We often speak of our personal and professionals lives as if they are subsumed; in ways, they are because each of us given but one life to life. And, in order to make the most of that life, we need to maintain work/life balance…a barometer for well being…

I have found that the best way to begin is by keeping it simple, and keeping it simple is indeed a voluntary process and well within your realm. T. S. Eliot wrote, “Finding a way to live the simple life is one of life’s supreme complications.” Each of us, at one time or another, has felt overwhelmed. We hesitate to take a holiday because when we return, the paperwork will be piled sky-high. We hesitate to attend a professional development program because when we return, our development will be stifled by his amount of work that has been generated during our absence. The sheer complexity of our lives creates internal distress and can wreak havoc on our bodies. Dis-tress is a contributor to dis-ease, and we know what they can do to our minds as well as to our bodies. The cardiac system is over-stimulated, the immune system is suppressed, and our hormones are out of balance,

Complexity is addictive, and we cannot always find a way out. I know because I’ve been there. As a multi-tasker, I enjoy doing multiple things at the same time. I enjoy the challenge of the delicate balance between reasonable levels of work and overload. My life is now simplified compared to how it was between 1992 and 2004 when I worked about 100 hours per week and traveled monthly to countries in Eastern Europe. Now, with a 40 plus hour work week that is self-imposed, I feel as if I have simplified dramatically. I have the time that I need to work, write, teach, be with family, and give back to society. When I was first introduced to the concept of work/life balance in 2002, I realized that I needed radical change in my own life if I was to walk the talk. I understood what a positive impact simplification could have on my work, my family, and my health…and I set out on a mission to simply my own life.

For me, this required a huge paradigm shift. Think back to your own childhood. My dad was a contractor, so we had lots of bathrooms in our home, and even with 5 kids sharing bedrooms, we did not have to share a bath. My best friend’s family consisted of mom and dad, plus two teenage girls. They had a 4 bedroom home with only one bathroom, and there were constant battles to see who got to use the bathroom first. If someone had a date, or required additional prep time, the coveted space could be tied up for quite some time. One thing that we did lack was closet space, and most hanging space seemed to come from freestanding dressers with closet rods. When I think of how our own kids have grown up, with private rooms most of the time, luxury kitchens, wonderful yards, a phone in every room and more…I wonder how we existed. When our daughters ask me how we existed without something as simple as pantyhose, I smile and think back of the days of nursing school with garter belts and hose.

And then, I think about today’s young people with computers in every room, DVD, HDTV, cellular phones, IPOD and more. I think about the luxuries that they consider necessities and how complicated their lives are with so many gadgets. I think of our own PDAs and blackberries, and how simple our own lives would be without such devices.

Do we truly clutter our lives with far too many things? In my travels to less developed countries, I witnessed firsthand how simple things could be. Immediately following the earthquake in Yerevan, Armenia, the only decent housing was found in a former government hotel. Although there was neither heat nor hot water, there was a roof over my head and a clean bed. While there was not food in the hospital, our hosts found moldy bread to eat, and we ate it repeatedly for weeks – sometimes with cheese or tomato sauce – but always with an appreciation for what we had. Although it was impossible to get hot water in a tub, it was possible to use an electric coil to warm some water and use it to rinse the shampoo out of one’s hair. And, although our colleagues lacked so much…they had a refinement of spirit and a passion for their work that was unsurpassed. They lived the simple life…nearly a sparse life…but a life of gratitude.

I always thought that I had a strong work ethic – I worked until, and beyond the time that a job was done. One of my supervisors once paid me the ultimate compliment when he said, “You’re my only finisher.” I attributed that to the fact that most of our staff was fresh out of university, and that as someone who had been working since age 14, I was accustomed to giving 100% plus. I always believed that anything worth doing was worth doing well.

When I hosted delegations here, I always hoped that they would take back the good things that they could learn and not imitate our mistakes. My colleagues marveled at my ability to juggle schedules, to consistently be tied to a phone as if it were an appendage, and to be on top of 30 projects simultaneously. What I mistook for admiration and respect might well have been sorrow – for the good times that I missed, for the family occasions that I skipped, for downtime. Although they worked long hours in less than ideal circumstances in their own countries, they led the simple life…they understood the need for simple pleasures.

A personal choice

Simplifying one’s life is a personal choice as well as a process. To start, examine all areas of your life and determine at least five that can be simplified. For example, in the housing market crunch, my home was for sale for more than one year. That meant that each and every day, the beds had to be made, the dishwasher filled, the laundry put away, the countertops clean. That meant fresh flowers in the kitchen and bathrooms and a decluttered environment. How does someone juggling multiple tasks declutter an environment – clear a desk in a home-based office? It is difficult…yet possible.

As a nursing student in a diploma school, we were often short-staffed. There may have been 40 patients on a ward with only a registered nurse, a student, and an aide. We all know that medications and treatments take priority, and we adjusted our time accordingly. If there was insufficient time for a full bath, we gave sponge baths or washed face, hands and bottoms. After all, no one ever died of dirt – they died of not having treatments done or not getting their medications. We simplified, and while we may not have been proud of the process, the outcomes were good.

So, think of five things in your own life, and then begin your process! Eat simpler foods, but eat as a family. Drop membership on a committee to free your time. Clear out the clutter in your life to make it easier to find things. Put things in their place. Do the laundry every other day, and straighten up – but do not clean up every day. Turn off the TV and spend TV time with the family.