How to create a work-life balance by asking for help

Angie Wang

“You can have it all but, you can’t do it all.” said Gloria Steinem in the documentary, Makers: Women Who Make America.

And the sentiment rings true. And not just for women.

Hands up to those who feel that your work life balance has been one big blur after another. From driving your kids to and fro soccer practice or hustling at your day job and then thinking about the things you’re going to achieve, only when the time comes you’re nibbling on chips and watching reruns of Friends, sprawled on the couch after an exhausting week.

Things start to feel even more impossible when you let yourself down with each passing day. Those promises that you made about wanting to cook more often? It went down the drain along with the list of books you want to read. All because you have chores that needs to be done, and you don’t seem to have enough time or hours in the day to cram them all in. Cloning seems to be the only solution (and conveniently, an impossible one at that). Who has time to paint, draw or even sit still to contemplate business strategy, with life happening all around you?

I used to feel this way too, until I reached a point where I had to surrender myself to the fact that I can’t do it all with my two hands. It was two months before my wedding, and Mr. T and I made a list of things that we would have to do. Paint our rooms and bathrooms, fix a few leaking spots on our roof, change the door, clean the entire house – iron grilles and all! – and then maintain enough sanity to do our work on top of it. We did everything by ourselves when we first got our house four years ago – down to cementing and patching up after the wirework was done, painting the house, sanding the grouting, etc. But at this point in my life, I just couldn’t. I raised a white flag – exasperated and desperate at the same time.

So I turned to Mr. T and said, this time, we need to hire people to help us.

Actually I think went more like this:

Me: “No way in heck am I going to paint another wall or get friendly with a 10-foot pole to reach those crevices.” Especially since this is the third house I’ve had to paint within 2 years.

And so we did hire help. I sussed out part-time maids, who came once in two weeks to help me clean up the house, and we asked neighbors to recommend someone who can help us with fixing up the house. Pretty soon, things were getting done and not a moment too soon too. And I was thrilled at how I felt. It felt really good. I was able to concentrate on my work, and sort out things for the wedding, and I didn’t get burned out that much in the end.

We didn’t spend a lot of money as we were under a budget, and it was a culmination of small things that snowballed into this one giant to-do list that we were really glad to be rid off. But I now still hire those cleaners to help with the house chores once in a few weeks, and I’m the better for it. I felt good because it allowed me to free up my time to pursue the things I want (and need) to do, and not stress about having the weekend roll around because it meant I had to clean the house. I can focus on teaching more. I sketched more. I brainstormed more projects, took on more freelance work and earned more money. All this from hiring some help.

I allowed other people who were really great at what they do take over the things that I would have done poorly anyway. But the amazing thing that came out of it was that paying for other people’s services helped me to stop feeling bad about myself. So I could concentrate on doing the important work that only I can do and leave the rest to the people who were good at theirs.

And I have to share one caveat – I’ve had people telling me that they can’t afford part-time cleaners, etc., because they’re on a tight budget. That’s totally fair. I was on a budget too, and I was sitting on the decision for such a long time that I weighed the option against doing it myself – and DIY-ing won out for more than a year. But then I tried it out. And it was a revelation, I’ll tell you that much. I’ve done a lot of things all by myself for a long time, and while I saved money in the process, I realized that the older I got, the longer it took me to do the things I didn’t like. And I’m glad to have one less thing to worry about.

So my challenge is this: Think about the stuff that you hate doing, and how you can hire some help instead – and see how that will help you maintain a work-life balance. If you hate having to keep tabs on your bills, invoices, etc, hire an accountant. Hate trimming the lawn? Get someone to help you with it – a high-school student who might like to earn extra money for instance. The point is not about the money – you can always barter or trade your services; it’s all about asking for help in little ways that will make a big impact in your life.

[WANT MORE STORIES ABOUT GETTING HELP?: CHECK OUT ISSUE #8 OF THE GOOD TO KNOW SERIES!]

SHARE YOUR STORY:

What would you most like help with in your life that would allow you to spend your time more creatively? Likewise, if you already hire help, I’d love to hear what it is, and how it helped you!

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[Illustration: Soft War in Silk World by Angie Wang]
  advice, creativity, illustration, inspiration, popular


19 thoughts on “How to create a work-life balance by asking for help

  1. What a great article! I struggle with this all the time, I work full time and am also trying to freelance and get my own business started on the side. I also have my husband and a beautiful 5 year old who also want much of my attention. I love this idea I hate feeling guilty about not getting the laundry done or that my house always seems to be a mess but at the end of the week I am so exhausted all I want to do is veg is front if the TV…I am going to try it and stop thinking I am super woman (which I constantly seem to do) and let other people help and also say no to tasks I don’t need to do…I have a hard time saying no. Truly inspired I love to read what you have to say each week!

  2. Great advice! It’s important to have a little ‘me time’ otherwise you just become impatient with your work. Always remember to not just help others, but to help yourself!

  3. Thank you for this! I am in the same boat right now. I run a graphic design business from home and recently hired an assistant to help me get through things faster. The difference has been so incredible. At first I wasn’t sure if I could afford it, but I’m actually making a lot more money because I can do a better job with less stress and turn projects around faster. Now to start hiring some help with the house!

  4. Thank you, Amy!
    Nearly everything you wrote here rings true to my life. Yes, I feel that way, yes I think that way, yes that happens! I am trying SO hard to get my art going, but I also have a job, a live-in boyfriend and a son that need my attention. The house needs cleaning, the laundry needs doing, the weeds need pulling. Candace time for reading or baking is out the window. I’d have to chime in on your part about not having money to afford help, and that’s the boat I’m in. I’m pinching pennies with a mortgage, student loans and everything else, so my brain is struggling comprehending the words “pay for a maid”. Seems like it’d be frivolous of me to schedule that, though I wish so much I could.

    I’m really struggling currently with wanting to be selfish with my time and my artwork. Life has always come first while my artwork resides on a back burner and I secretly pout about not being able to make it a priority. Some successful artists claim to have gone from starving to successful or having jumped in with both feet and just DID it, but my pessimistic/logical brain part says “there is no financial guarantee on your art even IF you paid for help to tackle other duties in order to free up time for art and get it out there. Therefore, in the end, the car payment isn’t made.” Can’t figure out how to get past that mental block!

    BIG. FAT. SIGH.

    I’m happy to see it’s worked for some people. I wish I knew of a way to get some help done for a trade in services. I have recently learned though that my son has reached an age to be quite capable of taking out the trash, and my boyfriend can’t read my mind no matter how hard I try to plant “pretty please do the dishes for me” into his thoughts. So, rather than just doing some of those household things when I know they need to be done, I have learned to ask my boys nicely for help.

    • Hi Candace!
      Listening to that part of our brain is natural, so don’t beat yourself up about it! That being said however, I feel that there’s something that you might want to try and experiment with. So often life happens that we don’t stop enough to wonder if what we’re doing is helping us towards our goal in the long run — so whether it’s asking for help, or cutting back time on something, or trying another strategy in business, etc., it’s good to stop and do some reflecting! I’ve tried out many different things before I realised how much I loathed cleaning and that it was this one thing was a thorn in my side. 😉

      You’ll get there though, hang in there!!

  5. Wonderful that you determined what would increase the balance in your work/home life, Amy. Great topic as I struggle with always feeling and actually wanting to do everything for the home as well as for my career. Unfortunately the career takes the backseat as things definitely pile up..and the physical reminders of the piles are not easy to ignore! After many years of doing it this way, and now that my kids are getting older, I’m finding more time for my work and career..so it’s feeling like the teeter totter is now balancing. : ) Whew!

    As a mom, manager of the house, artist, etc..it’s constantly a juggle and I now listen more and more pay attention to my health as I age…I rely upon it to help me determine what is most important and what can wait. Thanks for the awesome topics to ponder, Amy, and for your suggestions too…all good food for thought and possible action! : )

  6. I’m more with Candace on this one – hiring out isn’t an option, although we have considered moving to a smaller, newer (less maintenance work on the house!) home in a different part of the country. I left my job five years ago to become an artist. Income is way down, and my husband wonders…..what happened to all of that time?? Well, I not only quit my job to become an artist, but also took on the housecleaning, driving, yard work, laundry, bill-paying, errands, shopping, and cooking. As much as I wish someone else could do it for me, I just don’t have the resources to pay, give, or barter. I’m even teaching from my home studio a couple of times a week to keep up with my art-related expenses, so there is more to do, and I’m just about paying for what I spend. Work/Life balance is never easy, and we’re trying…… /: Here’s to everyone out there who’s struggling, too.

  7. I read Candace’s comment about “wanting to be selfish with my time and my artwork” with interest. I used to equate my creative time with selfishness, and now I think differently. I am an artist; it took me a lifetime to say that out loud even just to myself. That is who I am; it’s my personality; it’s my motivation in life! I need to have time and space to create. If you are an artist, I encourage you to consider creative time as a necessity in your life and do what I am trying to do: compartmentalize. I decide ahead of time when I will do chores, work outside the home, create art, etc. Then I stick to it. When I am creating, I am in that compartment, and I don’t allow myself to worry about other stuff. Same for my job, family, etc. I strive to focus my energy on one thing at a time, and I am more successful for it. Candace, you are not selfish!

    • That’s a great point Dana – I’ve heard from so many people who felt bad about the time that they are using to create, it’s as if taking time to do so is selfish! It’s so not true though, because creating is part of work, and I don’t recall that many people complain about feeling guilty about working in an office, etc. Perhaps if it feels good then it shouldn’t be work? If that’s the case well then I don’t agree with at all!

    • Dana, that’s smart! I’ve never been one to schedule anything in my life voluntarily, but I think it would help me a lot. When you’re in survival mode, you’re constantly in the moment, which is vital for artists, but not if we can never put our art as top priority. By scheduling a punching in / punching out time, not only do we validate our work, we create a mental space for ourselves that keeps out the running chore list! This is not to say that scheduled time is more valid than spontaneous time, but only that it is more consistantly come by.

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  9. Thanks for this article, Amy. I agree that it pays to pay someone else to do the things that they are good at. I had a friend who believed very strongly in this because he saw it as helping someone else keep their job. And, I like what Dana has to say about compartmentalizing things. My parents always brought us up to always do things for ourselves in order to save money and I know that’s what I always struggle with. I have gone through the cycle of quitting my job to make a living making art, to paring down art supplies to make room for creating in my home, and still having no room, to renting out studio space to create. I feel like I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to create AND actively selling at the same time. I’ve always had a business mind and I think I tend toward that a little more than I should, especially since giving in to my creative side. So now, for the fourth year in a row, with tourist season here, I’m finding I’m thinking about packaging, pricing, displaying, advertising in order to look professional for the shows/sales that I participate in on the weekends. And, when I set up at these shows, I’ve hardly got anything to sell! I have so much stuff that’s about 75% finished or stuff that just needs to be framed but I just don’t seem to get to it. Depending on which part in the artwork’s process I am in, I find I have to move stuff in order to work on that task in that particular area of my home. It must be a natural progression in the cycle to be at the point I have finally reached: to just not do the shows now — take the “business” part out of the equation for a while — and just focus on completing things and putting my place back in order. Dana’s compartmentalizing is what I need to invoke here. I have no extra funds and have to find work now. I am so in debt, I can’t think about it. At one point, I did have the downstairs organized enough to where “I could actually see where I was going” meaning, I could see/feel my future as a living, working artist… I have to get back there again. It churns my stomach to think about having to find a job.

  10. Great article Amy. I have left my job to pursue my artist journey. It’s hard as a mother and partner to keep up with the household duties and finding time for my art. I really had to sit down and evaluate my time. The key was to drop the least important of housework duties ie iron laundry, clean windows etc. I also gave up watching TV. Being on one income we really can’t afford a cleaner. So the compromise is slightly messy house, with partner helping out a little bit more. I have decided not to feel guilty as when I look back over the year I will not even remember the mess but will remember the time I have taken action on showing up to do my art.
    We only have 24 hours in the day so something’s gotta give.

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