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Work-life balance is possible…if you change your approach

Many people struggle with the notion of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Ambitious, driven and committed people want to be successful in all aspects of their life, not just their professional career. They want to have it all. They want to have a great marriage, nurturing family life, fantastic health and fitness and a satisfying social life. And, they want to have or achieve all these desires simultaneously.

There is a notion that the Europeans have more of a “Work in order to Live” mindset while in North America, we tend to “Live in order to Work.” I think this is somewhat true. However, I have also seen from my own experience working with people from many countries and cultures that no matter what people say in public, most people who are healthy and ambitious tend to approach work as the highest life priority. Even in Europe.

This is the case because people tend to relate to their life desires and commitments as priorities, not promises.

The premise for “priorities” is fundamentally different from “promises”:

Seeing as we only have a finite number of hours in the day and scarce resources, we often feel as though we cannot accomplish everything we want. The “priorities” approach says, “We are not going to be able to achieve everything we want, therefore let’s put all our desires in order of importance so we can tackle them in that order. If we had 15 items in our priority list and only got to 6 of them – that is fine. After all, that is why we prioritized them in the first place.”

This paradigm reinforces the expectation that we won’t be able to achieve everything we desire or consider important.

In contrast, the “promises” approach says, “We are not going to be able to achieve everything we want, therefore, let’s pick the few things that are most important for us and promise them unconditionally.”

In the world of promising – a promise is a promise. In other words, if you promise multiple promises, each is equal in weight. You are holding yourself accountable for fulfilling each promise, without hierarchy of importance among them.

The “promises” paradigm compels and even requires you to be more innovative and resourceful about how you juggle and achieve all your promised areas. It also drives you to get support from people around you, delegate things to others, and overall build a network and structure of support in your community.

In the world of “priorities,” people often excuse or justify not achieving some of their desired areas and commitments because of other areas. For example, I often hear people say things like: “I just didn’t get to it,” “I didn’t have enough time or money to do it,” or “it wasn’t a high enough priority at the time.”

However, in the world of “promises,” people remain accountable and responsible for following through–no matter what the circumstances are.

I meet too many frustrated people who are out of shape or overweight who tell me, “I have been so busy with my job I didn’t have time to exercise.

I meet too many unhappy people who have issues in their relationship or marriage who tell me, “I lost my marriage because I was a workaholic.”

I meet too many unfulfilled people who have abandoned their passions and hobbies who tell me, “I stopped playing my instrument or playing tennis because I had too much going on in my life.”

If you relate to all your key life desires and commitments as clear equal promises, you will start dealing with them differently.

For example, you could promise:

  • I promise to have an amazing marriage.
  • I promise to be a parent who is highly present and involved in my children’s lives.
  • I promise to have a very successful career.
  • I promise to be healthy, vital and fit.
  • I promise to be a contributing member to my church, synagogue or community.
  • I promise to have an active and satisfying social life.

Relating to your life desires and commitments as priorities is an easier way to live because you always have a way out, an excuse or something else to blame for not living up to your desires and having it all.

In contrast, relating to your life desires and commitments as promises may seem harder at first, but if you fully take it on it will afford you a much more inspiring, nurturing and satisfying life.

 

Create and achieve more possibilities for yourself

When people believe a goal, ambition or dream is unattainable or unlikely to be achieved, they usually do not invest their time, heart and effort to pursue it. In plain words, they don’t go after it.

For most people this is how the story begins and where it typically ends.

However, so many people have desires, ambitions and dreams that they sincerely want to achieve and have not done so. They may have believed in these dreams in the past or even made attempts to pursue them. But, if they felt challenged or simply didn’t succeed, they gave up their efforts.

I meet so many people who have become resigned about “having it all” in certain areas of their life. People usually have convincing stories and explanations about what is “realistic” and what is not. Overall, they believe they can’t fully have what they want in some or all parts of their life. Even if they don’t convince me, I can tell they have convinced themselves.

“I don’t have enough time,” “I am too busy with work and/or family,” “I don’t have enough money,” “the time is not right,” “it’s tough out there,” “I am not good/experienced in this,” or “I probably don’t want it badly enough.” I think I have heard them all.

Our excuses and explanations are valid and legitimate. But, they disempower us because they promote the notion that we are smaller than our circumstances.

I don’t claim that we can achieve anything and everything that we want in our lifetime… and perhaps that is because of the boundaries of my beliefs. However, I truly believe that most people can achieve and have much more than they believe they can.

If you agree that people only take action when they believe it is feasible the question is “How do we make an idea feasible in our mind?”

I want to share a little technique that could be useful in this regard. Try this by following the few outlined steps. You can do this in conversation with someone or by writing your responses and thoughts in your notebook:

Step 1: Identify and call out an area where you want to achieve, do or have more.

Step 2: Clearly articulate what you want and what you are committed to in this area.

  • In other words, describe the desirable end state of this area. What does it look like when you are truly satisfied and happy?

Step 3: Ask yourself the question: “What COULD I do, or what COULD be done in order to achieve my desired result or to make progress toward it?

  • As you can see that the instrumental word here is COULD.
  • The word “could” implies possibility. It keeps your thinking open and unrestricted from the constraints and obligations of commitment or action.
  • When you think, speculate and explore from the space of “What could be done?” you are much more inclined to think outside your box.

Step 4: Ask yourself the question: “What WILL I do to achieve my desired result or make progress toward it?”

  • Only go to the fourth step after you feel you have done a good job coming up with answers to the third step.
  • You don’t have to commit to anything if you don’t want to. However, if you don’t commit to what could achieve your desired result or make progress toward it at least you can be confident that the issue is not the circumstances.
  • You can always commit later if you are not ready now.
  • Lastly, if you choose to delay action, I strongly recommend you give up complaining or feeling helpless about your circumstances.
  • Ultimately, you must give up being a victim.

Try these steps and see how much possibility you can create.

 

Do less. You’ll be able to achieve more!

In my line of work I attend many business meetings, and many of them look like this: people sit around the table with their laptops or iPads open. There are relatively brief moments where everyone is deeply present, listening, paying attention and engaged in the conversation. Most of the time people are sporadically engaged but mostly working on their computers, iPads or smartphones responding to emails and focusing on other work related things.

Most people who work in organizations seem to feel that they have to attend too many meetings and that many, perhaps most of these meetings are too long and not productive. In fact, many times people say that most meetings are a waste of time.

Why is this the case?

I often ask my clients why their meetings are not productive. Many people attribute this to the fact that “people are not engaged and invested in the conversation because they are too distracted by other multi tasking activities.” Many also say that the reason they continue to do emails and work during the meeting is because “the meeting isn’t that productive or relevant to them.” This sounds like a vicious circle and self-perpetuating predicament.

In many cases people also say that “their manager is the biggest offender of doing emails and other work while in meetings, so this sets the mode and standard for less effective meetings.” When I have further asked why people don’t simply close their computers and devices in meetings in order to fully concentrate on the discussions at hand, many said that the reason is “with all the resource constraints they now have to do the work of two people”.

In today’s economy, the challenge of doing more with less is definitely more prevalent in corporations than ever. However, the strategy of “multi-tasking” as a solution is simply the wrong answer.

All this is true in our personal lives too: Have you ever noticed that when a friend or a family member is concentrating on a mobile device or computer while in a conversation with you, these conversations become intermittent, repetitive, unfocused and unproductive?

Our three kids (14, 21 and 25) act like it is normal to text, tweet, instagram and social network while talking to us, their friends, and others. This is the norm today among kids, teenagers and young adults. But, I recently read an article that indicated that the kids of today retain and remember less information because they rely so heavily on the internet. What is clear is that the more parallel demands we place on our brain and focus, the less productive we are, the more stressed we are, and the longer it takes to do the work.

Even though we’ve learned to accept this reality, at time it still causes inter-generational tension because its simply unacceptable for my wife and I to communicate and connect this way. In fact, on a recent carpool trip, it was amusing to see my youngest daughter with her three girlfriends, sitting side by side and texting each other rather than speaking.

At first we tried to impose clear rules around the use of phones and other devices, to make sure our kids balance their social networking with being present at family time and homework; otherwise they would never take their eyes off their phones. We had partial success. But, we didn’t give up. We all pledged to close our phones in all family dinners and social events. This has already made a difference in the quality of our quality time together as a family.

Please don’t understand me wrong, I have nothing against these marvelous devices– in fact, I own many of them, and love using them. But what today’s kids, teenagers, and business managers often fail to see is the cost of their multitasking on the entire spectrum of things that matter to them, from productivity in school and work, to intimacy with family and friends.

If you want to achieve greater, more complex and extraordinary things with higher quality, slow down and focus: you’ll get there much faster.

And as a bonus, you’ll be a happier, healthier person. That’s something you and your family can enjoy, at your leisure.

Blissfully Ignorant or Blissfully Aware?

Is ignorance really the key to bliss? Is it awareness? Or is it, perhaps, a combination of the two?

In last week’s blog, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks of being aware or ignorant about certain information and why it’s important to deliberately manage a balance between the two. But how do you know when knowledge is power and when it can be disempowering?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether you really want to know more:

Is this information true?

Benjamin Franklin once said,

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”

Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

“Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” Most of the information we use to make decisions is not based on fact. It is based on our interpretations and opinions about what we observe and what others tell us about their own observations. In today’s tech-driven, social-media-connected society, very little of what we hear (or read) is factual. In fact, much of it is actually based on incorrect facts. Yet, a frightening number of people believe not only everything they hear on the news but everything they read on Facebook as well.

Before taking action on information, think about it for yourself. Do some research. Gather more information before forming your own opinion. It may not always be possible to be certain whether a piece of information is true, but an equally important question is whether or not it is true to you—to what you think, who you are, and what you’re about.

Is this information empowering?

Some information simply has little to no positive value in our lives. Some knowledge can be depressing (often because there’s simply nothing we can do to change it), disempowering, and even dangerous. For instance, consider the images we see of models and celebrities, with their perfect bodies and faces. We start to wonder why we don’t look like that. The truth is that they don’t look like that either. Without strategic lighting and Photoshop, most of them look more like us than their pictures. And so we have this culture where people starve themselves to lose weight, teenagers get breast implants, and people literally get addicted to plastic surgery—all in pursuit of an unattainable standard of beauty.

Remaining ignorant of these undermining, disempowering conversations and similar information could certainly be blissful—and even beneficial. When we’re not inundated with other people’s ideas, standards, and values, we can start thinking more clearly for ourselves. We can take a stand for who we are and what we value.

Is this information useful?

It’s important to be aware of information that is useful to you—not just what makes you feel good but what you need to know in order to achieve your vision for your career, life, or even your family.

When my oldest daughter (who is now twenty-four) was preparing to enter high school, my wife and I started to think about what we believed was best for her. We had conversations among our social networks (mostly upper-middle-class people like us). Like many parents, we wanted a certain kind of success for our daughter. So we convinced ourselves and her that she should go to this highly-academic private school, where they raved about their statistics for how many students ended up in the more prestigious, high-earning professions like medicine and law.

My daughter suffered the whole year. It wasn’t the right place for her. Regretfully, it took us a few months to wake up and realize we were totally hypnotized by standards that had nothing to do with what was best for her. We, like many people, were in this rat race of standards and keeping up with the Joneses. And we hadn’t realized that before. We just thought we were looking out for her best interests. So we took her out of the school and placed her in a local school where she blossomed and did very well. I still see many people in our social circles that are still caught up in the same predicament.

Success, achievement, and happiness are concepts we should define for ourselves—based on our values, our visions of our lives, and what we truly want. It takes awareness to get off the bandwagon of keeping up with the Joneses. It also takes courage—to stand up for what you believe and to think for yourself. It’s much easier to just go with the flow. But when it comes to important, life-defining decisions, ignorance is not bliss. It’s a curse.

In next week’s blog, I’ll discuss the areas of our life and work where we definitely want to be aware—and the questions to ask ourselves to ensure we aren’t operating in unintentional ignorance.