It happens every January. You look back at the past year with mixed emotions. On the one hand, you're frustrated that you didn't do a better job at achieving work/life balance, realizing the "work" side of the equation often dominates. On the other hand, you're optimistic that with a new year comes new hope and a renewed commitment to making work/life balance over the twelve months ahead.
Let me start with the bad news: You won’t achieve Work/Life balance this year. In fact, you will NEVER achieve work/life balance. This is because Work/Life balance doesn’t actually exist. “Balance” assumes that there is some magical point where everything is in perfect alignment and the goal is to find that place and stay there as long as you can. The problem is, what seems balanced today will feel unbalanced tomorrow. With the demands of home changing day to day, and work responsibilities constantly evolving, Work vs. Life is not a problem you’ll ever solve. This realization can leave you feeling discouraged and somewhat hopeless. There should be a way for hard-working leaders to win at BOTH work AND home!
Now for the good news: Although Work/Life balance is not a problem that you’ll solve, it is a tension that you can learn to manage incredibly well. For the last twenty years, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of organizations and thousands of leaders to help them manage key tensions - providing a three-step plan that worked for them - and it will work for you too!
Using the map found on the final page of this document, start by answering the questions in the boxes with the “+” sign above the words WORK and HOME. Put your top three positive results from focusing on WORK in the box on the left, and the top three positive results from focusing on HOME in the box on the right. I will share with you my answers as an example:
Next, answer the questions in the boxes with the “-” sign below the words WORK and HOME. Put the top three negative results from over-focusing on WORK to the neglect of HOME in the box on the left, and the top three negative results from over-focusing on HOME to the neglect of WORK in the box on the right. Here are my answers:
Now for the exciting part! Start by generating Action Steps that you will take this year to experience all of the benefits of Work and Home. On the top left, think of things you will do to gain or maintain all the items listed above WORK. As you can see in my example (below), I am choosing to read the New York Times bestseller, “The Productivity Project”, by the end of the month so I can learn how to work smarter and more effectively; ideally allowing me to do more work in less time. Then generate Action Steps on the far right so you can gain or maintain the great things you wrote down above HOME. I have decided to schedule a separate “date-night” (or day) with my wife and two kids each month, so I’m sure to prioritize quality time with each of them on a regular basis.
Now it’s time to identify your Early Warnings. These are measurable indicators that will let you know you’re starting to creep into the downside of either WORK or HOME. Start by identifying Early Warnings for WORK on the bottom left. For example, I’ve committed to paying attention to any time I miss two of my kids’ hockey games in a row. Then do the same for HOME on the bottom, right. For me, an Early Warning that shows me I’m possibly overdoing HOME to the neglect of WORK is when I check in with my work plan each month and realize that I’ve failed to meet my goals and responsibilities I committed to.
In my example, I have only developed one Action Step and Early Warning, but as you can see, there is room for up to three for each if you want to be really committed to finding healthy tension this year.
Knowing you will never solve the problem of Work vs. Home because things are constantly changing on both sides, it’s important to treat the exercise you just completed as an ongoing work-in-progress. This means you need to revisit the document regularly. Hold yourself accountable to making sure that you are following through with your Action Steps. If you find that you are starting to experience an Early Warning, find a way to self-correct right away, before things start to spiral out of control. As the year progresses, keep editing and evolving your work. Be open to the results you wrote above and
below WORK and HOME changing over time. Expect that the Action Steps and Early Warnings you just developed may only work for a while, and you’ll need to replace them with new ones as the year progresses.
When you settle for unhealthy tension between Work and Life you lose on both fronts. Your family, friendships and personal health suffer, while the passion you once had for your work starts to turn into resentment. However, now that you have a great plan to achieve healthy tension between Work and Home, you can expect to thrive at home with your family, friends, and personal health, while at the same time, tap into a new level of effectiveness and enjoyment in the workplace. It’s going to be a fantastic year!
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President - Leaders for Leaders
Author - The Power of Healthy Tension
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