As a business executive, I was feeling good about my work life balance. I managed to keep travel below 25% and I would work from 5 am to 2 PM so I could spend quality time with my children in the afternoon. I worked for a company based in the UK and the schedule spanned the globe well. At times I would check my phone during the late afternoons to answer any quick questions or provide necessary approvals for staff on the west coast. I thought it was minimal and no one noticed.
Then one day the phone began to ring and my daughter blurted out, “Daddy, I hate your phone.” I didn’t pick up the call. She looked at me sternly and said, “Why are you always on your phone? Can’t you play with us?” My heart sank. What I thought was minimal was all consuming in my daughters eyes. This was her way of communicating she wanted my full attention and it hurt emotionally when I was constantly distracted. She was right and I needed to do better because she was everything to me. That day I decided to make a change.
Why Its Important
Making the world a better place through our profession is important. It is an innate need that we all share as humans to function in our unique gifts and purpose. However, the strong drive we have as leaders can easily skew the balance in our lives away from what matters most. At the end of life, its rare to hear people speak of wishing they had accomplished more or acquired more wealth. Instead, we reflect on the memories we created with the people who are closest to us. We admire the strong character and growth of our children and them passing it on to the next generation of grandchildren. We recollect the stories with friends that have some how become stretched and larger-than-life. We find love and warm comfort from our spouses. In order to cherish these moments, they have to be created with our time and attention.
Secondly, time away from our profession provides needed rest and time for reflection. I am amazed how solutions are sometimes elusive in the thick of it at work and simply stepping away for short period brings much needed clarity to complete the task. Creativity needs the balance rest and reflection provide. It is often sparked by the beauty of nature that surrounds us. Motivation also thrives from balance. Its hard to do anything constantly for 60, 70 or 80 hours week in and week out. Burn out quickly sets in and we find our passion drained. Directly tied to creativity and motivation is productivity. Its well documented that long hours reduce productivity. In order stay at our most productive, balance is needed long term. Let’s face it, long weeks are needed on occasion but they should be the exception not the rule.
Lastly our health is at stake. All work and no play results in less happiness, approximately 40% increased risk of coronary heart disease (per a study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology), poor diet, increased fatigue, depression (Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine), severe tension headaches (personal experience) and alcohol use at levels that would pose a health risk (theBMJ). Each of these can severely degrade quality of life.
8 Actions You Can Take Now to Find Life Balance
- Define your priorities and set boundaries: Start each day with creating a realistic list of what can be accomplished. This establishes your priorities. Ensure to leave specific but limited time for e-mail, phone calls or meetings. Secondly, set clear boundaries and master saying “I’m sorry I cannot take that on right now” or “I can help you at this later time”. Boundaries include your scheduled time to leave, breaks to move around and clear your head, periods of focused work or play with no interruption, etc.
- Become highly efficient at repetitive tasks: Automation and stream lined processes are key here. Figure out the time sinks in a process and work to minimize them. Once the process is smooth, employ methods to automate it. This could be through software, hardware or a combination. Often cost is minimal and can be as simple as an excel spread sheet with clever relationships and macros.
- Delegate less important tasks: This is huge. Its important to delegate tasks at work and at home. The age old excuse is no one can do it as well as me. In most cases this is simply false and in the cases where its true, its best to except slightly less than perfection. One area common not to delegate is in financial approvals. Instead, give your staff a budget, higher approval levels and hold them accountable.
- Take turns planning date night with your spouse: Take the initiative to plan some really interesting outings that you both enjoy. Ensure to encompass activities that are centered around your spouse and learn about their interests. If budget is tight, a simple picnic in a quaint park with aged salami, cheese and wine is sure to be hit. Try dating weekly if possible.
- Set specific time dedicated to family each day: The time of day is not important. Its all about consistency. Time in the morning over breakfast or in the evenings over dinner are great. Bedtime stories, homework help, sports or games are equally good ideas and fun to change up. Be sure that the activity is engaging and ask interesting questions that will draw out the highlights of the day.
- Schedule fun family outings often: These are my daughters’ favorite time of the week. Activities include going to the beach, a day skiing and riding on the slopes, visiting a museum or aquarium, visiting a farm, going to a live theater or concert, visiting a water or amusement park, hiking and more.
- Make plans with close friends: This is equally beneficial as a couple, family or individual. Sometimes its great for me just to be with the guys enjoying astronomy or a football game with pizza and beer. Other times, a dinner party where our friends and kids come together is great.
- Make vacations with family, close friends or both a habit: In our family, we work to do this 5 – 6 times a year. Usually a couple longer vacations spanning more than 1-week and several other shorter vacations of 3 – 4 days. Just last week, we went to Spruce Knob, WV to do some star gazing. It was only an overnight trip but the kids were super excited seeing the Milky Way and camping out overnight in the SUV. (See the photo we took of the Milky Way below).