Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Is Work-Life Balance, Anyway? Enjoy your journey.

Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance

By Julie Cohen, Professional Certified Coach

I just got off the phone with a client, Rob, who works 70 hours per week, plus he has numerous conference calls and follow-up work during the weekend. He’s married with a young child and would like to spend more time with his family. He used to play tennis regularly but hasn’t been on a court in over 2 years. Rob hasn’t even been out with his close circle of friends in months.

Rob is often miserable, and finds it difficult to balance his challenging work with other things that used to bring him enjoyment.

Lauren, another client, has similar professional and personal circumstances as Rob: working very long hours with a small family; wishing she had more time to be with her son and husband; she used to jog regularly and yearns to take a yoga class occasionally.

Through all of this, Lauren is energized and enthused about work and life, and makes the most of each free moment.

Both Lauren and Rob are in similar situations – they both work very hard professionally with little time for personal commitments.  How can they have such different responses to their extremely busy lifestyle? It’s all about how they look at work-life balance.

It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

The phrase ‘Work-Life Balance’ is heard often in the media with magazines, talk-shows and self-help professionals offering solutions on ‘how to get it’. This is a great disservice as it assumes that Work-Life Balance is an end state – something that you accomplish and then reap the benefits.  With all due respect – you’re never going to get there!

Work-Life Balance is a journey towards a very remote destination. You have a compass that can tell you when you’re veering far off the path or when you’re getting closer.  You will constantly have to re-adjust your route when you hit unplanned roadblocks and natural disasters. At times, you’ll be on a scenic route enjoying the view and at other times you’ll be on an express train missing everything you are passing by. The key to managing the journey is not getting too caught up at where you are any one moment.

You need to apply this analogy to life. Below, you’ll find four critical components that will help you navigate closer to your Work-Life Balance.

Know Your Core Values

Work-Life Balance is a personal choice. As seen through the eyes of Rob and Lauren in very similar situations, it’s working for one of them and not the other. Your goals for Work-Life Balance will be very different from your friend, colleague and sibling because you have a unique set of values.

Your core values may include financial security, accomplishment, adventure, family, equity, beauty, or fun. You need to choose what is most important to you as a core value. As you quantify what matters most to you, it will help you clarify how to invest your time now.

Following Rob and Lauren, Rob’s most important values include relationships, physical fitness and contribution. Lauren’s values include leadership, financial wealth and challenge. In Rob’s situation, he is only slightly nurturing his desire for contribution through his work, but he has had no time for maintaining relationships and physical fitness. This is why he is miserable.

Lauren’s choices for her stressful lifestyle are congruent with her values as her work provides a high level of challenge and leadership opportunities as well as rewards her with significant monetary compensation. This is why she is thriving.

ACTION #1: Define your core values.  Although you possess many values, select two to four values which are important to you now and you want to make sure are incorporated in your life.

Set Your Priorities

Once you choose your primary values, you must then prioritize them. Although this may seem artificial since they are all important to you, this will assist you in stressful times when you need to choose how you spend your time and energy.

Rob’s top value currently is physical fitness. When he doesn’t feel in shape, every other area of his life suffers. When his client responsibilities became very heavy four months ago, he gave up his regular routine of going to the gym three times each week.

Lauren’s primary value now is financial wealth as she is the primary earner for her family. She accepts her long hours now as she values the salary it provides.

Over time, priorities change. Depending on your age, your stage of life, your responsibilities and situations that occur, different values will become more and less important. Focusing on what is most relevant now will enhance how you feel about the choices you’re making regarding your time.

ACTION #2: Rank your core values that you defined in Action #1.  What is most important now? What is next important?

Set Limits

All of us, at some point, have agreed to things that seem important, but actually drain us of time and energy. If you know your values and have them prioritized, it will enable you to be more deliberate on what you commit your time to.

Armed with the resource of clear, prioritized values, you will then need to practice saying ‘no’ more often to requests that are not in synch with what is most important to you. For most people, you may initially feel that you are letting down colleagues, friends or family members. But, after you see that you are respected for making meaningful choices and you are able to enjoy more time for what matters to you, the process will become easier and the benefits substantial.

When Rob examined his time commitments, he discovered that the two work committees that he was serving on that did not fit with his values or enhance any of his professional goals or personal priorities. He also acknowledged that he was attending a monthly networking meeting only because he felt he ‘should’ not because it was enhancing his professional situation. Over a three-week period, he removed these three drains from his schedule.

Alternatively, Lauren made very clear choices to make the most use of her professional contributions. She did not accept any additional responsibility unless it enhanced her ability to impact the bottom line of her company and therefore her income. She also set limits on time away from her husband and son before taking on any non-work related activity.

ACTION #3:  Determine a plan to say “no” to activities that are not in line with your prioritized values.

Check Your Progress

The three components addressed above will change throughout your life. Choices, priorities and limits that are relevant now may be different next week, next month, next year and beyond. In order to keep moving closer to your preferred Work-Life Balance, constant evaluation and deliberate actions will be your guide.

ACTION #4:  Build time in to your day, week or month to evaluate how your actions are aligned with your values. Adjust as appropriate. Repeat regularly.

Enjoy Your Journey!

This article is reprinted with permission from the March 8, 2007, issue of The Legal Intelligencer. Copyright 2007 ALM Properties Inc. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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