Balance is hard. Imagine walking on a tight-rope for 18 hours a day; it's just not possible. So you need to re-frame what work-life balance actually means, and how you will achieve it realistically within your own life and career.
1. Redefine balance. There's no shame if you want to focus on your career or attend a friend's barbecue. We all define work-life balance differently, and your first step to achieving your own bit of bliss is to accept that your version of balance may be different than your friends, family, and society. This is your life and you decide how you allocate your time.
2. Choose one priority. Perhaps it's the time to exercise three times a week. Or maybe you want a promotion. Or the ability to have sit-down dinners with your kids, partner, or friends. Don't get wrapped up in trying to "have it all." Instead, decide if you want to focus on your life or work. You can't do both; balance happens over time, not all at once. Maybe you hunker down and work for three months, and then lighten up for the following few months. When you dedicate your time to pursuing your priorities and what's important to you, you'll automatically reduce any strain.
3. Plan ahead. It may not be spontaneous to schedule life, but you're more likely to be successful at managing your priorities if they're on your calendar. Don't just talk about a date night, make it a recurring appointment. Then take a few minutes to book three months of restaurant reservations in advance. Or partner with a friend and schedule an ongoing activity for every Saturday. Your partner will keep you accountable and you'll have something to look forward to during the week. When it's time to work fun into your schedule, you won't have to worry about a thing.
4. Work at work. Even though careers are a bigger part of our lives than ever before, resist bringing work into every moment of your life. Try tracking your time, and you'll discover you don't actually work the entire time you think you are. Even workaholics vastly overestimate the number of hours they put their nose to the grindstone. You'll be more productive (i.e., spend less time on Pinterest and Facebook) if you limit your workday to the time you're in the office, not to mention have more time for hobbies at home.
5. Change something. You have to make sacrifices to achieve balance. In most cases, small changes will produce big results, but sometimes you'll need to prepare to do something more drastic. If your commute is unbearable, consider moving. If you want a promotion, you may have to put dance classes on hold. If you can't leave your job when your child is sick, try to find a new one. These choices aren't easy, but making big decisions will allow you to improve the quality of your life or career immensely.
Work-life balance is often elusive, but if you are honest with yourself about your priorities and time, and dedicate some real energy toward the cause, you'll be able to discover your own personal equilibrium.
Rebecca Thorman's goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. Her blog Kontrary offers career, business, and life advice that works. She writes from Washington, D.C.