One of my least favorite corporate terms is "work-life balance." Do you know anyone who has mastered this Shangri-La symmetry?
Early in my career, I was able to complete my to-do list, focus on tasks, regroup, then do it again the next day without many distractions. Then, email and cell phones replaced fax machines and landlines. Now, with social media, text messaging, and live video chats "enhancing" the just-in-time ability to connect, maneuvering and responding between the different apps is a gauntlet.
How do you find balance when you're constantly reacting to pings generated by people and technology?
It's all in your head
Evolving with technological advancements meant that I had to let go of the concept of balance. It was impossible to achieve. I ended up feeling lousy and unaccomplished for not being able to attain or maintain it.
Balancing life and work does not work, so I decided to reconstruct it by seeking "work-life focus." Rather than worry about 79 unread emails, I cut through my noise by giving my undivided attention and focus in that moment to whomever or whatever I'm dealing with, regardless of the duration of the moments. Once complete, I then give the next task or person my undivided attention.
Here are three ways to improve your work-life focus and find more satisfaction in the here and now:
1. Stop inviting distractions.
If you check your email during off hours, that's not work creeping in -- it's you allowing it! Do you really need to be in that meeting, or can another person represent you? Think about what provides the most value in how you spend your time in any given moment, and focus on that fully.
One of my clients has a standing phone call with his partner every night at 9:30, regardless of where he is in the world. For more than 30 years, they've excused themselves from dinners and meetings to focus on each other 100 percent for 15 minutes.
Don't just hope you'll find personal time whenever it fits. Schedule it. Prioritize it. Commit to it. Do it. Try going home at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to have dinner with your family. Tuesdays and Thursdays can be for late-night calls in the office.
2. Look for emotional boosts.
Newsflash for overachievers: When you try to tough it out with an "I got this" attitude, your reactions (emotions) eventually win. If you are finding yourself more irritated or impatient, these reactions are signs that it's time to recalibrate.
Another client of mine, an executive with the boundless energy and creativity of Tigger, finally admitted he was stressed out and feeling saturated by work during his personal time. You might think his symptoms pointed to something needing to change at work. After mapping out where he spends his time, we discovered his priority of family was sacrificed even when he was with them -- he was thinking of work.
Small tweaks to his schedule, like getting up 20 minutes earlier to have breakfast his wife and kids without his phone and building in gym time, have boosted his energy and productivity. He doesn't balance time between work and life -- he focuses on doing things that energize him for an hour in the morning. He transferred this practice to his work as a CEO.
3. Find inspiration wherever it is.
Find me a person who says, "Don't dazzle me. Uninspire me!" You can't. Being inspired at work wins.
Two other clients of mine, who are business partners and married, take three weeks off every year to seek inspiration. It's not a vacation. They eat, drink, explore, talk about their business, and play with their kids. They rejuvenate their business and themselves by finding inspiration in everyday living.
Remember why you do what you do. Are you aligned mentally and emotionally with your purpose and passion? Inspiration drives creativity and innovation, and it deserves your full focus.
"Balancing" is impossible.