I've been on my own path toward work-life balance for almost a year now. I've learned that it is a very delicate balance to achieve without destroying the success you've experienced at work.
This highlights a common work-life balance dilemma. Sometimes, the very things that make you successful in one part of your work and life might have unintended work-life balance consequences. How do you reconcile that to keep your successes but get some balance?
I've spoken with a lot of working parents, business owners, employees, and leaders in a lot of different companies and have identified eight daily habits that, without careful reflection and consideration for appropriate change, can make work-life balance unattainable.
Here are the eight traps and some solutions:
1. The trap of the superhero syndrome
This is about the detrimental effects of thinking you can do everything.
Solution: Practice ruthless prioritization. Most of us can actually pile it all on our backs and get it done. Some of us have achieved success in our careers because of that ability.
The collateral damage is to our work-life balance, though. I implemented the "rule of three" to force prioritization on only mission critical things on the work and life fronts.
2. The trap of artificial urgency
This is the tendency to label things as urgent even if they really aren't.
Solution: Build specific "urgency filters" based on real criteria that are specific enough that you can objectively reconcile what is truly urgent (both inside and outside of work).
For me, I asked hard questions about whether acting without as much arbitrary urgency would really degrade my business. I have learned that reducing my urgency hasn't negatively impacted my business and has actually reduced self-inflicted stress that I carried home to my personal life.
3. The trap of undefined boundaries
This is about the common habit of trying to multitask and blend everything together with no clear lines in the sand.
Solution: Practice strict compartmentalization between work and life. This is easier said than done when you consider that technology breaks down barriers and makes us always accessible.
Many of us worry that setting boundaries when others aren't (maybe because of technology) might kill our careers. If you draw your lines with consideration for the work that needs to get done, the needs of customers, co-workers, and bosses, it won't kill your career. I haven't lost a single client since I started practicing "ruthless" compartmentalization.
4. The trap of no buffer zone
This concerns unintentionally not leaving any time for the unexpected and unanticipated.
Solution: This happens when we simply take on too much, but also happens when we don't have realistic expectations (or lack patience) about how long things take to do. To solve this, you can formally implement an arbitrary 50 percent buffer into everything you do. It may seem like a mind game, but it was a mind game that worked surprisingly well for me.
5. The trap of constant triage
Some of us call this fire fighting, but it really comes down to living in a reactive state resulting from lack of time to think about what you really want and need in work and life.
Solution: First, formally insert focused work-life thinking and planning time into your day every day.
It goes beyond just finding the time, though. As your life evolves, you may need to broaden your approach to planning. I had failed to do this in my own life, for example, when I became a parent. I didn't immediately adjust what I planned for as it related to the kids, which put me in fire-fighting mode a lot.
6. The trap of chasing time
It may sound like a term you'd more expect to hear in a science fiction movie, but it is how I have labeled the tendency to focus on what's next instead of being in the moment and appreciating what you are doing right now.
Solution: Commit to living in the moment, and use prompts during small life events to keep you from jumping into "next thing" thinking. This is really hard, but it has been my work-life balance game changer.
7. The trap of late nights getting it all done
The pressure of trying to finish things when you are drained after long days.
Solution: Even if you are a hard-core night person, if you are also a working parent you know that many aspects of family life happen early in the morning (such as school) and don't care what time you went to bed the night before. I chose to commit to the dawn patrol and implement formal "cut-off" times the night before to make sure that I can get up early. It has helped me get ahead.
8. The trap of forgetting about yourself
The mistake of unintentionally making yourself the odd person out with all that work and life entail.
Solution: As life gets complicated when it isn't just about you anymore, it is easy to make doing for everyone else the priority. To solve this common problem, you can implement a daily restorative activity. I chose piano. I'm not great at it, but it feels great to play anyway.