By Steve McClatchy
Work/life balance is one of the most elusive and sought after values in business today. Employers recognize that out of balance or burned out employees can impact morale, engagement, attendance, productivity, retention, quality and even customer satisfaction so the stakes are high. With so much at stake, why has work/life balance been so hard to figure out?
The problem is that balance is not something that can be provided as part of a benefits package. One organization can’t offer more work/life balance to its employees than another. Employers can offer a more flexible work schedule, child care, financial services, etc., but these things can only help you manage life more efficiently; they won’t give you the feeling of balance. If balance is a feeling that comes and goes throughout our careers, what is it specifically that creates the feeling?
Think of the last time you had the thought that your life is better today than it was yesterday. Maybe it was a graduation, a new job offer, a promotion, a new client, an award, a magazine or TV appearance, a great vacation, running a marathon, hosting a great party, a new relationship, a new volunteer opportunity, helping a child with a new milestone, solving an old problem with a fresh new thought, even just getting a great workout or receiving a compliment on a job well done. These are times when you felt balanced. You worked toward a goal and your hard work produced real results and made an improvement in your life. Movement in our lives is what creates the feeling of balance. At the end of the day it offers peace of mind that we have not just wasted or passed time, but that we have invested in it.
This is a different understanding of balance. Balance is a feeling you get when the maintenance of your life is in harmony with the improvement of your life. Balance comes from pursuing and achieving goals, rather than continuing to put forth effort toward maintenance or just aging through another day.
Both personally and professionally you have opportunity for improvement, ingenuity, new adventure and new growth. The best way to combat burn-out and stress and achieve a feeling that your life is balanced between what you have to do and what makes you feel alive, is to continuously seek improvement in some area of your life.
As you identify goals and plan even small steps to work toward them each day then the feeling burnout begins to fade. With each small step you see improvement and gain momentum. You are moving and progressing — the purpose of and your efforts becomes more evident. You are using your resources toward improvement instead of fighting to stand still. That feeling of life in motion is creating balance. Moving toward something meaningful that will make life better for you, your team at work, your organization, your family, etc., is what makes burn-out and stress move out and allows balance and satisfaction to move in.
The key to getting started on this journey of improvement and achieving balance in your life is to plan. Managing survival or maintenance items is challenging and time consuming. The daily maintenance tasks that cause burn-out and stress come from personal and professional responsibilities and include everything from paying bills, cleaning dishes, getting haircuts and putting gas in the car, to submitting expense reports, attending long meetings and keeping up with endless emails. Then you wake up the next day and do it all over again.
If you wait until these items are completed each day before you get to improvement, then improvement will never happen. Instead, while you are in the midst of frenzied errands and tasks, take a step back and shift gears a little. Squeeze in steps toward your goals on your calendar every day. Without planning these steps, your brain will always prioritize survival tasks first. Having a written plan will influence the way you make decisions about your time and help you fit in goal steps along with everything else you have to do today. It will keep your goals at the forefront of your mind instead of letting you bury yourself in survival mode.
Take some time and make a list of goals, large and small, that would improve the quality of your life. Consider professional and personal goals, long term and short term. Look at the list every day and find a way to get some small step toward achieving one of them onto your calendar each day. Schedule time to make a networking call, read an industry magazine, take a class, find a mentor or write an article, brainstorm ways to improve a process or offer more value to an existing client. Contact a financial planner, exercise, plan a date, play a game, fix that squeaky door at home, etc. Movement toward goals and improvement, even small steps, can keep you from burnout and will keep you balanced and improve the quality of not just your professional life or your personal life, but your whole life. We don’t need to balance work and life. Work is part of life. We need to balance surviving today with progressing toward a better tomorrow. If you can identify ways in which you are improving an area of your life all the time (no matter how small) then you have a credible claim to balance.
Steve McClatchy, president of Alleer Training & Consulting, provides training, consulting and speaking services in the areas of consultative selling, leadership and time management. If you would like to learn more about the ways Alleer can be a resource to your organization, email steve.mcclatchy@ aleer.com or call 800-860-1171.