A Practical Guide to Balancing It All

By Melanie Tawil


Topic: “work-life balance.” 

Google Results: over 900 million.  

Whoever you are, you are not alone in this never-ending search to attain this incredibly unattainable goal. There, I said it: unattainable.  

I myself haven’t unlocked the secret to this struggle. However, I implore you to continue reading for some nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up through the years. I’ve lived many lives: the years after undergrad, attending grad school, life as a politico, and now, owning a business while forging ahead as a 1L at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. The “balance” of life is something I’m continually striving for. Really, I’m an expert striver, because, apparently, all you need to be an expert is an overwhelming knowledge of, or skill in, something. Twenty years of trying and failing, successes that outweigh the failures, and getting up and trying again supplies me with the badge of honor I wear proudly: chaos expert. 

Getting into balance 

So, shall we? 

Merriam-Webster defines balance (verb) as to equal or equalize in weight, number, or proportion. Of course, influencers and life coaches will have you believe the secret to balance is their five simple hacks. I’m not suggesting a radical shift, but I want you to recognize that it’s simpler than we have been told thus far. This may be the most challenging part—remember, it’s a work-life seesaw. 

Define your priorities 

When was the last time you were with yourself? I’m not talking about a vacation or a trip. Just 5-10 minutes of nothing but you, a pen, and your thoughts. Consider yourself your hardest client to nail down a meeting with. You can give your past, present, and future self just a bit of time to write down your overall priorities. Think of this as your vision statement, a place to define who you are. This will take time. If you were a gunner in law school, be kind to yourself and be brutally honest. My therapist likes to call this your boilerplate language: things you ordinarily skim over. If you aren’t flexible, you can get wedged in because of your statement. Vision statements are meant to be revised, so don’t worry about keeping this etched in stone.  

Set the timer, just let it go on paper or in a voice memo. What is it that genuinely makes you happy? What basic principles get you fired up and excited to start your day? What are your best practices? Now here’s the hard part: craft, revisit, revise, scrap, and continue to keep it at the forefront of your day. Whether you’re a digital or tactile person, the point is that you get in line with the essence that is you. Sounds woo-woo, I know, but it really does make an impact to navigate your daily life knowing what priorities you can and can’t compromise as you pile on the tasks, projects, and obligations constantly entering your sphere with a simple click of a calendar invite.  

Experiment: bill yourself 

As an experiment, keep track of how you are spending your time. Be mindful of transitions from activity; this includes your personal hygiene, family, and doom scrolling on social media. At the end of every day, from a nonjudgmental space, take time to look at how you budget your resources. Is there something that doesn’t align with your principled value statement? Not everything will fall in line, and that’s ok. However, the real “balance” will come in how do you recognize and re-evaluate the next day? Simple.  

Meditation expert and teacher Sharon Salzberg promotes the focus technique: “One breath, it’s just one breath.” Seeing where you are before the impulsive acts take place is powerful.  We can’t control everything that invades our calendar space, but we can control how we react and whether we choose to continue the activity, relationship, project, etc.  

Avoid decision fatigue with routines 

Before the pandemic hit, workdays were pretty routine. With all the change the past few years has brought—the dawn of working from home, steadily going back into the office, and trying to fit everything all in a 24-hour cycle— can leave you with anxiety. But you have some control over this “quicksand” effect. Your routine has the power to set the tone for your day. Make your routine work for you.  

I used to have a history teacher in grade school with a sign, “Have a ______ Day.” It’s been nearly thirty years, and I still follow that mantra. That path is yours, and your routine is the spark. Routines set the tone; they give you structure, that warmth, so that, if nothing else, you brushed your teeth and got some movement in. You must decide what the routine looks like for you. A popular book called The Morning Miracle recommended their readers wake up at 5 am. Thus, you will become a better human, and all of humanity's problems will be solved.  That couldn’t be more wrong. If you want to sit and stare at a wall for a few minutes before you start your day, I feel that on a cellular level. But the morning is where you set out your tone for the day, so make sure your routine reflects your priorities.  

Prioritize enjoyment when tending to your physical health. 

Provide yourself with a 30–60-minute window in the morning to focus on your physical health. My husband likes to call my window “Melanie’s Human Time” because it really does just make me feel like a human. Afterwards, I feel like I can go out into the world, functioning as a reasonably prudent and happy adult. I need to stick to that routine, though.  

If something doesn’t feel right anymore, swap it out. I used to truly enjoy 5 a.m. CrossFit with my friends, and then one day, I just didn’t, so I stopped going after I got over the fear of people-pleasing. If you’ve decided to do that six-mile run in the morning, every morning, but today you’d rather dance for three minutes while humming to songs from Broadway musicals (Six! The Musical is a Tawil family favorite), dance! 

Because you can’t talk about physical health without mental health, and, in most cases mental health is higher on the ladder, seek help. No one wants a droopy advocate. Ever heard of masking? Imagine a world where you are constantly taking on new roles, but they’re not quite fitting. It gets exhausting to take new things on without giving yourself a break or taking time to just be. Depression and anxiety are two of my oldest friends, and I have come to welcome them instead of battling my negative emotions. But this only happened after therapy and seeking medical attention. Those two buddies come in various forms: be on the lookout for their manifestations like anger, doubt, and overthinking. 

The magic happens when you add these wellness structures to your professional life. Your work routine should be adaptive like your personal routines. Just like personal non-negotiables, your professional non-negotiables are present as well. If you have a partner or work with a team, message them that you will be working on a project or a file for a definite amount of time; only you can figure out how long that will be. Hold yourself accountable to this time, and don’t let anything get in the way, not even that fun lunch that someone invited you to. Even with the best of intentions, you will look for any distractions because it’s scary to focus on your big task of the day. Productivity apps like Motion, Asana, Notion, and TiiMO have become popular, and they work wonderfully to keep you on task. Make them work for you. Keep that schedule like a game for every task you’ve been avoiding, set a time you think it will take to accomplish them, then start that timer. 

Have fun with your harmony 

What are your non-negotiables, and how do you incorporate those into your life? Every day, you need to be the best advocate for your number one client: yourself. Former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade once told me, “Be where your feet are.” At first, I thought, “Wow, what a noble idea. Must be nice to have that kind of relaxed thought of mind.” But after employing strategies to recover from burnout, and to straighten out my priorities, I get it. I can’t advocate for anyone else if I’m not advocating for myself. 

Melanie Aranda Tawil is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for business development. She and her husband founded SwipeTrack Solutions, LLC in 2011, after seeing a void in the mobile software and hardware industry. . In 2022, pivoting to advocacy work while pursuing her J.D. at Mitchell Hamline School of Law through their Blended Learning Program, continuing to serve as a member of San Antonio’s VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Trustees. Melanie avoids the word “balance” and prefers to harmonize - flowing through life as a working mom and contributing community member leading through action.