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If you're struggling with stress and work-life balance, Ann Gatty has two tools that might help. One is psychological, a framework for think about your situation: The concept of chapters, as part of the story of your life. The other is a graphic, a wheel of life, which guides you to take stock of imbalances and figure out how to remedy the situation.

Dr. Gatty, who has a PhD in instruction and learning, has been a Pennsylvania-based management consultant with her husband for many years, working with firms to assist employees through organizational change. She was struck by how often that meant addressing the struggles women face with work-life balance, and so evolved into also offering services as a life coach, through "They are struggling to calm the chaos between working and life," she said in an interview. Of course, many men are as well, and the ideas apply to them.

It starts with identifying the chapter of life you are currently in, which might be quite different from where you were a few years ago and where you'll be in another few years. You might be dealing with toddlers, or changing from one career to another, or grappling with divorce, or entering the empty nest phase. Usually, she says, there are defining moments that mark the passage from one chapter to another.

Identifying the chapter is a step towards becoming the author of your own life. You want to take control of the story, rather than let it happen to you. That involves looking at your strengths and opportunities, for example, developing a support network to help you through your current challenges. "You have more control than you may be aware of," she insists.

On journeys, we take suitcases. But difficulties ensue if we overpack. She says the same can arise with our journey through life, and at each stage you need to examine what can be discarded as no longer relevant. So you may be volunteering in an organization that no longer serves its – or your – purpose. Or this may be an appropriate juncture to jettison a toxic relationship.

"Thinking about chapters also keeps you focused on living and enjoying the present, rather than worrying about the past or future. People worry so much about the future they don't enjoy today – they don't smell the roses," she says.

In addressing issues, her clients invariably find benefit from working with the wheel of life she has developed. It has six elements you must address, initially by giving yourself a score from one to 10 for the amount of time you spend on that aspect of your life, with 10 high:

Physical environment: This refers to where you are living. Time may revolve around gardening, renovating, taking walks in your rural environment, or shovelling the driveway.

Career and financial: This focuses on making your money. Are you a workaholic? How many hours a week do you put in? If you are spending 50 hours a week on your career, that's almost half your waking hours.

Physical health: This covers food, exercise, and maintaining your health. She says that along with spiritual and personal growth, this is an area that women fall down on. They are so busy taking care of everyone else they fail to take care of themselves. "They have super to-do lists that nobody could complete. They try to do too much in too little time and feel guilty because they can't accomplish what no human being could accomplish," she observes. This is where you want to drop things from your suitcase, saying no to obligations. She urges you to actually practise saying no in front of a mirror – get used to how it feels, and how you look – and remember that saying no to something means saying yes to something else more important.

Significant other, family, and friends: Kids, of course, can be a major drain on time. Often parents end up saving time by cutting back on their own relationship, becoming like two ships passing in the night.

Spiritual and personal growth: This might cover time with your religious group, or continuous learning courses you are taking.

Fun and recreation: This is your leisure time pursuits, from sports to hobbies.

The idea is to plot a dot on the circle of life for each element and then connect them, which will show the high and low points in your life in terms of time allocation, and how balanced the array is. Naturally, it is unlikely to be balanced, and given the chapter of your life that may be perfectly reasonable.

But she then asks you to also list those six categories in terms of the levels of satisfaction you have, from top to bottom, with the numerical score from the wheel for hours devoted to them beside each. This will illuminate your time allocation through another lens, allowing you to consider what changes might boost your satisfaction. "If you're spending all your hours running the kids around and want to join a gardening club, figure out how to make a change. Maybe you only have to do it two days a week, and can arrange car pooling with other moms," she says. "The key is to save some of the hours sucked out that are a barrier to achieving your goals for this chapter of your life," she says.

So think of chapters. Plot your time on the wheel of life, and combine that with your satisfaction levels to readdress your life balance.

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