Balance. Oh, that magical unicorn of productivity. How do you balance the different parts of your life, especially when you’re given a role that you never wanted in the first place? Chronic illness takes up a lot of time and energy. Whether you’re living with physical disease, mental illness, or a combination of both, “sick” becomes part of who you are.

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And I’ve really struggled to find some semblance of balance between these three parts of myself: writer, mom, and chronically ill person. There are so many things I want to accomplish, but there’s only so much of me to go around. My spoons are limited. So I’ve had to take a good hard look at what I’m actually capable of right now.

Related: I Survived Postpartum Depression… And So Will You

You can’t do everything yourself. This is a constant refrain you’ll find in my writing, both because I want you to hear it and because I still need to hear it, too. And really, that’s the big secret behind how anyone manages to balance everything… they don’t.

Successful people understand that the more you try to divide your time, the less you’ll be able to accomplish on any given project. In the article Smarter, Not Harder: How to Succeed at Work, the author notes that “incredibly successful people focus their time on just a few priorities and obsess over doing things right.

Balance comes down to focusing in on what you really want and eliminating the excess. Or at least putting the rest on the back burner for now. In the rest of this article you’ll learn how I do just that.

Oh, and here’s a handy-dandy (updated!) workbook that walks you through my process! Just click here to download your copy.

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Rule #1: Use your time for your top three priorities or goals.

Wait, only three priorities or goals?!

Yup. THREE. Any more than this, and you’re (probably… most likely…) spreading yourself too thin.

Do you ever feel like you’re constantly getting things done, but you’re never actually accomplishing anything? It could be because you have so many projects going that you’re not able to devote enough attention to any one.

Think of it this way: If you have an hour to work, and split that hour between five projects, you can only work on each project for 12 minutes. Narrow it down to three projects and you have 20 minutes per project. Focus on ONE thing, and you have the whole hour.

In which scenario are you going to get your projects done the fastest?

Related: Getting Things Done With Chronic Illness

Rule #2: Stay present, and don’t get distracted!

I’m laughing as I write this, because distraction is my middle name. But seriously, distractions are to time as a niffler is to gold. Adorable, but extremely disruptive.

In an article for Entrepreneur, Jayson DeMers notes

The time you spend on the distraction itself is trivial in most cases, but you also have to incorporate, in that “lost” time, the minutes it takes your brain to regain its focus on your initial task. And according to a study from the University of California-Irvine, that return to your original focus, following a distraction, takes, on average, a full 23 minutes and 15 seconds.

Let that sink in for a minute. It takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to recover from a distraction.

Have you ever been really deeply engaged in something, and a tiny distraction breaks your concentration for just a moment? Like your phone buzzes, or a dog barks, or your toddler screams bloody murder because she can’t get her sock off. You were on a serious roll, and now you can’t seem to get your brain to refocus, right?

No wonder we never seem to get anything done, even when we are clear on our priorities! Especially if you’re an introvert living with an extrovert and trying to work from home (OMG).

This is also the reason that humans suck at multitasking. We like to think we’re awesome at it, but we’re not. Any time you divide your attention, you’re compromising your ability to complete either task well. Sometimes this is necessary because you have to do more than one thing at once, like cooking dinner and watching the kids. But it’s not something to strive for if you want to do your best work.

So try to minimize distractions as much as possible when you’re focused on one of your priorities. When I’m working on blog and business stuff, I put my computer and phone on Do Not Disturb. That way all my notifications are silenced. I don’t get phone calls, text messages, emails, or any other kind of notification that might break my concentration. Then all the remaining distractions come straight from my own head.

Rule #3: Reevaluate on a regular basis.

Your priorities and goals aren’t going to stay the same forever. Neither is the amount of time certain things take up in your life. I hope that eventually I’ll find ways of getting more of my symptoms under control, so I won’t have to spend as much time at doctors appointments. And I know Little Bit will need less of my time as she gets older.

That’s why it’s important to reevaluate on a regular basis. To rebalance. To check in with yourself and make sure that you’re still spending your time in a way that best reflects what your priorities and goals are at the moment.

You’ll have time to do more later. And it will be SO much better, because you actually have time!

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