We have more to do now in our personal and professional lives than ever before. We are ruled by haste and urgency; we race from one thing to the next. The result: we feel fragmented and often depressed. There is so much mental clutter in our minds that it is sometimes hard to even start. Achieving balance comes from regularly answering a series of questions. Here is my ten step plan:
1. Become Aware – The very first step is to become conscious of the fact that you are overloaded. Ask yourself, “Am I feeling a temporary imbalance or a persistent long-term imbalance.” Some of the typical signs of work/life balance gone amuck include: 1) Feeling that you are merely trying to get through the day; 2) Barely making it to the end of the week and feeling completely exhausted by the time you get home; 3) Feeling that you are on the merry-go-round of life and just want to get off; 4) Feeling like you are falling behind and never catching up in the game of life. You have to become aware of the imbalance and then sincerely commit to change.
2. STOP – Second, make the intentional decision to stop and take a time-out. We are a nation addicted to speed and multi-tasking. If you really want to, you do have the ability to slow down and carve out some time to focus on your work/life balance problems. Make the purposeful decision to stop and reflect. Ask yourself the question, “When am I going to stop and make this my top priority?”
3. Assess – One of the most fundamental questions you will have to answer is, “Who am I?” Either with a trained professional or with someone you trust, thoroughly inventory your V.I.P.S. (Values, Interests, Personality traits and Skills). Reflect on your current situation and write down a two page outline of the major personal and professional events of your life. Generate a list of the 10 defining moments of your life and what you learned from them. The objective is to answer the question, “Where have I been?” Next, reflect on your present situation and list all the major challenges you currently face. Use a time management system to record how you spend your time each day for one month. This will help clearly identify where you are spending your valuable time. The goal is to answer the question, “Where am I now?” Having clarity with these three questions is the foundation for moving forward.
4. Explore – The next question is “Where am I going with my life?” Visualize your ideal life. Start to match the information gained from the assessment step, to the future you want to create. Based on your spiritual or philosophical purpose in life, write both a personal and professional “Vision Statement.” Your vision must be in alignment with your V.I.P.S. Finish this sentence, “My life would be a total success if…” Be specific! Ask yourself, “What are my core priorities?” Without a focus, you are setting yourself up for failure. Create a detailed list of your wants vs. your needs. Write down your vision of what you truly desire in these eight areas of your life: 1) Faith, 2) Family, 3) Friends, 4) Finances, 5) Fitness, 6) Fun (yes, fun), 7) Future career development, and 8) Further learning. Write a list of the six to 12 most important things you would want to have written on your epitaph. If you are not clear on your objectives, you will only get mixed results. Remember, where you go in life is up to you!
5. Analyze – With your written ideal work/life balance vision, you now have a gap between where you are now and where you want to be. The question is, “What barriers must be overcome to achieve my work/life balance?” Once the barriers are clearly defined, you can then generate possible solutions. Next, develop specific “Action Items” to close the gap between the “Ideal” and the “Real.”
6. Prioritize – There will be many things you need to do to improve your work/life balance. It is important to rank these responsibilities into three categories; 1) Highest Priorities, 2) High Priorities and 3) Lower Priorities. This will help answer the question, “In what order do the specific barriers need to be addressed?”
7. Set Goals – When you develop the methods and means for overcoming your challenges you are on the path to answering the question, “How do I get there?” Start by writing your goals out using the S.M.A.R.T. formula (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time-sensitive). If it’s not a S.M.A.R.T. Goal, it’s not a goal, only an idea. Divide your list of goals into: 1) Short-term (less than a year), 2) Intermediate-term (one to three years) and 3) Long-term goals (three to five years). Make sure one of your goals is a B.H.A.G. (Big Harry Audacious Goal) – something that you will be really proud of when you achieve it.
8. Form “The Dream Team” – Establish an “Advisory Board” of six to 12 people with whom you can share your goals and progress. When selecting these individuals, ask yourself, “Who will help me get there?” Have your most trusted person be your “Accountability Buddy.” Develop any other support groups that can serve as your “Strategic Partners” which will help you get you where you are going.
9. Implement Micro-Goals – Achieving balance can only be done incrementally, so break down your goals so small that there is no room to fail. When you wake up in the morning ask yourself, “What can I do TODAY to move toward better work/life balance?” Be deliberate with your time and your actions. I also suggest you, plan out five Actions Items each week for an entire month.
10. Evaluate – Finally, ask yourself, “How am I doing?” At the end of every week, month, quarter and year, take a time-out to reflect and chart your progress. Your job is to answer this question, “What do I need to start doing, stop doing, continue doing, do more of, do less of and do differently?” Reflect and write down your thoughts and ideas. When it comes to work/life balance, there are no silver bullet solutions. If you are self-disciplined, these daily minor techniques that you implement will have a cumulative effect.