The Critical Importance of Achieving Balance

November 25, 2013 6 Comments

Balancing Rock FormationToday’s post focuses on how you can do a better job of achieving work-life balance. It’s an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (get your copy here).  Given my recent heart attack, I’ve gone back and tried to take some of my own medicine by rereading the Leading a Balanced Life section of my book.  This excerpt hits home on that point.

We live in a stressful world. Business moves at an unprecedented pace and seems to speed up every day. Globalization and technology have introduced new challenges and opportunities into our lives. Retirement looms ahead of us. Commitments to family and friends suffer at the hands of our to-do list. We are in a constant state of high alert, ready to react to the next crisis looming right around the corner. All these dynamics conspire to stress us out.

Stress and fatigue break you down. They add to your waistline, clog your arteries, sap your energy, ruin your complexion, and generally run you into the ground. They can also derail your life and career. If you are burned out, you are worthless. You are worthless to your team, your family, your friends, and yourself. No one wants to work with or be around a tired, frazzled husk of a person whose once vibrant self has succumbed to the pressures of the world.

In an effort to reduce the stress we feel, we wave our arms and declare we want a balanced life. The problem is, we never define what that balance means. Also, we fail to achieve balance because we are driven. We enjoy our work. We believe the world will fall apart if we are not there to hold it together. The biggest reason we do not achieve balance is because we do not focus on it. Although balance is not on our work progress reviews, we must remember how important it is to our lives, both at work and outside of work.

The first step toward living a balanced life is realizing that both your life and your work need to be in balance. Many times we perceive this balanced life concept as pertaining only to not working late or on weekends. That is but one aspect of balance. Another aspect is doing work you enjoy. If work sucks, life sucks. You probably spend more time at your workplace than you do with your family and friends. To achieve balance in your work, you need to define the most rewarding aspects of your job. This definition ties back to feeling challenged and effective in the work you do. Work balance consists of working on enough of the things you love to do to balance out the things you dislike doing but have to put up with at your workplace. For example, if you love innovation and hate filling out expense reports, you must ensure that you have enough hours of your day dedicated to innovative activities to balance out the monotony of filling out expense reports. If the mix of your work shifts too far toward expense reporting, you will be out of balance at work. Of course this is an oversimplified example, but I am sure you get the point.

Creating maxims for balance at work requires you to define what is or is not acceptable behavior for you, your boss, your coworkers, and your team. If you focus on finding work you enjoy and have passion for, achieving work balance will naturally follow. There is powerful guidance on this point in the saying (often attributed to Confucius), “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Your maxims should help you consistently steer yourself toward work you love and away from work you do not. You will know you have achieved work balance when you feel excited, engaged, and motivated the vast majority of the time you are working. The days will seem to fly by, and you will feel like you are consistently in a strong positive rhythm. This mental state results from having a healthy portion of enjoyable tasks on your plate.

You will know you are out of balance when large parts of your day are filled with frustrating tasks. You will lack energy and enthusiasm, and time will seem to move at a crawl. You will find yourself railing against going to work on a daily basis. Yes, other factors can contribute to these feelings—major layoffs, micromanaging bosses, or other office turmoil. But, in general, when you find yourself feeling this awful feeling for more than a month straight, you do not have balance.

A wise man once told me the following, and I have tried to live by it:
“If you dread going to the office for a week, you are having a bad week. If you dread it for a month, you need to reconsider what you are doing. If you dread it for two months, you need to get your resume out on the street. If you dread it for longer than two months and have done nothing about it, you have dug your own grave.”

Fortunately, I have never had to get out the grave-digging shovel. I have changed jobs on several occasions for a multitude of reasons. I made some of those changes because I no longer felt challenged. Other times, work was consuming too much of my time and energy and I had nothing left to give once I left the office. Leaving each of those jobs was a difficult choice to make. I am glad I did it, because now I no longer work (in the sense of that Confucius-attributed saying). I love the work I do. It is a true joy to teach, write, and build businesses. Sure, there are menial tasks I have to perform in my role, but my work balance tips well in the direction of engagement and away from mindless, trivial work.

Of course, a big part of leading a balanced life is enjoying your time off from work and ensuring that you have time off in the first place. Yes, taking time away from work can be difficult. But the alternative is living your life as the burnt-out husk of a person we talked about earlier. Spending too much time at work is a dysfunctional behavior, and you need to find a way to correct it. Your maxims will serve as the mechanism for successfully achieving balance in your life.

- Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

- If you want to create your own set of guiding principles to help you achieve a better work-life balance, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership or download the audiobook version at It will help you define what’s important to you and achieve a better sense of balance.

6 Responses to “The Critical Importance of Achieving Balance”

  1. Brian Ahearn says:

    Now swallow your medicine like a good boy Mike. lol

    It’s ironic how so oftern we know what to do then slip into places where we’re not doing it. I gave coaching advice to a friend last week then turned around and made the same mistake I warned him against! The good news was, I recognized it much faster than I would have years ago and made a correction so all is good.

    I hope you’re feeling better. Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family.


  2. Holly Bierer says:

    Thanks, Mike. I take to heart your post. As a full-time manager and care-giver to my husband; learning how to balance life as become a sport for me. I am very thankful for having a job I love and surrounded by wonderful friends, family and co-workers. Thanks for the advise! Take care of yourself and have a nice Thanksgiving.

  3. Dianne says:

    Mike – another good reminder to be mindful of the BIG picture of our lives and to create a plan that includes all facets! Personally I strive for LIFE-work balance: that simple word flip reminds me constantly why I do the work I do…to LIVE!

    I’m a big fan of polarity thinking which is a great framework for seeing the whole picture of seemingly opposite concepts. We have a well ingrained tendency to think in ‘either-or’ terms (work or life) instead of ‘and’ (work and life).

    Applied to the concept of work-life balance, polarity thinking encourages you to identify the ‘up sides’ associated with being your best at work and being your best at home (life). You then identify the down sides of both – the undesirable outcomes that occur when you focus too much on work and when you focus too much on life.

    Now that you have the whole picture, you can identify the early warning signs that tell you when you are slipping into the down sides of one or the other pole. Then as Brian noted, you make a correction – identify specific action steps you can take that push you back up into the positive spheres.

    Work-life balance is a daily tension to manage NOT a one-time problem to solve. Once you accept that, you adjust your thinking so that you catch your ‘mistakes’ earlier and direct your energies to positive adjustments instead of bemoaning the lack of balance.

    All the best for speedy recovery and joining me in achieving LIFE-work balance!

  4. Great piece, Mike.

    David Belden recently posted an outstanding article called “WORK/LIFE BALANCE? DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH!”

    Here are a few great parts:

    “Eastern philosophy does not seek to achieve balance. He said that was a mistranslation. Eastern philosophy, he said, addresses harmony. I asked him to explain the difference. He replied that balance implies a mechanical partition of energy: 8 hours each of work/play/sleep or study/play/sleep or spirituality/play/sleep depending on your stage in life.

    Harmony, he said, is the appropriate expenditure of energy at any given time based on the challenge at hand. There are times when it is entirely appropriate to focus all one’s energy on work. Sometimes, that energy needs to be focused on family. Sometimes, we just need to catch up on sleep. Not to expend our energy on that particular topic at that time may bring mechanical balance…but certainly will not bring harmony.

    No, this is not a workaholic’s apologia. Harmony is about recognizing where energy needs to be focused. Our lives as entrepreneurs are filled with stress. We can harmoniously accommodate that acute stress (positive, even fun) by staying focused for a limited amount of time. If we tried to find a balance-equation for all the stress in our lives, we would simply generate chronic stress (negative, definitely not fun) that grinds us down.”

  5. […] via The Critical Importance of Achieving Balance. […]

  6. Toby Jacob says:

    hi Mike, thanks for the advice. I just started a courier in the oil gas industry and reading this page better equips me to face what is ahead. It is a challenging industry but I have loved it from day one. Thanks again and I wish you speedy recovery. God bless.


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