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During a recent interview on the Answers 4 The Family radio show, one listener asked a poignant question. She wondered why she felt so unhappy. Was she dissatisfied because she didn’t find fulfillment in her current job, or was she simply overwhelmed and buckling under the pressures of being a working mother?

It is easy to fall victim to the demands we put on ourselves and we often struggle with the feeling that our personal lives get into the way of our professional goals. Our jobs are important and we must advance our careers for personal and financial gains, but long hours build pressure in other areas of our lives. We may feel rushed in the mornings until we arrive at work, and we stay there until we absolutely must leave or we’ll be late for our afternoon or evening commitments. Then, instead of a leisurely evening with our families, we make dinner plans on the way home and start organizing the next workday using our hands-free set in the car.

What can we do to prevent personal, professional, or corporate burnout before we begin to question if the path we chose will make us truly happy?

Living in a perpetual state of stress forces our bodies to react instinctively with a “fight or flight” response. If the built up tension in our bodies is not released, we can experience a variety of symptoms, such as trouble falling or staying asleep, gaining a few extra pounds, or more serious ailments like digestive disorders, migraines, and anxiety. Many studies (like this one) connect the effects of stress to mental and physical health.

Without a functioning work-life balance, we are bound to collapse under our constant pressures. Often, we search for the “one thing” that makes us feel so overwhelmed and pushes us over the edge. What I learned from my coaching practice is that using sheer practicality, we conclude most often that the source of our problems is one of two things: our dissatisfaction with our partners or our current employment.

Of course, feeling overwhelmed or succumbing to corporate burnout often cannot be blamed on any one single issue or person. Rather, we get to this point because many little things accumulate over a long period of time. Repetitive motion, if not done in perfect form, will cause micro traumas to the body. When we apply the same principle to our professional lives, we see the lack of balance between work and play can cause harm as well. Unless we correct it, we keep repeating the same routines until the proverbial final straw breaks us and we can’t take it anymore.

The key to preventing burnout and not becoming overwhelmed is having a realistic approach to balance all the demands in our lives. While most of us already know this, we don’t bother to stick to the principles of a healthy routine or we postpone it to later. You’re too busy right now to find balance, right? Wrong. You’re too busy because you don’t have balance.

Here are three tips that you can use today to take the first steps toward achieving a better balance:

  1. Structure your day! Before you turn on your computer at work and crack away on emails, decide what you want to accomplish today and make that your main focus. Then give yourself a deadline for when your workday will end. Honor your own decisions.
  2. Shut off distractions for 90-minute increments! It’s easy to be sidetracked with distractions. With your main focus set, you know your primary goal for today. Get that out of the way immediately before you do anything else. Focus for ninety minutes on one project, then check your email, then focus again.
  3. Set personal priorities and stick to them! You determine what is most important to you. Take care of yourself, your relationships, and your families. Make time for what matters to you.

Remember, the people we want to stick around the longest should get the most attention from us. Always make it about people first. Without those important people in your life who love and support you at home, and those who respect and collaborate with you at work—there is no balance. Besides, how boring is happiness when you have nobody with whom to share it?

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