For all the buzz about balance, why is it that so few people say they have it? What should balance be like? What is the difference between ‘out of balance’ and just plain busy?
“Balance is not about calculating the right equation of time and effort,” says the Center for Creative Leadership’s Gordon Patterson. “It is about having clarity about what matters to you and making sure you are taking care of those things consistently.”
People whose lives are out of balance — whose work life has taken too prominent a role — have similar experiences. Some of the warning signs that your life is out of balance include:
- You have conversations with yourself in which you say “I’ve got to make more time for my significant other.”
- You hear yourself telling others that you really wish you had time to do certain things you just don’t get done now.
- Your relationships with your colleagues are less fun, less productive and less easy-going than they used to be. From your point of view, your direct reports should be far more serious about work than they are.
- You think that your family should appreciate you more than they do. They don’t realize how hard you work for them.
- You take your perfectionist and “type A” personality for granted and have not really even thought about altering your behavior.
- You’re good — you can multitask like there’s no tomorrow. People continually marvel at how you can “do it all.” They think you are superhuman.
- You pause mentally to put on your armor and to psych yourself up each day when you come through the front door of your office.
- You want to appear interested when your direct reports tell you about their newborn children, but you don’t want them to conclude that their job responsibilities are any less important just because they’ve become parents.
“If any of these descriptions resonate with you, it may be time to reassess what you’re doing, why you are doing it and explore what your balance looks like to you,” says Patterson.
You may find you are feeling more balanced when you:
- Accept that your needs and expectations have changed over the years and will continue to change.
- Are able to make a temporary choice to place one aspect of your life ahead of another, knowing that other things will be tended to in time and you ensure that “temporary” does not become permanent neglect of other important things.
- Embrace the presence of creative tension in your life. Balance does not mean easy or perfect.
- Stop blaming your struggles with balance on other people, organizations and institutions.
- Choose how to use your resources — what to do with your time, energy and passion.
Less Can Be More
Don’t assume that putting in fewer hours on the job will cause your work to suffer. In fact, time and energy spent off-the-job can enhance your productivity and your capacity to deal with work challenges. Shifting the mix of work and non-work hours can teach you:
Strength in vulnerability. Recognize that you can’t do everything and learn to ask for help. Leaders who successfully balance competing demands in all aspects of their lives freely admit their vulnerabilities and frequently are admired and respected for doing so. It makes them seem more human and more approachable.
The upside of limits. When facing a tough challenge or a huge to-do list, human nature urges you to push harder and work more hours. While it may seem counterintuitive to stop, ease back or even shift focus, that’s exactly what you may need to do. If you’re working late at the office – fourteen hours a day, day in and day out – you are tricked into thinking that your efficiency is being maximized by your intense work efforts. In fact, leaving early a few nights a week or delegating more may be the better solution. By setting limits, you are better able to distinguish when you really do need to push and when to step back and regroup.
The benefit of recharging. Our capacity to work is not boundless, although we sometimes appear to believe otherwise. Building in enough time to relax and recharge as we work is critical for clear and creative thinking, strong relationships and good health.
Gordon Patterson is a CCL Senior Program Associate.
Content reprinted with permission from Finding Your Balance, by Joan Gurvis and Gordon Patterson, Copyright © 2004 Center for Creative Leadership