don’t wait to prioritize your life over your career

i’m constantly torn between two concepts:

  1. Make time for personal projects
  2. Simplify and focus your energy

You’ve probably heard the story from the most excellent James Clear — Warren Buffett tells his pilot, asking for career advice, to make a list of 25 career goals, then circle the top 5. He then tells him to ditch all but those top 5.

“Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

i think about this a lot.

About devoting your energy only to a few things — laser focus instead of shotgun focus. I love to simplify, so this appeals to me. However, I also have a lot of things I want to do. Now that I’m actually attempting to create space in my life, I’m constantly weighing things in my head. Should I do A or B? Which is a better investment of my time?

This week I finally realized why this has been on my mind so much. When I wrote about making time for personal space back in July, it was because I’d just had the epiphany that it’s not wrong to take time for yourself. As a matter of fact, it’s unhealthy NOT to take vacation time or to have some sort of side project. I wrote in July:

“In order to invest in the things that matter to me, I will ALWAYS have to temporarily step away from work for other people... I’ve been living my life as though I can somehow “catch up” if I just work hard enough. I can’t. There will always be another thing. And if my prerequisite for relaxing is after “just one more thing” I’ll never relax.”

I’ve read similar thoughts by others; you probably have as well. But there’s a big difference between reading–mentally agreeing with something–and having it actually click in your mind. It took a long time for that to click.

this week’s epiphany

I realized I’m trying to cram 6–8 years of lost personal time into my life at once. I’m trying to form too many new habits simultaneously because I’ve been neglecting nearly every area of my life for that long.

I need to start making more art.
I want to actually make an effort at playing bass.
I need to start working out again.
I want to invest more in my relationships.

Are all these important? Which do I focus on first? Which do I toss aside if I can only focus on 5 things? When you spend years thinking personal space is nothing more than a luxury, when you stop taking care of yourself, it will eventually catch up with you.

Warren Buffett was giving career advice. Your lifestyle is the foundation for your career: your physical health determines your energy levels, time away from work brings new insights. Passion projects build your creativity and spiritual practice stretches you and your relationship to the world. We live in such a workaholic culture it’s easy to forget that all this stuff matters.

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.”
— John Dryden

a lesson 6 years in the making

To those of you early in careers, starting new businesses, or freelancing: It’s easy to throw yourself into your work when you love what you do, but without consistently making time for yourself, for the things that energize you, you WILL burn out. I know I tend toward the extreme; applying moderation to my life has always been a constant learning process. But had I established a lifestyle of balance before work got busy and we had a kid, I would no doubt feel less of a “how do I fit everything in now” mentality.

6 years of ignorance cannot be fixed in 6 months.

When things get busy, personal projects are always the first to go. Protect that space. Start early; start young. Set boundaries now, so when work picks up your stress levels don’t. Because it will — if you don’t prepare when things are easy, you’ll be scrambling when things are hard.

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

If you read this and thought “this is me! what now?” I highly recommend meditating, morning pages, and tracking your habits. Whatever that thing is that gets you into a state of flow… make time for it, even if it’s 10 minutes. Just start somewhere.

This post originally appeared on Medium.