If there’s one thing we consistently fail at as leaders and professionals, it’s living a balanced life. We always say we’re going to – usually at 11 PM after we finish up with email. Everyone knows balance is a critical aspect of being able to live a successful professional live (so much so that I’ve even dedicated entire posts to how living a balanced life is a key leadership principle – go read that post here).
There are a few reasons we fail at achieving balance but there are also a few tactical things you can do to keep your professional gyroscope in balance.
First, let’s define balance. In it’s simplest sense I’m going to cover taking time away from work to spend some time relaxing. That relaxation can come in the form of time with family, time on vacation, time doing something you love (for me, it’s fishing), or simply chilling out on the couch watching football and seeing your team become bowl-eligible for the first time in decades (GO ARMY! BEAT NAVY!). A lot of times balance is simply about taking a day to do nothing other than recharge your batteries as discussed in this post – go read it).
The reason you fail at achieving that balance is you’re driven. You likely enjoy your work (I hope so). You believe that the world will fall apart if you’re not there to hold it up. And the biggest reason you don’t achieve balance is you don’t focus on it because it’s not on your work progress review. But remember – it is on your life progress review so you might want to stop failing in that arena.
A helpful way to think about how to achieve balance is to consider it putting yourself in time-out from work. When a child misbehaves, a great tool is taking them away from whatever they’re focused on and sending them to a place where they’re not allowed to continue demonstrating the dysfunctional behavior.
Too much work? Dysfunctional behavior. Time-out? Time away from that work.
But you’re big boys and girls now. There’s no one to put you in the balanced lifestyle time-out chair so you have to do it yourself. Fortunately there are a few simple, tactical things you can do to successfully achieve some extra balance in your life.
Admit you have a problem
When is the last time you took a day off? If you can’t remember, you have a problem. What percentage of your time away from the office is spent “at” the office on email, crackberry, work reading, etc.? If it’s over 10%, you have a problem.
Just admit you have issues and keep reading. Admission is the first step to remission.
Schedule the time
If you’re like me, you live and die by your calendar. If you ever find me aimlessly wandering the streets looking confused, it’s because I’ve lost my crackberry and I don’t have my calendar to tell me where I’m supposed to be.
To get some balance, schedule the time. Put it on your calendar and treat it like a client appointment or big meeting. I’m not talking about just vacations here either (which you should also schedule and put on your calendar). I’m also talking about a simple day off to do nothing other than something you love to do.
Put that big block on your calendar. Do it well in advance (like 1-2 months) so you have an ability and the flexibility to schedule around it. If you do it in the too-near future you’ll have less flexibility and you’re also more likely to let the time slip away with the rationale “oh, I can just reschedule it.”
When you schedule it a few months in advance, every time you see it when you review your calendar, you’ll look forward to it more and more. It will take on larger importance and value to you the longer you look forward to it (sorta like a kid waiting for Christmas). That importance will make you more likely to hold it sacred and schedule around it.
No exceptions… except…
I know sometimes it can be very stressful to take time off. You DO have major work due and forcing yourself to twiddle thumbs could produce anxiety because you have a deadline. That will *not* be a pleasurable day off.
If something does come up, realize you do have the option (although a very unattractive one) to postpone that day off (note I did not say cancel). There’s no sense in creating anxiety for yourself when you’re really trying to achieve balance. If you do, welcome to Counterproductiveville – population: you.
Just be sure as you’re removing the time from your calendar, you’re simply changing the date of the event, not hitting delete. Reschedule the time and force it into your busy life.
Leave the phone at home. Forget the laptop. Go fish. Go lay in a hammock. Watch some TV. Read a book. Do nothing.
Remove the distractions and thoroughly immerse yourself in that which you enjoy doing. You’ll find when you eventually go back to work you’ll be happier, recharged, and more productive.
You now have a to do: open your calendar. Right now. Go on. I’m waiting. Got it open? Good. Now put a day on there for “you time” and put yourself in time-out. When that day comes, drop me a thank you note for forcing it upon you. Let me know how it went.