Balancing your work, family and social life
By Gene Griessman, Ph.D.
Many of us have an image of personal balance as a perfectly balanced scale every day. But that is an unrealistic goal. You will run into a lot of frustration if you try to allocate within each day a predetermined portion of time for work, family, and social life. An illness can upset all your plans. A business project can demand peaks of intense work, followed by valleys of slow time.
Balance requires continual adjustments, like an acrobat on a tightrope constantly shifting his weight left and right. By focusing on four main areas of your life: emotional/spiritual needs, relationships, intellectual needs, and physical needs, at work and outside of work, you can safely begin to walk a tightrope.
Here, drawn from my conversations with many successful Americans, are ten ideas for balancing all aspects of your life:
1. Make an appointment with yourself. Banish from your mind the idea that everyone has priority over you. Don’t use your planner or calendar just for appointments with other people. Give yourself some prime time. Do something you enjoy regularly. It will recharge your batteries. Once it’s put on your calendar, save those appointments. Kay Koplovitz founder of the US cable television network, which is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Koplovitz ran the day-to-day operations of the network for 21 years. For more than two decades, there was always some potential claim on her time. She therefore carefully guarded a scheduled tennis match as she would a business appointment.
2. Take care of your body. Having a high energy level is a trait that many highly successful people have. No matter what your current energy level is, you can increase it by following these steps:
To eat. Don’t skip meals. Your physical and mental energy depends on food. Irregular eating patterns can cause moodiness, depression, lack of creativity, and a jittery stomach.
Exercise. Time and time again, highly successful people mention the benefit of exercise routines. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett College for Women and former president of Spelman College, walks four miles each morning. She calls it her mobile meditation. The benefits of exercise are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. If you are healthier and have more stamina, you can work better and longer.
Rest. A psychologist who has studied creative people reports that they rest frequently and sleep a lot.
3. Give some slack. You don’t have to do everything. Just the right things. Editor Steve Forbes taught me a lesson: “Don’t be a slave to your inbox. Just because something is in there doesn’t mean you have to.” As a result, every night, I pull from my long to-do list just a few “must haves” for the next day. Yeah, but by 3am the next morning, I’ve crossed off all the ‘musts’, I know everything else I do that day will be icing on the cake. It is a great psychological plus for me.
There is nothing wrong with trying very hard, disciplining yourself to
do what must be done when you hold yourself to the highest standards. That builds stamina and makes you a pro. Over time, however, you must forgive yourself. You will never be 100 percent efficient, nor should you expect to be. After something doesn’t work, ask yourself, “Did I do my best? If you did, accept the outcome. All you can do is all you can do.”
4. Blur the boundaries. Some very successful people achieve balance by setting aside times or days for family, recreation, hobbies, or the like. They create boundaries around certain activities and protect them. Other people who have the same success do the exact opposite. They blur the boundaries. Says consultant Alan Weiss: “I work out of the house. In the afternoon, I could be watching my kids play in the pool or hanging out with my wife. On Saturday, or at ten o’clock on weekdays, I could be working, I do the things when the spirit moves me, and when it is opportune”.
Some jobs don’t lend themselves to this strategy. But blurring the lines is possible more often than you think. One way is to involve the people you care about in what you do. For example, many companies encourage employees to bring their spouses to conferences and annual meetings. It is a good idea. If people who mean a lot to you understand what you do, they will be able to more fully share your successes and failures. They are also more likely to be a good sounding board for your ideas.
5. Take a break. Many therapists believe that taking a break from the work grind can have significant mental and physical health benefits. Professional speaker and executive coach Barbara Pagano practices a kind of fast-charging, scheduling a day every few months with no agenda. For her, that means staying in her pajamas, unplugging the phone, watching old movies, or reading a novel in bed. For that day nothing happens, except what she decides from hour to hour. She adds singer-songwriter Billy Joel: “There are times when you need to let the field lie fallow.” Joel is describing what farmers often do: let a plot sit so the soil can replenish itself.
6. Take the road less travelled. Occasionally pull off the freeway and onto a side road, literally and figuratively. That path can take you to the library or to the golf course. Do something out of the ordinary to avoid the beaten ruts of your life. Try a new route to work, a different radio station, or a different cereal. Break out of your old mold from time to time, with a new way of dressing or a different hobby. The road less traveled can be a reward after a demanding event, a carrot you reward yourself with, or it can be a good way to relax before a big event. Bobby Dodd, the legendary football coach at Georgia Tech, knew the power of this concept. While other coaches put their teams through brutal practices twice a day, Dodd’s team did their drills and practices, but then took time to relax, play football and enjoy the bowls. Did the idea work? In six consecutive championship games!
7. Stay still. Susan Taylor, Editorial Director of Essence, makes sure you have a quiet moment every morning. She sees it as a time to center herself, to sit still and listen. She carries a pen and paper with her to write down the ideas that occur to her. How she uses time alone should match her values, beliefs, and temperament. Some people set aside regular time each day to visualize themselves achieving their goals and dreams. Others read, pray, meditate, do yoga or simply watch a sunrise or sunset. Whatever form it takes, time spent alone can be hugely rewarding. Winners talk about an inner strength they find and how it helps them put conflicting demands into perspective. They feel more secure in their choices and more self-sufficient. They discover a sense of balance, a centeredness.
8. Be a patriot in times of peace. Joe Posner has achieved wealth and recognition selling life insurance. Several years ago, Posner helped form an organization in his hometown of Rochester, New York, to prepare underprivileged children for school and life and, he hopes, break the cycle of poverty. He may find an equally valuable way to give back through his church, hospital, civic club, alumni association, or doing some pro bono work. Or he can help people in private, even anonymously. There are powerful rewards for balancing personal interests with the needs of the greater good. One of the most wonderful is the sheer joy that can come from giving. Another reward is the better world you help create.
9. Do what you like to do. As a child, Aaron Copeland would spend hours listening to his sister practice the piano because he loved music. Following that love, he became America’s most famous classical music composer. When asked years later if that choice disappointed him, Copeland replied, “My life has been a lovely one.” What a word to sum up a life. By itself, loving what you do does not ensure success. You need to be good at what you love. But if you love what you do, the time you spend becoming competent is less likely to be burdensome.
10. Focus on strategy. As important as it is, how to save time to balance your life is not the final question. That question is, “What am I saving time for?” Strategy is all about being successful, but successful at what? If others pay your salary, being strategic usually means convincing them that you’re using their time in a way that benefits them. If there is a dispute about how you should use your time, convince the people who may reward or punish you that your idea of time use is appropriate, or find another job. The “what for?” The question should also be asked about the life you lead. It is truly a comprehensive question and gets to the question of the whole.
So what makes a life of balance successful? I can’t think of a better definition than the one given by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Laugh many times and a lot; earn the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; win the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; appreciate beauty, find the best in others; leave the world a little better, whether with a healthy child, orchard, or redeemed social status; to know that even one life has breathed better because I have lived. This is having achieved it.