Work/Life Balance

Ever watch the highwire tightrope walking act at the circus? Were you in awe of how the performers maintained balance? On an equally remarkable level, we perform balancing acts each and every day. Sometimes we make it look so easy. Sometimes we stumble; without the safety net of a trapeze.

Some people appear to easily move along in their lives, meeting all their personal goals while getting their work done as well. Others are often faced with missed deadlines, stress overload, poor sleeping, and a feeling of poor achievement in both work and personal lives. The difference between these two categories of people is their approach to getting things done.

Balance is a process. It is something you work towards on a continual basis. A balanced person can quickly become unraveled and unbalanced if he fails to properly assess priorities, commitments and personal needs. Likewise, the unbalanced person can quickly become balanced if he uses his time to achieve control and order in his life.

Finding a balance between your work life and personal life entails examining your beliefs, your personal care (nutrition and sleep), relationships, spiritual life, and recreation. Sometimes people can’t find balance because they grow up with unhealthy concepts that influence their sense of self worth. For example, some students believe that their parents only value them if they bring home good grades. When they grow up, this sense of value that is connected to achievement transfers over to work. As an adult, their sense of self is externally based, which is the recipe for becoming a full blown workaholic. They find that family, recreation, nutrition and even sleep assumes a much lower priority to their job. These people could never walk across the trapeze without falling – they have no balance in life. In their lives, the fall off a trapeze is a failed marriage, alcohol dependency, early heart attack, and social isolation.

At other times people can’t find balance between work and personal lives because they are dissatisfied with one of them. If your job is the cause for the unbalance in your life, look to see what can be changed. If a two-hour commute each way to work is cause for endless stress, consider moving closer to your job, carpooling, or even getting an apartment nearby work for three days/week. If the job is dull, and there are no other jobs available in this down market, determine what you can do to develop a expertise niche in the work that you are doing. You will be able to take this specialization elsewhere with you.

If your imbalance is because of personal distress, such as chaos from blended families, or marital discord, determine where the source of discord is arising from. Rather than continue to react to or run from the unhappiness in the household, examine what is lacking and begin introducing it to the family. For example, if everyone in the household is disrespectful and sharp tongued with each other, try establishing a game night, where cooperation and fun are all that are expected of anyone. Bring snacks, and be ready to rekindle the caring, fun and love in the home.

Finally, to manage your life instead of your life managing you, incorporate the two easy tools of list keeping and taking care of yourself.

One person I worked with found that he couldn’t let go of the stress from work when he arrived home. I discovered that he worked very close to home and hadn’t had the time to unwind when barraged at the door by his wife and three young children. When he became my client, he had started going to a bar after work to unwind. We quickly came up with a healthier plan. He remembered that he had always enjoyed his fish tanks as a child. So he installed an exotic fish tank in his home. The new tradition he established in his life was for him to drive home after work, kiss his wife and kids, and then have 15 minutes in his home office tending to and observing his fish. His wife initially felt rejected, and the kids thought their father’s behavior was odd, but eventually they all came to understand and respect his need for some personal time. Better yet, they really enjoyed the unstressed husband and father who emerged from his fish tank visits each evening.

So what else can you do? You know you are busy. Perhaps your schedule borders on hectic? In which case, I would like to share a technique I learned about while attending a seminar: establish two lists: a ‘To Do’ and a ‘To Stop’ list.

The ‘To Do’ list prioritizes all the tasks you need to perform. It helps prevent you from forgetting items needing attention. It also helps you perform tasks in a more time efficient manner. For example, if buying milk and going to the post office are both on your list, you will be able to tie those activities into one car trip, rather than remembering just before dinner that you need more milk and making a chaotic dash to the grocery store. ‘To Do’ lists can be made with the intention of being completed each day. Or, they can be running lists of items you intend to address over time. In either case, when a task is completed, you simply cross it off your list.

The ‘To Stop’ list keeps you from doing unproductive activities that inhibit your happiness or otherwise keep you from accomplishing your goals. An item on your ‘To Stop’ list could be as simple as “Do Not Read Emails/Texts As Soon As They Arrive”. Reading and responding to electronic communications is a time waster. They have to be tended to, but perhaps just twice during the work day. Otherwise, they create distractions from getting the higher priority tasks completed. Having a ‘To Stop’ list helps you in reevaluating your working habits and conscious of the negative habits that develop.

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