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If you want your work-life balance to improve by the end of 2013, it's unlikely to happen by chance. You must plan some changes to your life that will offer relief, and then take action, in a steady, determined fashion.

Over the past year, The Globe and Mail has been publishing quarterly score cards with an accompanying step-by-step questionnaire for improving work-life balance, and reporting on some of the successes readers have secured.

Lynn Robson, a 58-year-old resident of Durham Region to the east of Toronto is one of the more recent. She happened on the scorecard on the Globe Careers website in the fall and out of curiosity started to re-evaluate her situation and how she might improve. She had moved from Toronto to a rural area outside Oshawa so she could take a paralegal course at Durham College. Now, with the two-year course completed, she is trying to set up a paralegal business and feels under tremendous stress, working long hours trying to get herself known and gain clients – and short of funds after investing in education, living rurally without a car, and finding social life a struggle. "It's hard to build a social life when trying to build a business. It's kind of hard to have a social life when you don't have money," she noted in an interview.

She set three goals, to start in successive months from October: Work on her business, volunteer (since it can lead to business and social contacts), and get out more. She has since obtained some volunteer work on an indoor trail, where people walk for exercise, and had some progress getting her embryonic business known. She also has been trying to get out more – at the minimum every day for a walk – since she recognized being cooped up in her office is deadening.

"I'm making some progress. Things aren't going as fast as I like to go. But they're probably going as fast as I can expect," she says.

That realistic sentiment is probably worth remembering if you fill out the questionnaire yourself. It's not designed for miraculous improvement, but step-by-step progress. The questionnaire leads you through the areas of stress and imbalance in your life, asking you to pick the most important. It guides you into considering the forces that prevent you from making progress, and also the forces – family, friends, counsellors, and reward incentives you might give yourself – that could help you move toward a saner lifestyle.

It asks you to set out some steps you might take in the coming year, suggesting one for each quarter, and then breaking those down into substeps. Don't neglect to break it down; goals always look too formidable unless carved down into chunks. And record everything, as you are filling it out, in your calendar. Over the year, as we've checked back with people who filled out the questionnaire, we found many neglected that step, and although they have still taken action, writing it down may have propelled them ahead a bit further.

2013 awaits. So does progress in combating stress and adjusting your work-life balance, if you recognize the need to act, set realistic goals, and try your best to move toward them.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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