Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

10 Steps to Improve the Work-Life Teeter-Totter (Balance)

In the last post we discussed whether work-life balance is a myth and explained it is more like a teeter-tooter. In this post we’ll review 10 steps you can take to help yourself achieve a better work-life balance.

1. Look after you first – Sleep, exercise, diet, relaxation

The absolute most important thing you have to do is look after yourself first. If you are not healthy, fit, or well-rested, there is no way you will be effective at work or in life. It’s not dissimilar to the emergency message on a plane advising to put your air mask on first. This is to keep you safe but also so you can help others that may not be able to help themselves. It’s the same in work-life. If you are not at your best, you will not be most effective to support your family, friends, or team at work. This really should go without saying, but look around. Many people do not treat this as the #1 work-life priority at all!

2. Clearly define your life’s passions

We’ve all heard the saying that when lying on your death bed, no one says “I wish I worked more”. No matter who you are, you will retire some day, then what? You no longer have that big title or position. So, figure out what your passions are both within your work and your personal life. Define them clearly as to what they are and who you are relative to them. Then set goals and objectives to pursue those passions and go get them. When done right, these are what define you, what motivates you, satisfies you, and lasts your lifetime far beyond your career. They will become who you are.

3. Set long term personal goals and the aligning annual objectives

This is such a powerful tool but it surprises me how few people actually do it. Life just happens and steals our time if we don’t deliberately spend some of our time on the things most important to us. My family and I have set long term family and personal goals for years. It’s amazing how many of our goals we have achieved either as a family or individuals. We have a well defined process of setting our long term goals, then each year develop specific actions or objectives for that year that move towards the accomplishment of the longer term goal. Many people have goals and ideas, but they stop there. They don’t figure out how to actually achieve them. I’m not sure if they think they will just happen? In setting these goals, you are more likely to do and achieve the things that are most important to you rather than let life take you where-ever it takes you!

4.Start your day early (~1 hour before you have to get up)

This can be tough, particularly if you treat Step 1 as the top priority, but I swear by this one! Many people start their day stressed right out as they have hit snooze three times, figured out every minute they can cut from their morning routine to save time, skip a proper breakfast in favour of a coffee and donut at the drive through, and perform a trial lap worthy of the Indy 500 as they race to work in fear of being late. Day after day, after day. Getting up one hour before you have to get up can be so invigorating and stress reducing. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in this time. To get up without having to rush, exercising, getting your personal and work life organized, listening to the news or weather, checking your social media, or simply enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee, is wonderful… try it!

5. Have a plan, adjust the plan

Have a plan for both your personal life and work. This is different than Step 3 goals and objectives and is more about a plan of how you will go about doing things. Be deliberate and don’t leave things to chance. Plan ahead by scheduling events and blocking the time in your calendar for professional and personal priorities. Be prepared to adjust your plan as things will change. The point here is to adjust, not cancel or abandon.

6. Get the top priorities (Big rocks) done first

Another common sense practice that isn’t so common; get your top priorities done first. This applies to work and personal life. The rest will get done. They won’t happen by accident, you have to make time for them and put the effort in to get them done. Determine what your top priorities are and re-evaluate them at least weekly. The priorities won’t necessarily change, however, your focus on them may need to change and adjust over time. For more on this check the post Effective Leadership Skills – Personal Planning.

7. Don’t let other people’s procrastination become your priority

From early in my career I remember a sign in one of the buyers cubicles that said “Procrastination on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency purchase order on my part!” I’ve never forgotten this and now have a much better appreciation of it. Don’t let yourself be distracted or have your time taken away by others that are not organized or procrastinate until the last minute. That is their problem. Stay focused on your top priorities. Now this not to say you abandon and ignore your team, but it also doesn’t mean you have to drop what you are doing or be interrupted on a whim. Establish “office hours” and rules of engagement that satisfy your priorities while being there to help/support others and your team, but on your terms.

8. Watch out for avoidance activities or excessive relaxation

Work hard, play hard is a great saying that I do believe in. In addition to this, we all need to relax and do other things now and again. What we have to be aware of though and watch out for is avoidance activities that we convince ourselves are important and necessary but in reality are just a distraction and deterrent from the really important activities we need and want to get done. They may serve a purpose and need to get done, but we have to watch that we don’t overdo it to avoid or procrastinate from getting to the more important. Similarly, we all need to relax, rest, and rejuvenate, but there is excessive relaxation that can steal hours away well beyond the good they initially provided.

9. Minimize the line between work and the rest of your life

This is somewhat dependent upon the amount of autonomy you have in your job, but the idea is we are all one individual so why is there sometimes such a definitive line between work and life? This includes being of the same character at work as you are at home, allowing personal things to sometimes overflow into your work space, and vice versa. Too much segregation between the two just creates stress. It’s not different than a relationship with your partner; it’s all about compromise and give and take.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Easier said than done I realize but just think for a minute of all the things you have worried about over the years. Now think of how many times what you worried about actually happened. Not very many! I’m not suggesting you become carefree and not give a @$!& about anything, but rather seriously consider, what is the worst that can happen? What is the likelihood of this happening? Can I control it? If your answer to any of these questions in inconsequential, then stop worrying about it and don’t sweat it. Generally your imagination is far worse than the reality, so don’t waste your time worrying about it. Most “small” things can be undone, repaired, or don’t really matter in the long run.

What steps do you take to help with a better work-life balance? Please share your suggestions by leaving a comment.
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