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Jul 21, 2008

Pen To Paper: Getting Clear On What Work-Life Balance Means To You

Last post we talked about the 7 fear triggers that keep us from making progress on creating a work-life balance.  Trigger #7 focused on the confusion that comes when we’re not really sure where to start.  Commenter James Chartrand from Men with Pens sums up what a lot of people are feeling on that post:

If we don’t know what balance truly is (i.e., more money, more happy… what does that mean, really?), then how do we know what our goal is? Without a goal, how can we take that first step?  Or, should we rather accept we have no clue where we’re going but it has to be better than going nuts or dropping dead from exhaustion?

It’s Ok To Have No Clue (As Long As You Start Looking For Them)

Confusion is a real pain in the ass, because it gets you all locked up inside.  With so many directions to choose from, where do you start going?  What if you choose the wrong direction?  What if you screw it up?  These thoughts (and many more) spin around in our heads every day, contributing to that sense of helplessness that makes us feel like getting balanced is an impossible ideal.  Rather than take action, we avoid it and just try to keep up with the pace of our life as it is.

The tricky thing about being uncertain is how the uncertainty itself can paralyze us from making the time to get clarity on the problem in the first place - the ultimate catch-22. The antidote to that paralysis, fortunately, is something you already have available to you:  Pen and paper.  (Or, for the more tech-addicted, a text file / Word document / whatever.)  That’s all you need to start searching for clues to what balance means to you.

As James said above, it’s hard to take that first step when you don’t have a goal in mind.  So let’s talk about how you can start hunting down the clues that will give you a clearer idea of what you’d actually have to do to feel more balanced.

First, Draw A Big Line

Take that piece of paper you grabbed and draw a big ‘ol line down the middle of it, separating it into a left and a right side.  On the left side, write “What I Want” and on the right side scribble down “What I Don’t Want.”  We’re going to ignore the “What I Want” side and focus on the other one to begin with, for two reasons.

  • Reason #1: “What You Want” Can Stress You Out. If you’ve read the 7 fear triggers post, you’ll see that “Overwhelm” is trigger #1.  If you add a whole bunch of things you want to your list, essentially you’re adding new goals to your plate – and if you’re already struggling to keep up with it all right now this is just going to stress you out.  It’s probably the main reason most people don’t have a clear idea of what balance means to them in the first place.  It’s just a list of more things you don’t have time for.
  • Reason #2: “What You Want” Can Create “Writer’s Block.” There’s an old saying that says there’s nothing quite as frightening as a blank sheet of paper.  It’s true.  Face a blank page, and it can be intimidating.  It’s where the whole “what if I write stuff that’s not good enough, or stupid, or wrong, or impossible?” thing comes into play. On the other hand, thinking of “What I Don’t Want” is easy.  You can tap into that vein pretty simply, because you think about these things on a regular basis.  Every day, every week, every year, there are things you wish were different.  Things you hate dealing with in life.  You already know what you don’t want, to a large degree.

Next, Let Your Frustrations Out

Oh yeah, it’s time for some cathartic purging here.  Think of the things about your life that you just don’t want to experience anymore, things that throw everything out of balance.  Your list might include things like:

  • “I don’t want to miss having dinner with my family anymore.”
  • “I don’t want to work so much overtime.”
  • “I don’t want my kids to feel like I don’t spend enough time with them.”
  • “I don’t want to stay out of shape.”
  • “I don’t want to keep putting off time for me.”
  • “I don’t want to have a job that can screw up my schedule at the last minute.”
  • “I don’t want to go another year without a vacation.”
  • “I don’t want to feel so damned rushed all the time.”
  • “I don’t want to put off X / Y / Z / Whatever any longer.”

You get the idea.  Let the internal pressure you’re feeling clue you in to what you feel like you’re missing, because that’s going to give you a lot of clarity.  Sometimes when we think of “what we want” we’re really thinking of what we imagine might make us happy … and we all know from experience that getting what we want doesn’t always give us what we thought it would.  Instead, tap into what you know you don’t want, and then you can get to the next step …

Decode The Pain And Get Some Clarity

In the next post of this work-life balance series we’ll get into how to use what you don’t want to figure out what you really do want (hint: it’s not just “finding the opposite”).  For now, just start with the exercise above to figure out where your work-life balance pain points are.  Keep that paper handy, and as the day goes by, be conscious of times when you feel pressured, stressed, and under-the-gun, and see if there’s more that you want to add there.  As you become more attuned to thinking about what you don’t want, you’ll uncover more areas of your life that you want to tweak.

Give this a shot, and be really honest with yourself as you do it.  And if you feel like it’s stressing you out to focus on all these things you don’t want, remind yourself that this is only the beginning, and what you’re uncovering here will be the ammunition you need to move your life in the direction you want it to go.

Take 15 minutes today with a pen and a piece of paper and you’ll be on your way.  (And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog by email or RSS to make sure you catch all the upcoming posts in this work-life balance series).

See you in the comment section,


21 Responses to “Pen To Paper: Getting Clear On What Work-Life Balance Means To You”

  • Jul 21, 2008 James Chartrand - Men with Pens

    It’s probably the main reason most people don’t have a clear idea of what balance means to them in the first place. It’s just a list of more things you don’t have time for.

    YES! Friggin’ YES!

    I *want* a bunch of things – play more guitar, take lessons, read more, work on this or that or the other personal project, write a book, finish the book I’ve started, blog about x y or z, clean my basement, do some woodworking, make a bookcase, play with my kids, go to the (freezing) beach, learn to inline skate because there’s no ice in the summer…

    Damn, dude, the list goes on.

    And damn, dude, I have *no* time for that. Because I have a freaking list of all kinds of other crap I have to do. So I look at my WANT list and get bloody discouraged. Then I feel guilty and bad and terrible and all that stuff.

    Which is precisely one reason I *hate* productivity blogs (except yours, because it’s not really a productivity blog), because their tips are just ONE MORE THING TO DO. Dammit, I have enough to do.

    I’ll make a concession and actually sit down and do this. Deal? I’ll be your case study hehehe

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens’s last blog post..Driving Traffic Using Smaller Shots of Power

  • Jul 21, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @James –

    Ten points for effective use of BLOCKQUOTE in a comment!

    Do it. Send me your list. I’ll do likewise.

  • Jul 21, 2008 KatFrench

    Dude. You have no idea how badly I needed to read this right now.

    In fact, as God is my witness, I’m stopping off at the coffee shop on my way home today for a nice, healthy cathartic purge.

    Wait. That’s not as gross as it sounded… nevermind…

  • Jul 21, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Kat –

    I am going to be laughing at that one FOREVER

  • Jul 21, 2008 Brett Legree

    That’s why I put that old index card up on my mirror at home, and look at it every day. As much as my blog posts have revealed a bit of frustration (hey, I’m human!), they are a look inside of me as I say to myself each day, “I don’t want this”.

    And I *am* working at it. It is coming together.

    I like this exercise, Dave. It reminds me of one an old teacher of mine gave us. You have an end goal. You can’t reach it.

    You ask, “Why – what’s stopping me?” Usually by the third “Why?”, you know what to do.

    But yours is different. It is better. Why? Because we can all bitch about stuff we don’t like. Stuff we don’t want.

    So you make your “I don’t want this” list.

    Then say, “what are you going to do about it?”

    Very powerful, Dave.



    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – a long road.

  • Jul 21, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett –
    Glad you liked.

    Index cards are the greatest. tool. ever.

  • Jul 21, 2008 Brett Legree


    Looking forward to the webcast very much, too – and I hope the O.J. is working for you tonight!


    Brett Legree’s last blog fridays – a long road.

  • Jul 21, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett –
    My sinuses feel like they each have an orange stuffed into them …

    off to bed I go

  • Jul 21, 2008 Kelly


    Sorry you’re not feeling well. Hope you aren’t up to read this!

    A long time ago for some annoying theatre teacher who wanted us to “open ourselves up” we had to do two lists: “I Am” and “I Am Not.” (I think it was theatre. Geez, I can’t even remember the class anymore.) The results were very similar to “I Want” and “I Don’t Want,” including “I Am Not” being a much easier list than “I Am.”

    What’s funny about it is that even though I thought it was an irrelevant assignment I do like my grades, so I did it to the best of my ability. A week or so later, I put all the answers into my planner, because it seemed like I really nailed some basic stuff about me. The lists are there to this day, and still just as fresh, still able to guide me if I feel lost.

    There might be a scary well of sighs in the don’t wants, but I’m going to do my list because I’m looking forward to hearing about the next step.



    Kelly’s last blog post..Summer Is a Great Time to… Have a New Logo Designed (“Rebrand”)

  • Jul 22, 2008 Michael Martine

    Huh… great idea, the “don’t want” list. Where’s my journal…

  • Jul 22, 2008 Janice Cartier

    Excellent. I like the idea of flipping the matrix…might have to play with this one in light of the challenge I have set out for myself. Grabbing pen and paper tonight.

    I like this Dave.

    Janice Cartier’s last blog post..She Sells Seashells

  • Jul 22, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Kelly –
    I … will … defeat … this … cold … *pops another Alavert*

    Do the list. It’s worth it.

    @Michael / Janice
    Have at it!

  • Jul 24, 2008 Wendi Kelly

    Sorry I am so late reading this post Dave,

    I have been busy the last few days. My Life/Business Coach had me do this exercise three years ago and it changed my life. (Warning though…to everyone doing it, it is a process, not a one time deal, if you take it seriously you will keep going back to it over and over again until you work it down to the fine print.) We worked on that list for a year.

    It’s great advice. I also think its a good idea to put it up somewhere where you can see it daily…like all the time. Looking at a list of what you don’t want want your life to be compared to the possabilites is like WOW…I can have that??? That’s hope.

    James…I had woodworking on my list. I went and built a desk. It’s in my family room now and I look at it every day.

    Great post Dave. I’m going to go get out my list and review it..Good reminder.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..A Lighthouse in the Storm

  • Jul 25, 2008 Dave Navarro


    Glad to give you the reminder. Putting it up daily will be a big help. How many other items besides woodworking have you taken care of? :-)

  • Jul 27, 2008 Mini Mohan

    Great post! Work-life balance is most important factor for us to do our work well. We often miss out on the importance of this balance which really puts us into trouble later on.

  • Jan 31, 2009 theguru

    Right on the money. Time crunch (information overload) is becoming a determining factor in our lives…they say the average person now processes more info in a day than a caveman did in their whole life …if we don’tget clearer on what we need to spend time on, I think we are going to see an increase in mental health issues and family stress..seriously.

    theguru’s last blog post..Jonny Andrews “The Guru Assassin” | Why Should You Give a S!#& ?

  • May 1, 2009 Hossein

    Dear Dave,

    I may add another clue why to firstly begin with the “I don’t want to” section as a noob pupil. There is a saying that says – of course in my broken English – “Some thing is not just perfect when you cannot add anything new to it but when you cannot take away anything from it.”



  • Jun 23, 2009 Anny

    Great post. I’ll definitely share the ideas here with my customers who come to me for parcel delivery to save time.

  • Sep 21, 2010 Adam

    hi wazzup… i just wanted to say that my C64 is crashing when I click on the pics… are you using some java or something?

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