An expert’s tips on how to actually have work-life balance

Work, life and balance? The memes say we can only pick two, and even that’s hard to maintain at times. Like, going to work, having a social life, being caught up on every TV show, going to class at Barry’s, and being mentally sane? As Cher Horowitz from Clueless once said, “As if!” Not so fast. Even though “having it all” might be something of a myth, because you can’t have what you want all the time without some sacrifice, you can still find some semblance of it through proper work-life balance. Samantha Ettus, a writer for Forbes and bestselling author of five books, has tips on how to actually do it.

So, What Is Work-Life Balance?

Ettus describes work-life balance by explaining, “We talk about a scale, and for a scale to be in balance, you have to spend equal time at work and equal time at home. And if you have a thriving career, you’re failing at that. So, you have no healthy framework for how to think about it.” Most of us can’t imagine spending equal time at home as we do at work—I mean, how would we make money, right? Wouldn’t we get fired for like, not checking our work email constantly?? In short, no, you don’t have to be in work mode all the time. You’ll have to work at it, but you can work on improving your work-life balance.

How Can You Actually Find Work-Life Balance?

So now we’re left wondering, how to achieve this elusive balance between work and life. Ettus says, “the most successful people are those who play in 7 slices of their lives. And that’s what leads to fulfillment. It’s not just doing two things really well, it’s being part of 7 different areas.”

She explains, “Those areas are your health, your career, your family, your relationship (or your quest to find one), your friends, your hobbies, and your community.” The only slices I’ve thought about making time for in my life are those in the form of pizza, so these seem quite daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. Ettus advises, “it doesn’t mean that you have to spend equal time in each of those slices, it just means that they should all exist in some way even if they’re a sliver today. Just having them there helps you manage your life better.”

How To Slice It

Ettus says, “I think if you look at the seven slices and you have a commitment to make a goal for each of those slices, it really helps. So if you look at the friend slice and you’re like, ‘wow I haven’t actually seen my good friends in a month,’ that’s gonna change the way you look at what’s important: to have dinner with a friend every single week or to call a good friend on the way to work or whatever it is.”

Making goals is necessary in order to achieve them, which seems kind of obvious but still needs to be said. You have to take a realistic look at your life to assess what needs to change, and then implement those changes. Ettus also says, “Similarly, if you look at that slice in your life, and say, ‘I want to be in a relationship but I haven’t gone on a date in six months,’ that’s not good.”

She jokes, “Like, he or she is not gonna fall on your windshield on your way to work—you have to go find them. So, a lot of it is just being intentional about those slices and being intentional about being a part of all of those.”

How Do You Actually Balance Work And Life?

Just like anything important in your life, Ettus says, “a lot of it is preparation. Things will happen unexpectedly every day. So, for example, I am a big believer in the night before. The night before you want to pick out your outfits so you’re not having a wardrobe crisis the next day. The night before you want to pack your bags. So I always stick a Premier Protein Shake in my bag just so I’m gonna make a healthy choice when I’m having a really crazy morning the next day.” Remember when we used to do this in middle school? You’d lay out your outfit the night before school and your lunch would be packed and ready to go in the fridge? Why did we stop?

Ettus says, “no matter what, you’re probably going to wake up and something unexpected is going to happen. A meeting canceled, or someone is sick or something happens, there’s a work crisis, something you didn’t anticipate. So the more prepared you are, the easier it is to deal with that kind of bump in the road.” There are always emergencies (no matter how big or small) that can crop up, but you can’t let that derail your entire day.

Why Are We Suddenly Struggling To Maintain Work-Life Balance?

Ettus surmises, “I think that it used to be that we could rely on our companies to give us work-life balance because we had a 9 to 5 schedule and that was it. And today, if you left work at 5 o’clock and didn’t check your email until the morning, your industry might’ve changed or you might’ve been fired.” Yikes. Ettus suggests, “instead it’s up to us to create our own boundaries, and if you’re waiting for other people to create those boundaries for you, you’re never gonna live a happy life.”

Can You Have It All?

Ever since the days of High School Musical 3, we’ve been taught to always “Want It All.” But is that really doable? Ettus says, “The way it’s always presented in the media is you can’t have it all: you can’t have a great career and a great home life. And I completely disagree with that. I think it’s just about setting boundaries. I’ve worked with thousands of women at this point, and the happiest and most fulfilled are those who maintained a career in some way, throughout all the stages of their life.” So, yes, she does think it’s possible to have a career, have a family, and be able to juggle the two. Just refer to those slices and make sure you’re divvying things up in a way that brings you fulfillment.

Be Present And Eliminate Guilt

So how do you actually get the balance part? It all comes down to guilt, Ettus says. Guilt can disrupt your sense of fulfillment at work and at home. She says, “At the end of the day, when you are focused and doing the best you can wherever you are, it eliminates a lot of the guilt. So if you know you’re at work, you’re totally present, you’re giving it 100%, you’re not gonna go home and then feel guilty that you didn’t do a good job. If you’re at home and you’re totally engaged with your family or your friends or your boyfriend or whatever it is, you’re not feeling guilty because you know you gave them the best of yourself. So part of it is just giving the best wherever you are and that eliminates a lot of the guilt.”

Taking a break from technology is another way to be more present. Ettus says, “One of the things that’s really important is to have two to three hours that are tech free every day, whether you’re reading a book, doing sudoku, whatever it is. Even just the presence of the phone on the table takes away the meaningful conversation. When there’s a phone on the table, the conversation is less deep because people always fear an interruption. It just gives you that anxiety.” So if one of your friends gets mad at you for not answering her, just explain to her that you and your phone were on a break!

Good Vibes Only

It’s written on every gas station T-shirt, but for good reason. Ettus says, “You want to spend time around positive people, and the people that are really genuinely happy for you when things are going well in your life. And there’s a lot of people that kind of gather around us when things aren’t going well but then when things are going well, they’re sort of envious.” She adds, “I’m also a big believer in that the grass is not greener. If you envy someone else’s relationship, or their body, or their money, or something like that, there’s always some other story that you don’t know. Every single person struggles with something, so you’re much better off just trying to figure out how to live your best life given what you have, not envying other people’s lives.” Lastly, she insists, “It’s just better not to think about other people, and think about how you can live the best life you can.”

Ettus believes that a lot of times when people are unhappy at work, they blame their job first and foremost and look for a new job right away, instead of evaluating what other areas of their lives they are neglecting. So, if you think you need a new gig, maybe try taking a look at your seven slices first and examining if your work-life balance is to blame for your unhappiness.

Samantha Ettus is a national bestselling author of five books, and the founder and CEO of Park Place Payments, a payment processing company focused on women’s financial independence.  Since earning her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Harvard, Sam has devoted her career to advancing and supporting women in the pursuit of their dreams. Sam’s most recent book is The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. 

This article first appeared on Betches.