I recently wrote about how leadership is a balancing act. The more I think about it, life is a balancing act. We are all faced with competing priorities and a million things vying for our attention in any given moment. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, and with the time we are supposed to be enjoying our life outside of work, many of us spend it working, too—whether continuing our work from the office (since we have little separation now in the digital age) or doing various forms of domestic work.
The concept of “work-life balance” has become more and more elusive as the two bleed together in ways that weren’t possible decades ago. This myth of balance suggests that work is somehow separate from our lives, which is just not the case. An article in Quartz makes this point, noting that the phrase “implies that work is not part of life but something separate, and is getting in the way of existence. Life is all-encompassing, however, and work is just one thing that fits in under the greater umbrella.”
They suggest other phrases like “work life harmony,” preferred by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, or work-life “blend” and “integration.” As Amanda Abella puts it in her Inc article, “I realized that it's not really about balance, but rather integration. How can we integrate our lives and our work instead of pinning them against each other? … Stop feeling guilty for not achieving the ideal of balance and instead work on what makes you feel balanced.”
So, we all have limited time in our lives, and we all want to feel that our time is spent well and that our lives are lived well. We have to get clear on our own goals and work to spend time on what is truly most important to us. Oh, and we also have to eat. We don’t all have the luxury of working on our passion projects to pay the bills. The idea that we can “have it all” is one that plagues many people, especially those who work and have children. A recent New York Times article pointed out that modern parenting is more all-consuming than in the past: “Mothers who juggle jobs outside of the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s.” No wonder working parents feel like they have no time.
I recently watched a webinar with David Allen, whose “Getting Things Done” methodology has long been a productivity staple. At the end of the content, there was some time for Q&A, and one of the questions David chose to answer was about how to keep work stress from interfering with family time at home. At first I found his answer a bit dismissive—basically, he said, “Be in the moment.” The more I think about it, this idea of being fully present and focused on what you are doing may be the best antidote for those of us in search of balance, integration or harmony between competing areas of their lives. As the Quartz article wisely points out, “Although we love saying we’re busy, many of us are just distracted. We may not really need to relax but to focus and make the most of however much time we have.”
If you can fully focus on what you are currently doing, you might achieve something even more important than “balance”—you might achieve a sense of wholeness. If you can prioritize your time, shut out distractions and fully focus in the moment—whether that moment’s work is writing a proposal, calling a client, cooking dinner with your kids or unwinding with a TV show at the end of a long day—then you’ve fully lived that moment.
How do you focus?
- Start by prioritizing. Make a plan for yourself that includes your priorities in all the areas of your life (not just work—but what you need to do for yourself, your health and your family, too). Have the discipline to spend your time on what’s important to you.
- Block off time to get the work done. Be thoughtful about when you are at your best for different types of activities. For example, do you write or exercise best in the morning or at the end of the day?
- Set yourself up for success. Eliminate potential distractions. Put your phone down, and consider apps that limit time on social media or other sites that are time-sucks for you. Choose the right environment. If you need quiet to work, don’t go to a crowded coffee shop or attempt to get anything done while you are with your small, loud children.
- Stay in the moment. Jot down ideas or to-dos that pop into your brain, and then redirect your energy back to the task at hand.
- Cut yourself some slack. Make time to enjoy your life, and don’t stress about every moment being perfect. Be present for your life as much as you can, and be kind to yourself when you fall short. Practice self-compassion.
- Rest and refresh. You can’t focus if you are exhausted. Sleep, exercise and eat well. Taking care of yourself is not an afterthought; it’s a key to performing your best in all areas of your life.
At the end of the day, “balance” is in the eye of the beholder. Do what makes you feel whole and balanced. As a leader in your company, make space for people on the team to find their own version of a healthy lifestyle, and try to model good habits of focusing and setting limits on the amount of time you spend working. Good luck!
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