The constant struggle for business professionals today is to somehow obtain a sense of balance between their job and personal life. For many people I know it is like a tightrope act that can cause anxiety and lead to burnout.
Without balance between your business and personal life, there’s just no way you can survive in today’s fast-paced world and not buckle under the pressure. If you’re leading a high-pressured lifestyle like most of us, you need to take time each day for self-renewal, joy, and serenity in your life. This is necessary to stay fresh, be creative, and enjoy life. Just as healthy eating habits take into account your nutritional needs, so does a balanced life take into account all your needs: your need for family, friends, work, play, private, and spiritual time.
To achieve balance requires clearly defining your values and shifting a few hours each week from one activity to another. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It requires coming to terms with your values and priorities, deciding what is most important and making a decision to make the tradeoffs they require. Then, you need to have the discipline to create a structure that defines how you spend your time. If you think of your life as a jigsaw puzzle, you may have these pieces squarely in place–going to the office early, staying late to catch up on paperwork and working weekends. If this is the case, then where are the missing pieces of your life–the time for yourself and your family to complete that puzzle? It takes self-discipline to complete it. Discipline is what is required to help keep your life in balance.
Having a clear understanding of your values should determine how you spend your time. Values help define who you are and tend to evolve as you get older and wiser. When you ask people what they value in life they usually respond with: children, family, relationships, financial security, education, spirituality, health/physical fitness, travel and volunteerism. These are the things they hold dear, and the things they feel are most important in life. They also mention the activities they most enjoy–boating, golf, music, movies, cooking, etc.
The key to achieving life-balance is to build free time into your schedule so it becomes routine. To do this, you must respect and cherish your free time and make it a habit to block out time on your calendar for YOU. Schedule activities that will regenerate your mind and your body. Here how: Get your appointment book and look at your monthly calendar. Now, look at the next two weeks ahead. Take a pencil and make an appointment with yourself in the days ahead to do the things that nourish your mind and your soul, and nurture relationships with those you love.
My theory is this: So much of our time is taken up with responsibilities that we need to “steal” a little back for ourselves. Block out a couple of evenings to see a friend or a family member. Block out days for bicycling, shopping, museums, family, movies, visiting, golfing–whatever it is you enjoy. If you don’t have entire days, then block out a couple of hours–whatever you can afford. And, yes, I know that you are working long hours and don’t have enough time with your family, so do what you can. Here are more ideas that may be helpful to you.
• Tune Out the Business World
During this leisure time, be sure to block out all thoughts about business to recharge your batteries. Remember that this will enable you to generate creative ideas. As you are engaged in leisure activities your subconscious mind is contemplating decisions to be made, and ideas to bring into your conscious mind. This will occur after you have rested.
Do this at a certain time each evening as well. I personally have made it a personal RULE that I do not think about business after 8:00 p.m. each evening, unless I’m writing or attending a business function. I’ve been practicing this habit for years and it has helped me to relax before bedtime.
• Be Spontaneous
Embrace spontaneity in your life. Do what you feel like doing when you want to do it. Accept last minute invitations and take short spur-of- the moment trips when possible. Living your life planned to the split second allows no room for spontaneity. I try to block out at least one day each month where I make absolutely no plans or commitments with anyone. Try it sometime. It will give you an opportunity to be spontaneous and provide some space where you can stretch and breathe and take life at a less harried pace. Gather the kids at the last minute and go hiking.
• Be Outrageous.
Here’s a great way to regenerate your mind and body -especially if you feel you are about to experience burnout. Shift gears to charge your mental batteries by doing something you’ve never done before–even if it seems outrageous. When I started my company, I was feeling overwhelmed with all I had to learn and do. One day my friend said, “Let’s go skating! Tuesday is adult night.” I couldn’t imagine two grown women skating at a roller rink but she persuaded me to go. The upbeat music was energizing and we had so much fun laughing at ourselves. It was definitely a stress buster. You may not wish to put skates on your feet, but doing these types of things will definitely reduce your stress level and keep your outlook fresh.
• Who Says You Can’t Do It? Break the Rules!
Breaking your own rules helps prevent burnout and may be a luxury in which you forget to indulge. Who says you can’t stay in bed late on Sunday and not get dressed or shaved? Who says you can’t take a walk through the park with a friend at lunch hour? Who says you can’t go out after work on the spur of the moment to go to dinner or see a movie? Who says you can’t let the housework go for a couple of days? Who says you can’t block out an evening or a few hours on a weekend to do absolutely nothing? Who says you can’t take a day off to take the kids to the beach?
• Just Say No!
As Steven Covey tells us, “Learn to say no to activities that are not congruent with your core values.” For example, “I’d like to say yes, but it’s important to me to spend time with my family tonight.” Or, “I’m sorry, I really need to recharge my batteries this weekend.” Or, “I’m sorry, I’ve committed to coaching Little League this summer.”
Easier Said Than Done?
Perhaps you have been thinking, “Oh, sure, easier said than done” as you’ve been reading. Why is it so hard for us to slow down and relax? Earlier, I mentioned my childhood neighbor who is now a high-powered executive of an internationally prominent corporation with over 70,000 people who ultimately report up to him. He has more responsibility than anyone I’ve ever known–both personally and professionally. Not only is he constantly receiving calls from their branches throughout the world, but also he and his wife are parents of four children.
One day, I asked him how–with all the long hours, international travel, public speaking, client meetings and writing–does he keep his life in balance. He gave me many ideas, but what remained in my mind was what he told me about how he maintained balance when his children were small. He said he took his family to their home in the country almost every weekend and would invite a client and their family as well. This way, both of them could squeeze in business discussions AND spend time with their families. He also took his children to the country club and permitted them to take turns driving the golf cart while he played. Other than when he was concentrating on hitting the ball, he was completely focused on listening to them share stories of what happened at school that week.
A balanced life creates harmony between your business life and your personal life. Don’t leave the activities of life-balance at the bottom of your “to-do” list. When you incorporate leisure into your life, you will be able to handle the grit and grind of working in today’s real world. Alternate hard work with hard play. Balance giving with receiving. Take care of your responsibilities to others with taking care of yourself. When you do, you will be able to think more creatively, perform more effectively, and enjoy your life.