How to Achieve Occupational Balance (Hint: Look Below)

Wait-what?  Before you google it, wiki it, or bing-it (but seriously who really uses bing?), let me explain the best I can.  As a grad school grad from an unknown career (Occupational therapy), I’ll gladly explain for you with no cost just like an unpaid internship.  Something I’m very familiar with, unfortunately.

Let’s start with: Occupation.  First off, when I use occupation I mean it as being an activity that is both purposeful and meaningful.  This can vary from anything from getting dressed in the morning to a hobby such as cooking or skiing.  These occupations are not only essential to sustaining your life and allowing you to work but also promote wellness, identity, and mindfulness.  Before you think this is “hippie-dippie hug circle” insanity, let me use an example.

One of my favorite occupations is cooking.  Now cooking obviously is correlated to health as it determines what goes in and out of my body.  However, how I genuinely enjoy the creative process of cooking determines how I prioritize my schedule and how I use cooking to engage with myself and others.

Because I enjoy cooking so much, not only does cooking provide nutrition but also relieves my stress, allows me to share my food, interact with others, and promotes my creative side.  Therefore, wellness is achieved because the occupation of cooking allows me to engage with others and restore my energy from a busy day.

Besides my health and wellness, my hobby of cooking creates a piece of my identity, a foodie/cook.  This “role” helps schedule my routines of going to food festivals, buying healthy ingredients, and going out to eat.  Lastly, due to the fact I know cooking is linked to my well being, I am mindful to include it to my regular routine.

If I know I’m upset, tired, or need to take my mind off something, I know that cooking is just one of the many ways I can cope.  Not only can occupation serve as a hobby or diversion but also a way to achieve balance in your life.

Finally:  Occupational balance is the concept of balancing your work, play, productivity, and passions in a way that works with your routine.  To have balance means that you aren’t 90% in your work and 10% in your personal life.  Or vice versa.  Balance is prioritizing what is important, meaningful, and purposeful in your routine in order to achieve your goals in life.

If you notice, people are the most stressed when they dedicate their entire life to their work without any time for their friends, family, rest, or hobbies.  The same can be said when people are unemployed and/or looking for a job without any success.  Need more examples?  How about the infamous retirement stories of senior citizens who work so hard for retirement only to be bored when they get it (and die)?  We all need a balance of work and play.

Okay, I’m convinced.  How do I do this?

  1.   Figure out what your occupations are.  These can include anything from drawing, socializing, dancing, cleaning, watching films, reading, walking, rock climbing, singing, hiking, traveling, sports/watching sports, playing an instrument, and so on.  Essentially an occupation includes an activity that you genuinely enjoy, relaxes you, and/or motivates you to your goals.

To my skeptics:  Yes, I thought of you because I’m one as well.  You might be asking:  Well, how about drinking, smoking, drug use and other “bad” activities?  Well, remember, these activities do have to PROMOTE wellness, health, and lead you to your goals.   Somehow I don’t think smoking crack is going to land you that job.  Unless death is your goal, then be my guest.

  1.  Figure out what your goals are.  This is much easier and I’m pretty sure if you are a twenty-something-year-old, you have a general idea of what you want to do.  Whether it is to JUST GET ANY JOB TO PAY THE BILLS, a career, learning a language, getting into a relationship, getting out of a relationship, sleeping around, whatever, it doesn’t matter.  Whatever you wish to accomplish, determine it because it will help you manufacture the best routines and habits to get there.  Make a list of the goals and how you’re going to get to them.  Make sure they are very specific, realistic, and attainable so you can actually know if you completed them/know how to complete them.
  2.  Figure out your usual routine/habits.  Once again, you most likely know them since you are most likely a twenty-something-year-old.  If you don’t, take one day to observe what you are doing and how your day normally goes.  Be mindful of what certain things make you go off track (i.e. mine is facebook and the internet in general) and what things tend to stress you out/relax you.  Then, find ways to combat what distracts you and find ways that recharge you to be on track.  Write this down in your planner if you need to and be specific!
  3. Put all of the above in your calendar. Now, with your three ridiculous lists, I’ve made you write (if you didn’t do this, don’t worry, you can still achieve balance) compile them into a routine that takes into consideration of your goals and occupations.  You can do this in a day to day, week to week, and month to month format. For example:

Monday:  Overall goal: Study for test and get 10 anatomy questions done.


7a: Wake up and go to internship (as I said, I’m pro at these unpaid things)

8-430: @ internship

5p-7: Relax by cooking a meal and watching an HBO movie (Incorporation of occupation)

7-8:  Do 10 questions and switch off your internet-no FACEBOOK stalking (being mindful of habits)

8-830:  Review your anatomy with flashcards.  Remember to take a break at 8:15. (being mindful of habits and goal completed)

8:30-10:  Make lunch for tomorrow and read a book (incorporation of occupation)

10p: Sleep (Rest-another important occupation/restoration technique we all tend to forget)

See?  Not too hard huh?  Now of course, set this up any way you want.  If you have to require quotas (i.e. force yourself weekly to read 10 pages or engage in 2 occupations a week), do it.  This is only a template, you know yourself best.  Rely on that.

  1. Try something new!  Now this is really for those who do not know what their occupations are or have no clue what their goals should be.  Don’t worry, we’re in our twenties and we’re supposed to be a hot mess once in a while.  Therefore, be open and up for anything.  This, of course, doesn’t mean jumping off a plane or bungee jumping (unless you really want to). It can just be something you’ve always wanted to do, something that makes you feel uncomfortable.  This does not mean you should go walk in that weird dark alley at night.  No, God no! Just remember to know your limits and GET YOURSELF OUT THERE. Being open to new and exciting experiences can really help you understand yourself a lot more.

To my skepticsYes, you, I know what you are thinking:  I don’t have the time or the money and I generally enjoy doing nothing.  How can I still do this?

  1.  I don’t have time.  Everyone HAS time, it is more so about HOW you prioritize your time and time management.  To begin with, start trying to be mindful of what gets you off track and avoid it.  Also, you can make a timeline of your day and set your cell phone alarm to remind you.  It’s a bit nerve-racking but AMAZING if you need to study or focus.  Even if you don’t have “time,” you can embed something you love throughout the week right before you sleep or during a break.
  2. I don’t have any money.  As much as I’d like to suggest people to buy guitars, tickets to Spain, and rock climbing gear, all you need to do is find hobbies that can meet your needs in order to feel relaxed, energized, happy, and passionate.  Although some activities do require money (i.e. travel), therefore find a cheaper substitute!  For me, my traveling is exploring new and different neighborhoods in New York.  Also, ever heard of Groupon/living social/yelp? Use it.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to just walk outside, ask your friends what they are doing, and use the internet.
  3. I generally like to do nothing.  There are two ways to go about this.  One, do something new and see if there is something you’d like to start doing.  Two, look deeper into what you enjoy and just make sure it is in your schedule.  If one of your favorite things is watching out of a window, put it in your schedule.  However, instead of just doing the same old same old, make it new.  Try drawing people outside or writing about what you see.  You might be a bit of a creeper but hell, if you enjoy it, I ain’t going to judge.

With that, I hope this article helps address practical but also thoughtful ways to relieve stress, increase happiness, promote well-being, and restore your balance in your life.  Good luck and may occupational balance be with you.