Updated 24 April 2013

Balance your life & protect what matters

Can we live a life that is different, more life-enhancing, more free?


It was American author Henry Thoreau who first said that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. He meant, possibly, that we simply push on through the thickets and obstacles that clutter life's path – we see no end to the difficulties, and we see no option other than to simply keep on keeping on.

Can we live a life that is different, more life-enhancing, more free?

Of course we can. But it involves planning.

Here is an example: what matters most to you?  Family, work and health? Most people have those three in their top list. But although we know that the rest of life is built around these three, we are often hopelessly unbalanced in the way we approach them.

Roxanne is a thirty-something single woman who manages a business in the hospitality industry. Basically, she's her own boss and in percentage terms she rates work as overwhelmingly the most important thing in her life at 80%, with health and family each getting 10%. Sometimes, at 2am, when she can’t sleep, she gets anxious about all of this. What if something happens and she can’t work? Would life still be worth living?

Roxanne is no fool, but those 2am moments are her wisest moments. She’ll stumble if she doesn't get more balance in her life. For starters, if her work means so much to her, she’s right: she will be in dire straits should she become unable to work.

Stop, assess, rethink

The thing is, you don't have to change your life completely in order to make more of it. But most of us do need to stop, assess, and rethink certain issues, the main one being time.

Too often, for instance, you hear people say they don't have time to cook a proper meal. Well, according to food activist Michael Pollan, the average amount of time needed to prepare (and clean up after) a simple meal is 31 minutes. Compare that with the fact that, on average, people spend more than two hours a day at their computers doing personal stuff, and more than three hours per day in front of the television. It’s all about priorities. Prioritise what really matters, and you’ll find you have more time than you might have thought.

Luke, also thirty-something, is married and has one child. Both he and his wife work, and he's also studying. For him, family rates way up there in importance at 60%, while work gets 30%, leaving a meagre 10% for health. But of the focus he does put on health, he sensibly puts a lot of stock on nutrition, spiritual time and meditation, so his stress-management is good, and his immune system is strong. He has high job satisfaction, but he is frustrated at how little time he spends with his family.

More to the point, he has not put much thought into protecting them. If something happens to him, his wife will have little to fall back on. He knows this. And he intends to see a financial adviser and fix that, as soon as he has time. But he’s been saying that for two years.

Highlight your priorities

Measuring your life in percentages seems to be an abstract exercise. As Zorba the Greek says to his “clever” English school teacher pal: “Clever people and grocers – they weigh everything.” And he was not meaning this as a compliment.

But the exercise helps you add more life to your life by highlighting priorities. “By looking at how you spend your time and your money, you can see where you’re leaving yourself exposed,” says Porthen. “Think of it not as taking on more, but as spreading the load differently. It’s the only way to plan for and achieve your best life.” Adding more to your life is not about a major upheaval in your values. It is about rethinking what is important, rescheduling your days to better reflect that, and making financial provision for what you care about most.

(Donald Paul, Health24, July 2010)

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