I’ve asked quite a number of leaders whether there is such a thing as work-life balance. Almost everyone says no without hesitation.
They agree there are times we’re present, we’re grounded, we’re in sync with what matters, and we’re in the zone—feeling all the joyous personal and professional satisfaction we’re looking for. Yet, it’s as though the second we become aware of it; the experience disappears. Additionally, balance looks different for every individual. For most leaders, balance becomes work-life integration, with the ability to work at any time while having flexibility for family and personal activities throughout the day. This concept has become more complicated as our work and personal lives have become intertwined with COVID-19.
It’s easier for most of us to recognize when we’re out of sync because when we’re too far off kilter, we feel it. The moment you recognize it, say to yourself, “Wait a second, let me slow down,” stop, breathe, and address it directly. Ask yourself what you need to let go of, what you need to say no to, what you need to start or stop doing so you can get back in sync right now.
When you’re out of sync, there’s a choice to make. Like most people, I have an inordinate number of things I believe I should be doing to be a good friend, to be a good sister, to be a good daughter in law, to be a good mom, to be a good businesswoman, to be a good wife. We all have competing priorities, and we need practices to help us pause to say, “Yes, it can all be done, just not all at once. You can have it all, just not all at the same time.”
STOP AND BREATHE
While the illusion of balance in our external lives may be just that—an illusion—we can foster internal balance and move toward emotional equilibrium that will help us cope with the challenge’s life offers. We don’t clearly see that our interpretations dictate how we experience the world and our place in it—and we just go along for the ride with whatever emotional reaction we have when, instead, we could ask ourselves, “Wait a second, are these thoughts even true? Am I seeing things as they are, or am I reacting to something that’s happened in the past?” Often our external responses to challenges are based on things we’ve internalized that have no real basis in fact—and those “things” can be negative and self-defeating, challenging our internal sense of peace and groundedness.
When I catch myself reacting, I stop and ask, “What am I telling myself? Is it true, or is it head trash?” This helps me unravel what’s factual from a kneejerk emotional response based in fear. I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I’m reacting to something, and before my mouth or emotions engage, I’ve learned to pause and check in with myself.
When it isn’t working, I sort out what the facts are and, if need be, write a new story to elicit a better response. During that pause, I stop and breathe until I find my internal balance again.
THE PRICE OF SAYING YES
Every time you say yes to something, you’re also saying yes to much, much more—but how often do you stop to consider all that your first yes entails in terms of time, work, and commitment? Try this: When someone asks you to take on a new responsibility or job, don’t be too quick to say yes. Instead, tell them you’ll consider it and when you’ll get back to them. Then take the time to sit down with a pad and pencil and list all those additional things you’re taking on by saying yes. Take your time and write them all down. If you look at your list and realize that all of those yesses add up to more than you’re willing to commit to, you can say no with a clear conscience and without hesitating. If you’re determined to find balance in your life between what you must do, versus what others would like you to do, this is a powerful place to start.
Learning to say no—and to stick with it—is always going to be a work in progress, because we’re so used to saying yes—and yes, that includes me (my company is named YESS!, which explains a lot about me).
DELEGATE AND ELEVATE
Our lives are so fraught with demands; family, work, and relationships all make claims on our time and pull us in multiple directions. In addition, the simple practicalities of life also have to be
addressed—and statistically, we know that women are the ones who are most often tasked with taking care of things on the home front. How is it possible to find balance when you’re being pulled in multiple directions at once? The first step is identifying and ridding your schedule of those things you don’t like or aren’t good at, so you have the space you need to do more of what you love. A useful exercise is Delegate and Elevate TM, used here with the kind permission of its creator, Gino Wickman, the founder of EOS Worldwide, of which I am a Certified EOS Implementer, helping leaders implement tools like this and much more.
The idea is to delegate everything from the bottom quadrants as quickly as you can do it well and revisit the tool and exercise whenever you’re feeling you don’t have the time you need to do great work with free time for family and other passions. As a result, you’ll be doing what you love and are great at, and your life will become richer, fuller, and more meaningful. In my experience, it really works!
The word balance is bantered about in self-help books and health magazines all the time, as if it’s a destination we are all seeking. Yet I haven’t met anyone who lives there. It’s an illusion, and we need to give up the pursuit of such an unrealistic Zen where all areas of our life are in perfect equilibrium. It’s not that it doesn’t exist; it’s fleeting, often accidental, and impermanent. Simply said, we visit that impeccable state, realize it—and life happens. The Zen slips just beyond our fingertips again. The trick is defining what balance means for you. Visiting that Zen more consistently means learning to slow down, intentionally choosing what to say yes and no to, based on your values, and delegating what you don’t enjoy and aren’t good at, while spending more time doing what you love and are great at. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.