can give you," says Sandholtz.

2. Outsourcing. Identify activities you're willing to let someone else take over. For example, hire a housecleaning service instead of doing all the mopping and dusting yourself. Rather than do your taxes yourself this April, hire an accountant. At work, try to find a few tasks you've been tackling yourself that really could be delegated--it could gain you a few extra hours each week for strategizing.

3. Bundling. This tactic can help you get more mileage out of the same number of hours. Wish you had more time to hang out with your friends? Never get the chance to go to the gym enough? You can fit both friendship and exercise into your schedule by power-walking with a friend. Sick of living on takeout? Get together with a couple of pals on Sunday evenings and cook meals that can be stashed in the freezer for the coming week.

4. Techflexing. As the name suggests, this strategy allows you to make use of technology, including a home office, to work more flexible hours (if you have the kind of job that permits it). If a pager or a broadband connection would make it easier for you to take a few hours off in the middle of a workday on occasion, go ahead and make the investment (or better yet, see if your employer will reimburse you).

5. Simplifying. Is earning more and owning more always better? Not necessarily--especially when you can't find time for the things you really value. Free yourself up by figuring out what you can live without. "You may make small sacrifices, such as cancelling magazine subscriptions," the authors suggest.

Or, you could make a bigger sacrifice, such as taking a voluntary pay cut in exchange for reducing your hours.

None of these solutions is one-size-fits-all, as Sandholtz is the first to admit.  And for most people, the best strategy of all might be to borrow a bit from all five, as Sandholtz does himself. He and his wife have six kids, but he still manages to coach peewee soccer, volunteer at his church, help out at home so his wife can train for 10K races, and hold down a job that requires lots of travel.

"Work-life balance isn't an impossible dream," he says.