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Balancing act: Can you find 'life' during another busy Saturday?

As I've grown older, I've found that the easiest way to mark the passage of time has been the change in how I spend my Saturdays. But though my weekends are busier now than they were in my youth, I can still use them to improve my work-life balance.
As I've grown older, I've found that the easiest way to mark the passage of time has been the change in how I spend my Saturdays. But though my weekends are busier now than they were in my youth, I can still use them to improve my work-life balance.

As I've grown older, I've found that perhaps the easiest way to mark the passage of time has been the change in how I spend my Saturdays.

When I was a child, a Saturday during the school year was the best day of the week. I daydreamed about it during classes. I planned for it with friends, talking about what we were going to do when the weekend came. And then, when the big day arrived, I couldn't wait for it to get started.

Saturday morning was chore time, so my sister and I helped dust the house, vacuum the carpets and do some other cleaning. Then I'd watch a few cartoons, have lunch and head outside to spend time with my friends.

If it was fall or spring, we'd ride our bikes around the neighborhood or play elaborate games that ranged for blocks. It was like we were trying to catch a little piece of summer and hold onto it for that one day.

During the wintertime, we'd build snow forts or have snowball fights. If the weather was really nasty — and this was South Dakota, so horrible weather was a routine part of winter — we'd play in my basement, inventing games, running around and having lots of fun.

As I got older, my Saturday activities changed.

When I was in high school, the morning chores were still there, and afternoons and evenings were again spent with friends. But afternoons were good for hanging out at the local shopping mall, dropping quarters into video games at the arcade. Evenings and nights were dedicated to playing tennis, basketball or any other available outside sport when the weather was decent, or maybe watching TV at a friend's house when it wasn't. (We watched at a friend's house because mine didn't have cable. Yes, I know, it's a miracle that I survived.)

When we got a bit older and had our driver's licenses, we'd spend hours on Saturday nights cruising Broadway, listening to awesome ’80s rock on the radio, talking about school and girls and music and girls and movies and girls. Also, girls.

College Saturdays changed again. We generally didn't have any chores to do, other than some laundry, so it was a great day for sleeping in, watching sports on TV, maybe playing a pickup game of football and often attending a sporting event during the day or evening.

(During most of these activities, we would, again, be talking about girls. Some things didn't change.)

College days soon ended and were followed, for me, by life as a young married guy. My wife and I lived in South Dakota, Wales (in the United Kingdom) and Utah during the first years of our marriage, and we loved Saturdays.

We would almost always sleep in, often until noon. Afternoons and evenings were great for reading, napping (even though we had slept in), catching a movie, wandering around a museum, going to dinner with another couple or otherwise just enjoying a day of leisure.

But with the arrival of children, homeownership and a more demanding job, Saturdays took a major turn away from leisure.

I still look forward to the weekend, and I picture Saturday as a day for tipping the work-life balance scales back toward "life." Sometimes, I do get to sleep in, read a book, take one of my children out on a father-kid outing, go to a movie with family or do something else that makes me feel like I'm living in my younger days.

But much of the time, Saturday feels like just another day of the week. I may not be at the office, but I'm still working. I'm down in the basement doing laundry. And then I'm out in the yard mowing or raking or shoveling snow (depending on the season). I'm running to the store to stock up on food for the week. And I'm driving children around to various activities or events.

By the end of the average Saturday, I'm at least as tired as I am at the end of any other workday.

That tends to make me a bit grumpy. "What happened to my Saturdays?" I grumble to myself. "What happened to the sleeping in and the hanging out? To the fun? How am I supposed to build better work-life balance when all I have time to do is work, whether it's at the office or at home?"

At those times, I try to pause, take a deep breath and change my point of view.

Yes, my Saturdays aren't as carefree as they once were. But they still hold their charms.

I find joy in sharing the experience of doing chores with my children. That may sound odd, but it really is fun teaching a child how to do something around the house. And I've found that calling a kid in to help sort the laundry can give me some valuable one-on-one conversation time.

I find satisfaction in accomplishing the tasks on my to-do list. Even if the work is tiring, it's always nice to know you've finished a job and done it well.

I find relaxation by taking a moment to stop one of my outdoor tasks and look for beauty in the world around me. Something as simple as listening to the wind blow through the trees or watching snowflakes fall softly to the ground can refresh a person's spirit.

I find fun by listening to the sounds of my children laughing as they play together, riding their bikes, practicing softball and making up games of their own.

Their Saturdays will change, too, as they get older. And they may someday wonder how they're supposed to build a balanced life when there's always so much to do.

But perhaps I can teach them that one of the secrets of building work-life balance is to find "life" at unexpected times and in unusual places.

Maybe I can set a better example and help them learn how to look for those moments of joy, satisfaction, relaxation and fun — even in the middle of yet another busy Saturday.

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