Work, Life, and the Attempt to Do it All

Forget work-life balance. Just try to make it fit.

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[See How to Be Happier At Home: Tips from Gretchen Rubin]

• Leverage your to-do list.

"Work is the thing that will creep into your personal time," says Alan Henry, who writes, among other subjects, about juggling life and work for Lifehacker, a website dedicated to "tips and downloads for getting things done." So if you're trying to wean yourself off late nights at the office, you might need to establish "little rewards for yourself." For example, you might have your children call at the time you'd like to stop working, providing "not just an opportunity to talk to your kids, but also kind of a built-in alarm clock," he says. Also, remember to take advantage of work benefits like vacation time or tuition reimbursement that contribute to your well-being. "Seek those things out in order to check off those other boxes that add up to your personal life fulfillment," he says.

You can also apply this sensibility to your personal endeavors. A book club, for example, can help you keep up with your interests and friends, says Rubin. She also suggests optimizing your fitness program to meet more of your needs. For example, if you want more social time, exercise with a friend, she says, or if you crave competition, get in a tennis game.

• Get real.

"Trying to do everything without setting boundaries will have us scrambling around, unable to devote our attention to anything," says Karen Purcell, founder and president of PK Electrical, a Reno-based engineering, design, and consulting firm, and author of Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Purcell also emphasizes "self-acceptance" about missing some events to be present for others.

Henry and Purcell stress the importance of setting clear expectations. That means letting colleagues know how and when to reach you for routine matters and emergencies. Henry also notes that most smartphones come with an option to set quiet hours or allow only certain callers to ring. If possible, he says, try to "get into a position with your boss where you're measured not by how many hours you spend at your desk," but by your results to let you better control your schedule.

• Schedule what's important—including time for yourself.

"Cram my life with the things that I love" goes Rubin's mantra. "The more you think about what's really important to you, the more you can let go of things that you're just doing out of habit or because your own parents thought it was important," for example. Once you've identified what you love, schedule it. "The fact that you want to read does not mean that you're going to read," she says. "If it's important, find a way to put it into the calendar." That includes sufficient leisure time—enough so that you can still get a good night of sleep, she says.

For her part, Purcell gets to sleep every night at 9 p.m. so she can wake up at 5 a.m. for her daily run—her "personal passion," which provides her time for both fitness and introspection. "By maintaining ourselves, we will be better in all aspects of our lives."

[See 6 Ways to Make Time for Your Health]