balance is bullshit

Jen Lancaster Stephanie Klein
Jen Lancaster, Stephanie Klein; photo by Luc Van Braekel

What amazes me most is that we used to do it. In high school, we managed to balance AP English with AP Economics, with calculus, with AP art and AP Bio, and soccer practice, the school musical, writing papers, sleepovers, dinners, and sneaky girl conference calls. We managed to juggle subjects, exercise, friendship, love life, parents, 90210, and Nintendo, all in a day.

Now we see craft blogs with gift tags, elephant & strawberry pincushion projects, articles about keeping things juicy with your husband, Martha Stewart cookie a day emails, spring cleaning closet organization tips, perfume and product reviews, "must have" fashion look books, featured kitchens, nursery rooms, offices, living rooms, mud rooms. Food blogs. Photo blogs. Photoshop filter recommendations, brushes, actions. Paper/ graphic design blogs. Chocolate covered pretzel wand recipes. And, quite frankly, I want to do it all (complete with planning a drunken hickfest of a bingo night with friends). I want to be an expert in every last thing. Because I love it all equally. Almost. All this, while attempting to keep a food log and develop an exercise routine. It just ain’t happening.

Jen Lancaster and I began our Balance is Bullshit SXSW (#balanceisbullshit) panel by ping-ponging our way through our to-do lists. Aloud. Jen and I covered everything from picking a winter’s worth of dog shit off a lawn now that the snow has melted, to reading up on potty training techniques (for my children, not my dog). From working on our next books, owing outlines, chapters, proposals to agents, to my Moose outline for film, to her new column, to my network pitch document for a new TV series, to her being nice to her husband, to my making at least one body part sweat and planning a date night with Phil (not necessarily simultaneously), to taking her dog for chemo, to reconstructing a leek bread pudding and remembering to photograph it for my blog this time, to gearing up for book tour, to populating my featured content gallery on this blog (yes, that’s what the rotating display is above this most recent post). The point being, like everyone else, we have shit going on. And just because you can prioritize a to-do list doesn’t mean that you’re balanced.

The Tyra Banks Show phoned me, asking if I’d consider being their relationship expert. I considered it, but I ultimately declined. Because it’s not what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve learned to say, "No," even when everyone around me thinks I should say, "Yes!"

Yes, there are probably items on your to-do list that don’t exactly bring you joy, but for the most part, your list should be populated with things that excite you. (On mine: Construct a chicken pot pie, with homemade crust that involves a puff pastry rooster cutout baked on top). No, no one enjoys getting her girly gadgets checked by a gynecologist—it’s a necessary evil—but if you’re dreading other items on your list, things that don’t involve your health, ask yourself why they’re there at all. You can’t do everything. You need to make choices. You need to learn to say, "No."

I haven’t posted a He Said, She Said video in a while because editing the videos is time consuming. So they’ve slipped off the list, and I’m okay with that. They’re not essential to my life, as much as Phil and I do, actually, enjoy making them. Instead, I use the time to work on projects about which I’m passionate, writing projects. And that’s the way it should be, fill your days and "do’s" with your passions, and leave your weekends free from work. Neither of us work on weekends.

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The fact is, we rarely feel balanced. There are days I suck at being a mom. Other days when I suck at being a blogger, writer, friend, emailer, daughter, wife, neighbor, sister, baker, foodie, tweeting fool. It happens. I can’t possibly construct Montessori moments with my children, complete with sifting and sensory activities, batch-edit photos, create new TV characters and concepts, weed through a feed reader, update my blog design/fonts/blog entries, make a new workout mix, download music, update my Netflix queue, analyze movies, and also find time to exercise, scrapbook, grocery shop, cook, bake something with the over-ripe bananas, read the "book club" book, and write. Never mind socialize! I can’t do it all at one time, but I can find time to do it all. The key? I’m always pursuing what it is I’m most passionate about AT THAT TIME. Most everything else slips away for that hour, that day, that week. And that actually works, with a few exceptions…

I can’t, as much as I’d like to, spend my day baking, crafting, watching movies, and keeping up on interior design trends. Instead, I follow my work passions of the moment during business hours. Whichever project has the closest deadline gets my full attention, unless of course I’m procrastinating, but even when I do that, it usually involves working on the "wrong" work project. If for example, I owe a producer a draft of an act, I might end up working on my next book instead. Or on the network pitch for the new series I’m working on. That, or I’m wasting time on Facebook. But I piss away fewer hours now that I’m trying to work, uninterrupted, from 9am – 4pm. When I know there’s a hard-stop in place, I’m far more disciplined. And it keeps the man happy, because come 4pm, I’m all about my family. Like it or not. And yes, sometimes, it really is NOT. Because when I’m on a writing roll, I don’t want to stop. But I’ve learned, for the health of my marriage, I have to stop, EVEN when Phil tells me not to.

Sometimes an app can be a time-saint. Some of the mac applications that help me keep on task: Spirited Away (focus, clears inactive windows), Focus Booster (time), Pomodoro (time), QuickSilver (search), Scrivener (writing), Evernote (to-do list with web sites, photos, emails, sync with iphone, reads text in photos you take), Things (to do list), TweetFunnel (schedule/assign tweets). Sorry, I don’t have the time (oh, the irony) to write about/ to link to each application. But they’re easy to find with a simple search.

Here are two other recaps of our Balance is Bullshit SXSW panel (sorry, I know I’ve missed others, but you get the overall gist). I’m still recovering from all the panels, parties, movies, and music. I took the week to learn and live, and now I have some serious Pomodoro sessions scheduled to plow through my work (which I find especially delicious now that I’ve taken a short break from it. It’s good to get back to it!) Which I guess is where I’ll close. Sometimes you’ve got to close down, recharge, and get the fcuk outta dodge. Or spend your time in front of the TV planning your next vacation. (We’re still planning a trip to Vietnam/Thailand).

Now, then, never mind. I have to go bake something with over-ripe bananas that will eventually involve cream cheese frosting.



    1. Author

      Thanks Nancy. I’m still figuring out the fonts for the site, but since this task isn’t on my to-do list, I look to readers like you for feedback. Thanks.

  1. Hear, hear! (I just googled and found this is an abbreviation for “hear, all ye good people, hear what this brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say!”)*

    You are very wise:

    1) Limiting your work day
    2) Making lists
    3) Paying attention to your marriage
    4) Trying to get some exercise
    5) Being a great mommy

    And those are just the highlights I got from the first read-through.

    I have been thinking about mortality a lot lately (job hazard). And frankly – if it were all to come to an abrupt end tomorrow, I would want the darlings to remember a happy, fulfilled, busy, contented mom. I would want my parents to say that I was passionate about following my dreams, caring for my babies, and helping people. I would want my co-workers to remember that I was kind, optimistic and effective, and making a difference.

    Note – nowhere on that list does is list having a meticulously clean house, a laundry room that looks anywhere near organized, a clean car nor a sparkly clean fridge.

    Balancing ridiculous things is bullshit – but balancing the important things is what keeps life interesting.

    * (The Straight Dope)

  2. What about apps for those of us on Windows? I know, I know, I’m the anti-christ.

  3. Just want to say I was at your panel because my friend is a huge fan. And now she (and you) have officially made me one, too. Thank you for being so generous with your information!!!

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I had emailed your advice column asking for a post like this about your writing methods. This answers it!

  5. Killer post! Saying no is so hard for us Ms. Perfects who want to please the whole freakin world! I love how you break down how to figure out what to make room for in your life and what top kick to the curb – even if said thing is awesome.

  6. I have read your column for many years now, and have rarely commented. This one touched a nerve. I always feel like I am letting someone down, whether it’s my parents, sisters, fiance, friends, co-workers, students, whoever. Whenever a friend says, “Oh, I never hear from you anymore,” I want to cry. Whenever my fiance says, “Why don’t you grade papers during your prep,” I want to scream. Whenever my students say, “When will that be graded,” I want to scream. Whenever my fellow Bible STudy leaders ask me to lead again, I want to scream, “It’s been three weeks already, and I didn’t go to church this week.” Argghhhhhhhhh. When does it end? I hate looking back on your week and thinking that you did absolutely nothing that you wanted to do, and pleased all the others, and didn’t even do a very good job at that.
    Maybe I’ll have time to go to the bathroom today.

    1. Author

      At the end of the day, when you’re in the bathroom, ask yourself what you did to make you happy. It is, after all, your life. Make your wants a priority, otherwise you’re just begging for more wrinkles and a saggy ass.

    1. Author

      I’m assuming you mean the photo of the man carved into the mountain, not the photo from SXSW. I took it in Italy, Cinque Terre, actually. I hope this helps.

  7. I don’t know what your planning to use for a food log, but I use daily plate at and it’s awesome. :)

  8. I loved the panel and I can honestly say I feel motivated to figure out what it is that I really want to do with my life. I’m still working on that, but I’ll be sure to thank both of you ladies as soon as I decide :)

  9. I was working at my desk so couldn’t attend any SXSWi panels -sad! I loved the concept of this one and totally agree that balance IS bullshit. I feel like my life is just playing whack-a-mole sometimes and I need to lift my head up to see the big picture but I’m just too damn busy, you know?! You are awesome. Hope to see you soon!

  10. Pingback: Oh Pressure One More Time, With Feeling One More Time, With Feeling

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