Leading with Trust

Seek Work-Life Harmony, Not Balance – 5 Key Strategies

WorkLifeBalanceWork-life balance is a fallacy.

The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we have to give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.

Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.

1. Be clear about your purpose in life – First of all, you need to know that you matter. You are not here by accident. You were created for a purpose in life and there is no one else like you on this planet. Second, clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life. My life purpose is to use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and ambassador of God’s grace and truth. It’s the unifying force that energizes how I live, determines my priorities, illumines what’s truly valuable in life, and provides perspective and purpose to all I do. If you need help writing a personal mission/purpose statement, check out this five-step process from my friend and colleague Jesse Stoner.

2. Seek contentment, not happiness – Our society is good at selling the lie that you can have it all. We buy into the myth and then wonder why we’re discontent and unhappy when we discover it’s not possible to be the brilliant CEO, perfect parent, super coach of the sports team, and committed community volunteer. “Happiness” is the pop-psychology topic du jour and there’s no shortage of literature and experts telling us that achieving happiness should be our primary goal in life. Happiness is dependent on your circumstances, whereas contentment comes from a deep-seated joy and satisfaction of living out your life purpose. Happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment. Happiness comes and goes; contentment sticks.

3. Understand the seasons of life – Life is defined by seasons, just as we see in nature as Spring leads to Summer, which turns to Fall, which gives way to Winter. In different seasons of our lives we will have different priorities. Whether it’s completing our education as young adults and getting established in our careers, to raising a family, to increasing our influence and impact in the work we do as seasoned veterans, or ushering in a new generation of leadership, our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way.

4. Establish reasonable boundaries – When you are clear on your life’s purpose, core values, and beliefs, you are able to make wise decisions about the use of your time, talent, and treasure. You can support work-life harmony by setting up systems and structures that keep you focused on the most important priorities in your life. The banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle. Setup healthy boundaries that keep you focused in the right direction.

5. Be present – Because we operate from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony, we tend to engage in a constant mental battle of worrying about how much time we’re devoting to one particular area of our life. It creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life. When we’re at work we’re mentally consumed with what we should be doing at home. When we’re home we’re not engaged with our families because we’re preoccupied with what we need to do at work. Enough already! Being present and focused in the moment increases our joy and satisfaction tremendously which benefits us in all areas of our life.

Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.

Are You Suffering from FOMO? Five Steps to Restore Margin in Your Life

I was feeling stressed and overloaded last week. I had too many important things to do and the lack of margin (time & space) in my life was causing tension and anxiety.

There was the training class I was observing and co-facilitating, the important meetings with colleagues to figure out solutions to significant organizational change issues, last-minute details to iron out for my global team meeting of 50 staff members next week, the online college class I’m in the middle of teaching, the pending deadline for a magazine article, an upcoming client training event to prepare for, and as President of my local youth baseball league, getting a season’s worth of games scheduled and helping my 19 year-old son get the snack bar operation up and running.

It’s all good stuff that I enjoy doing and feel blessed to have the opportunity to participate in, and I have no right to complain since I made the choice to accept these various responsibilities. Many of these obligations are temporary, and once taken care of, I’ll have a healthy amount of margin restored to my life. Yet for many people, living life with no margin is a daily reality. Consider these statistics:

  • 26% of adult Americans report being on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown
  • 53% of employees would opt for a personal assistant rather than personal trainer
  • Compared to 1970, American managers are working an additional month per year
  • Americans are working more hours than any time since the 1920s. 63% of Americans log more than 40 hours per week at the office, and 40% log more than 50 hours per week
  • 62% of workers routinely end the day with work-related neck pain, 44% report strained eyes, 38% complain of hand pain, and 34% report difficulty in sleeping due to work-related stress
  • 66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day
  • 61% continue to check email while on vacation
  • 26% of Americans take no vacations at all
  • 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life
  • 70% of working fathers and working mothers report they don’t have enough time for their children

The sad thing is that many of us bring this problem on ourselves. The reason we have no margin in life is that we suffer from FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. Whether it’s our own competitive ambitions, workaholic nature, or the fear of economic uncertainty that drives us, we often feel the need to accept every opportunity that comes our way.

One of the biggest causes of FOMO is social media and our hyper-connected world of technology. I’m an advocate of the power of social media and the use of technology to improve our lives, yet it also has the ability to become a digital leash to work and rob us of margin. Daniel Gulati’s HBR blog article, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, discusses how social media can create a culture of comparison which is a key driver of unhappiness. We see the posts  of our friends and colleagues (which are almost always positive in nature) and feel that if we aren’t experiencing the same level of success or happiness then something must be wrong with us. So FOMO drives us to keep up with the Jones’ and we cram more stuff into our already hectic lives.

Succumbing to the dangers of FOMO reminds me of the airplane scene from the movie Jerry Maguire. Single-mother Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) is in coach-seating, sadly gazing at Jerry (Tom Cruise) in first-class who is engaged in spirited conversation with a beautiful woman colleague who seems to have everything in life that Dorothy doesn’t. Dorothy’s toddler son asks “What’s wrong, Mommy?” She replies “First class, that’s what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it’s a better life.”

So what can we do to help restore margin in our lives? Here’s five steps:

1. Be clear on your purpose and priorities — If you don’t have a clear purpose and priorities that guide your decisions, then other people will determine your course for you. Our current position and condition in life is the result of a series of small decisions we’ve made over the course of time. Sometimes there are big, life-changing experiences that cause stress and anxiety, but usually our feelings of being overloaded result from the accumulation of little commitments and obligations we’ve taken on without thoughtfully examining if they fit into our overall purpose and goals in life.

2. Say “no” — This is extremely difficult for many people! Most of us want to be helpful and serve others, yet every time we say “yes” to something, we are in effect saying “no” to other potential opportunities. Sometimes we say “yes” out of ego or pride. We think we can do the best job so we take on the responsibility. Saying “no” to opportunities that don’t fit your overall purpose and goal can give other people an opportunity to step up to the plate and experience growth and success.

3. Learn to be content with your limitations — We all like to think we can do anything we set our mind to, and it’s almost counter-cultural to suggest otherwise. The reality is that we can’t do it all. Those who are happiest in life are those that have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are, and to focus their time and energy in areas where they perform best. There’s a tremendous amount of relief that comes from being able to say “You know, I’m not the best at doing that. Why don’t you give someone else the opportunity?”

4. Plan for problems — One of the reasons we are over-stressed is that we don’t plan for problems. So when problems inevitably arise, we don’t have any margin to deal with them. We’re always under the stress of deadlines, limited budget, and few resources. When accepting responsibilities, we should plan for contingencies. What if it takes longer than expected? What if I don’t have all the right resources? What if the budget dries up? What if the client changes her mind?

5. Take your vacation days — This may sound mundane, but it’s a practical strategy to prevent burnout. If you’re fortunate enough to have paid vacation days, take them! Vacation days are part of your paid compensation, and neglecting to use them is giving away money that you’ve earned. You don’t have to wait for that dream vacation to the Italian Riviera to manifest itself before you take time off work. Make the effort to intentionally plan time away, and when you do go on vacation, leave the smart phone and laptop at home.

Relationships are developed in the margins of life, and leadership is about developing people. If you don’t have margin, you probably don’t have time to be a leader.

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