By Holly Agnew

Today (a Sunday) I was asked by an acquaintance and his wife if I could revise their Wills by Tuesday. I really wanted to help, but I found myself saying “no” immediately, before I could be talked into it. There was no emergency; they are going on vacation overseas on Wednesday and thought they might like to change their Wills before leaving, just in case.

A good idea – but one that they should have had months ago when they booked their plane tickets. As much as I wanted to help, I just couldn’t do it. Or, more accurately, I could do it but only at great personal cost, such as missing time with my kids, not meeting other client deadlines, or losing sleep.

I am not good at saying no, so having it slide out of my mouth so effortlessly today was a huge step for me. Work-life balance is a mystery that I am still trying to solve. I have done productivity training, I have read several books on the topic, and I even have a family law supervisor who is there to support me in my practice. But I am still staying up too late working, and I am still absent from the dinner table two nights out of seven. I am trying to fix that.

Someone once told me that work-life balance is not something you achieve and forget about, but something you have to work to maintain, meaning that constant adjustments must be made to keep that balance. If you’ve ever watched a ballerina dance on pointe, you’ve likely noticed how she does not stand still; rather she makes minute adjustments every second to retain her balance, and her leg and feet muscles strain with the effort. That has become my approach to work-life balance. I am constantly making small decisions and adjustments that add up to something resembling balance. Some days I nail it. Some days I fall over, and it isn’t pretty or graceful.

Here are my top three tips for managing a work-life balance:

1. Learn to say no.
When you say yes to something, you say no to something else.
It’s very difficult to say no to clients, but once I picture missing my kids’ bedtime routine, or school event, it gets easier. It’s about prioritizing what really matters.

2. Pre-plan your week.
This simple act has made a HUGE difference in my life. Ideally, I plan my week every Saturday morning. It allows me to relax and enjoy my weekend. I use my Google calendar and the Asana app to capture all of my tasks, triage my to-do list, and then slot the tasks into my calendar. Then I reward myself somehow – a yummy snack, a walk outside, or time hanging out with my kids.

3. Think of time as a FINITE resource - which it is - and protect it.
This is my biggest challenge because I love talking to people and I can easily waste hours a week just getting to know my clients or talking to my staff. Some of that is necessary so I try not to beat myself up about it, but I know I can do better. I have to learn how to gracefully bow out of conversations and get back to my desk. I also need to close the door to my office more often to reduce interruptions and distractions. Time is precious and I spend it like there are 36 hours in the day. As a result, my work suffers, my sleep suffers, my health suffers. It’s time to get serious about time. My life may just depend on it.

I have a long way to go to follow my own advice.
But like a ballerina, I keep getting up when I fall, and I keep trying to maintain some balance. Maybe that is why I was able to say no to my acquaintance this morning – I know the stakes are high and failure is not an option. I will be happy to help him and his wife when they come back from their vacation. But I will set the timeline, and I trust that my clients will respect me for it.

Holly Agnew is a mom of three boys. She is a sole practitioner in Almonte, ON, where she practices in the areas of Collaborative Family Law and Wills & Estates.