Finding Your Summer Balance
Strategies for managing the to-do list, recharging, and preparing for reentry
It’s summer — that wide-open stretch of time you’ve set aside to accomplish . . . everything. Ever. You’ll think deeply, plan purposefully, catch up, read up, reach out, engage, relax, spend time on yourself, spend time with your family — you’ll finally have time to do it all.
So how’s that going for you?
By now, your ambitious summer to-do list probably needs some revising. But rather than dwelling on what you haven’t checked off, says HGSE Lecturer Metta McGarvey, why not commit to using the rest of the summer to find a balance between achieving and unwinding? The goal is to position yourself positively to start a new school year.
In a conversation, McGarvey — an expert in mindful leadership — shared her ideas for a summer balance check-in.
- “In my house,” says McGarvey, “my daughter claims I have the GTD gene — for Getting Things Done — because I typically buzz around doing things, sometimes at the expense of quality time and just being together.” The key, McGarvey says, is to find your optimal balance between GTD mode and being so lax that the days slip away without accomplishing things that can only get done during a break from work.
- Consciously think about the balance between doing things that renew you, things with and for your family and friends, projects at home, community commitments, and projects for the next school year. Do you tend to prioritize one of these categories at the expense of the others? Might you feel more peaceful, and your work/home life be better balanced, if you said “no” to some (maybe no to a lot!), and “yes” to others?
- Think about your sweet spot — about finding the right balance for you between doing and being. The fulcrum will be different for each individual.
What Works for You?
- First things first: If you haven’t yet, make time to unwind, McGarvey says. It’s hard to find balance unless we catch up on sleep, do things that are refreshing, and take a break from everyday pressures and stressors.
- Reflect on your values and priorities. Assess what is possible given the available time and your habits. Be realistic; don’t set yourself up for failure.
- If you grapple with frustration or beat yourself up for what doesn't happen or get done, try focusing on what you have accomplished, and prioritizing what matters most. Do you need to ramp up a bit, focus more, or chill out?
- If slowing down does not come easily, contemplate the important. The immediate often gets attention simply because it’s right in front of us (the overflowing laundry basket, the interesting link on Facebook). If you devoted an entire day to just one thing that is truly important to you (for which you never seem to find time), what might that be?
How Do You Get There?
- Take an hour to list the projects you’d like to accomplish, the people you’d like to spend time with, and the things you’d like to do for yourself. Then take a day to reflect on what’s realistic for the weeks remaining, and what matters most to you. Pick two from each category to prioritize. If some are too big, break them down into a couple of realistic pieces that you can accomplish.
- Language matters, especially our internal dialogue. Consider the difference between “I have to weed the garden today” and “Today I’m going to spend 30 minutes weeding the garden.” How does that affect your stress level?
- When you set priorities, distinguish between the general and the specific. For example, if spending time outdoors is important for your wellbeing, many specific activities — outdoor sports or exercise, walking with a friend, gardening, bird watching, meditating, yard work, even house painting — can all be renewing.
- Experiment with the power of simplifying. Consciously focus on just one thing at a time, minimizing distractions, being fully present moment by moment. Put your devices away and savor the joy of simple things.
A Mindful Reentry
The goal of any break from routine is to recharge and gain perspective. So what can you do now to cultivate an attitude that will support greater balance, wellbeing, and realistic productivity as things ramp up again?
- The first thing, says McGarvey, is to notice if your stress level begins to rise as the start of the school year draws close. Breathe! Update your to-do list and reprioritize every week or two. Keep it realistic and manageable.
- Much of our stress comes from frustration over things that are beyond our control. We can build the skills to relate to all of our stresses and challenges with a mindful balance. It’s a discipline to limit the attention we give to the negative.
- Practice the art of Letting Be. Many of us find it hard to “let go,” and jump too quickly to a “fix it” mentality. Take time to view the situation (and yourself) with perspective.
- Make gratitude a daily practice. Savor the positive – small victories, kindnesses given and received, and moments of connection, understanding, and grace.
- Cultivate patience and compassion for yourself and others.
- Bringing a light touch into a tense situation can help everyone with balance and perspective. Remember to have fun!
- Finally, stay connected to the aspirations that led you to become an educator and the preciousness of making a difference in the lives of others.
- To learn more about mindfulness and balance for educators, explore the professional development workshop Building Inner Strengths of Leaders, next offered December 2-5, 2015.
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