Seven Ways to Live a More Balanced Life


I believe life balance doesn’t come so much from how you work, but how you rest. Unless you are working 80 hour workweeks in a toxic environment, the answer to the level of balance you have between life and work isn’t going to come from how you spend time in the office but what you do with the other 120 hours in your week.

Here are some suggestions for resting actively and achieving greater life balance:

  1. Remove Busyness – The more responsibilities you have, the greater amount of background noise in your life. This means that as soon as you get spare time, it will automatically fill with the hum of a million to-do lists. In order to rest actively, you need to cut out all the time and energy draining activities that are plaguing you currently. I’ve found the best solution is to organize (implement a system like GTD) and then eliminate and prioritize so low-value tasks aren’t robbing you.
  2. Add New Hobbies and Activities – Hobbies and new activities are great ways to rest actively. I’ve heard from fellow Toastmaster members that Toastmasters is their highpoint after a stressful week. Taking up a new hobby like painting or martial arts, or reviving an old hobby, can be a great way to rest actively.
  3. Socialize – Although this normally means partying, socializing doesn’t need to mean a hangover. Meeting up with friends can be a great way to rest actively whether it is grabbing dinner or heading to a concert.
  4. Start a Personal Project – Start on that novel you’ve always wanted to write or set up your own blog. Starting a personal project can be a great use of your spare time. Just make sure it doesn’t use the same muscles (more on that later) that your regular work does or you’ll be doing more harm than good.
  5. Mini-Adventures – Maybe you don’t have the time or money for world travel right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have mini-adventures today. Find a park or tourist location in your city and spend an afternoon exploring. Better yet, bring some friends and make it a group adventure.
  6. Volunteer – Volunteer work can be incredibly satisfying. I’ve coached soccer to kids and ran a few volunteer positions for Toastmasters. But this doesn’t mean you need to start working at a soup kitchen. Any task where the primary profit for you is the good feeling of helping someone else will do.
  7. Reflect – Although reflection isn’t nearly as active as the other suggestions, it is still a good use of your time. I can spend anywhere from ten minutes to several hours journaling, contemplating and thinking through ideas. You can reflect too much and miss out on new experiences, but a small dose of self-examination isn’t a bad thing.

Why does active rest work? I believe the reason active rest creates a more balanced life can be summarized by three principles:

It Forms a Scaled-Down Version of Your Ideal Life

Your life right now should be a reflection of your ideal life, given your current resources. What does this mean? Well if in your ideal life you travel around the world and spend a lot of time meeting new people, you should at least be having mini-adventures and socializing more today. Your resources might not support everything in your imaginary lifestyle, but they usually can come pretty close.

Active rest means reclaiming time spent on busyness and low-value activities and investing it back into the tasks you draw real value from. Any of the above suggestions can have a huge impact on the overall quality of your life.

Makes Distinction Between Active/Passive Not Work/Rest

What is work and what is non-work? The answer is usually what pays the bills and what you do for free. This can be a useful distinction, but it only goes so far. I’ve found a better distinction is active versus passive. This measures the degree between complete engagement and complete detachment.

I don’t believe a proper balance here is 50/50. I’ve found the best balance for myself (discounting sleep) would be along the lines of 90/10. Being fully engaged in life 90% of the time, whether it is work, play or active rest and then having the other 10% for reflection, passive entertainment and relaxation.

Uses Different Muscles, So Burnout is Avoided

I mentioned in the list that when starting personal projects you need to be careful that you don’t use the same muscles you use for work or you can do more harm than good. I believe that you can be active 90% of the time only if you aren’t using the same mental muscles. This way you may be very tired in one respect, but still have a lot of energy in another area.

Here are a couple different muscle groups, I’ve recognized:

  • Creative
  • Physical
  • Logical
  • Social
  • Exploratory
  • Routine

So if my job required me to use creative and logical muscles heavily (computer programmer, writer, designer) then starting a project that uses similar muscles might be too draining. Instead a pastime that is physical (martial arts), social (Toastmasters) or exploratory (mini-adventures, travel) would be more suitable. Everyone naturally has stronger muscles in one area, but I think it is important to exercise them all regularly.

A key part of active rest is simply knowing which muscles you have already fatigued, so you can utilize others and still stay engaged with life.

What other solutions do you use for active rest? Are there any hobbies or activities you do in your off work hours that are draining, but seemingly paradoxically, give you more energy for the job?

Image courtesy of flickr.

  • Wulfen

    My list of favorite non-work activities:

    – Number 1 is undoubtedly “sarging”. It gives me energy and also boosts my emotional state. If you don’t know what is it, here’s a wikipedia disambiguation page:

    hint: it’s *not* Debian (well, at least since Etch has been released ;).

    – Lifting weights at the gym. I’m a primate kind of guy 🙂 It’s indeed paradoxical how something that should drain your energy, instead fills you up. I also do aerobics, like bycicle and running, but most to keep myself fit, I find it a bit boring. Lifting weights is my thing. I did martial arts before and liked them too.

    – Sex. ’nuff said.

    – Meditation: I use this to stop negative thoughts, and to not become crazy with a hectic life. It slows down your inner voice and brings clarity.

    – Drawing: I draw sketches of fantasy stuff. I find it very relaxing, and a very interesting outlet for my creativity.

    – Karaoke: a social activity that is also very very fun. Might or might not involve unhealthy amounts of alcohol, at your choice. (I drink. Yeah it’s not healthy. Nobody’s perfect :P)

    Other stuff, in no particular order: like Scott, I go to Toastmasters. I also like to play some computer games *very occassionally*, mostly twitch games like Unreal Tournament, RPGs like Oblivion or strategy like Civilization or HOMM, though as of lately I don’t have any time for this. I read, but lately it’s been mostly personal development stuff. I like to travel but since I’ve started my side business it’s been more difficult to find the time.

    Wulfen (Lobo Feroz)

  • Thomas

    Somehow this article really struck me — I think it’s one of your best so far. Excellent job!

    It may be interesting to relate this to a viewpoint stated in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards. The (perhaps overgeneralized) idea is that drawing properly requires you to shut the left half of your brain down, almost completely, and let the right half take over. The right side of the brain would probably be responsible for your categories “creative” and “exploratory”.

    The author mentions that people will feel relaxed and peaceful after doing such a drawing, which may be a sign of a rested left hemisphere.

    Note that my ramblings are not hindered by any form of scientific knowledge 😉

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the thoughts Wulfen and Thomas. Great suggestions.

  • seagull

    I have a habit of writing journal every day.
    My journal has several 8 parts, including work,study,health… and I write only one sentence in every part.
    So it will encourage me to do at least a thing in these parts of life.

  • karenlim

    Great post!

    Like seagull, I have a blog which my hubby and I maintain it daily
    We share our experiences on law of attraction, showing people what works so that they can too apply and improve their life.

    Here is my hubby story about his turning point:-

    Our way to live a balanced life is to do what we are passionate about ( law of attraction) and share with the world about my knowledge.

  • Lokesh Naidu

    The above mentioned ways of resting is really very practical ways of resting after a stressfull/eventful day.

    Another best way to rest yourself is to spend some time with a child and try to explore its innocence.

    Try to completely involve in making they baby happy, observe its reaction, try to teach something new and observe its reaction and so on…

  • Su

    what do you mean by GTD?

  • Scott Young

    GTD = Getting Things Done, a popular book on productivity by Dave Allen. You can see it in the sidebar.