Francis Wade | How to restore your broken work-life balance
Unlike other problems professionals face, issues of work-life balance don't happen overnight.
How do you, as an ambitious employee, confront, overcome and master this challenge?
Consider two cases:
1. A retired executive reports: "I delegated my children to my wife. Apparently, she didn't do a very good job because now that I am retired with lots of time to spend with the grandkids, none of them want anything to do with me!"
2. A mother of a GSAT student spends two years fighting for a new promotion. On the day that it's announced, she gets a text from her son. He's just "passed" for a high school whose name sends shivers down her spine; its name will only solicit piteous looks from her friends. A few minutes later, one sends her a text: "My daughter got into Campion! My late nights and weekends paid off!!" She tucks away her smartphone, wondering if the cost to her son's prospects was worth her personal gain.
These are not isolated incidents, nor are these the only symptoms. Overweight, divorce, and spiritual crises are just a few that hardworking people experience when there is an imbalance. While you are trying your best to lead a successful life, how can you prevent yourself from falling into a deep rut one small stumble at a time?
1. Overcoming a scaling problem
In my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I chronicle a common story. Someone who was successful in high school, college, and their early career experiences work-life balance issues in later life. For example, they can never catch up on their email. What has happened?
It's simple: the techniques they used to reach their early success no longer work, but it's not because they are lazy. The habits, practices, and rituals that were the keys to their success at an early age are inappropriate for their adult selves.
Remember when you were 16 years old and could consume copious amounts of sweet, fatty, greasy foods? None of it registered on the scale so you became accustomed to eating for the enjoyment of your palate. Now, that very same behaviour gets you in trouble because your metabolism has slowed to a crawl, but you don't have what it takes to make it to the gym more than once every other week ... sometimes.
To understand the big picture, replace calories with "time demands." A time demand is an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Closing out each of them provides a feeling of fulfilment. Early on, as a teenager, you discovered that creating more of them was the first step to a greater sense of accomplishment.
However, as an adult, you must learn to say no, while simultaneously developing new techniques to handle greater volumes of time demands. If you don't, the results are predictable you steal time from your personal life in order to meet the requirements of your job, creating an imbalance. Just like your teenage eating habits, your immature practices for managing time demands create an adult problem.
Realising this fact is the first step. Here is the next one to take in order to upgrade your techniques, even as others around you flounder.
2. Putting in place the ideal week
You must plan out your entire week. Learn to use recurring events in your electronic calendar and lay out times to do your choice of the following:
Exercise. (Include the time it takes to wake up properly, dress, drive to and from the location and recover.)
- Eat. (The number of people who skip meals or take lunch at 5 p.m. is alarming.)
- Sleep. (If you fall asleep watching the television, consider using an alarm that starts your bedtime routine.)
- Process all your email. (Most professional jobs require you to periodically empty your inbox.)
- Spend time with your spouse and kids. (In an earlier article, I mentioned the recommendation to spend a minimum of 15 hours per week with your spouse.)
- Set aside quiet time. (Schedule rejuvenation, meditation, reflection and prayer as often as you need.)
- Plan. (Each day deserves its own schedule so that you are not driven by emergencies.)
This ideal week is your foundation an extreme act of self-care.
3. Maintaining your calendar
Given the importance of your ideal week, your calendar becomes central to your well-being, so it's carried with you at all times, usually in your smartphone. It becomes your defence against the demands of the world, the place where you have already decided what is important: a reason to say no. You begin to realise that taking lunch every day at noon is a fight for your right to live life on your terms. It simply does not come for free. Leaving it up to the circumstances or mere 'buck-up' is a slippery slope to one day needing emergency surgery for a blistering ulcer.
These modern techniques are the keys to preventing bad daily practices from accumulating into long-term problems. Take charge right away so you can make a slow but steady difference.
- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity'. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: email@example.com.