Reading & Reflecting: Executives and Work-Life Management

Inc.com recently posted an article, The Ultimate Balance: How Top Execs Juggle Work, Family, which gives tips for managing your professional and personal lives while maintaining a demanding career. Author, Jannie Popick, touches on everything from setting boundaries to outsourcing errands. Popick writes,

Having boundaries is incredibly helpful for managing time and expectations. Make sure that your team is clear about these boundaries and can work around them, and of course that you’re able to still reliably meet your responsibilities.

I have written on the topic of work life management several times. Aside from tactics, like those suggested by Popick, it is important to be realistic, both with yourself and those around you. Balance often implies that we can have equal parts of everything, but that is simply not the case. You cannot actually balance everything, but you can manage it – and still enjoy both sides. You must be flexible and continuously make adjustments to make it work for you. And when you find what works for you, commit to it and communicate it.

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Insights from the Work/Life TweetChat

In the beginning of July, I hosted a TweetChat on work life management that was joined by Ellen Galinsky, Cali Yost, and Joe Robinson, among others. A few themes emerged from this chat that I would like to touch on:

The implications of “balance” – When we think of the word “balance,” we think 50/50, two things on a scale, neither outweighing the other. However, in this context, balance can be misleading. In a previous blog entry, I referred to managing our jobs and personal lives, not as a perfect balancing act, but as a preparation for imbalance – where in fact we must be willing to admit that work and life will not always be equals. During our TweetChat, Yost and Galinsky used the term “work life fit,” while others use terms like “management” or “integration.” No matter what term you use, it’s important to set realistic expectations and find the fit that works best for you.

Autonomy vs. total control – Prompted by a question from Robinson about what makes a difference in quality of work-life for a person, Galinsky responded, “Autonomy.” This might prompt questions in your mind about the definition of the word. Does it mean that the employee decides what she works on and for how many hours a day? Is the employee her own boss? No, Galinsky went on to say, “Autonomy isn’t total control – [it] needs to work for the employee and the employer (just as in any relationship)!” As an example, an employee may be required to be available for meetings in the evening (this is what works for the employer), but she asks that meetings do not take place between 6-9PM so that she can spend time with her kids (this is what works for the employee). The employee gives up some control of her evenings, but the employer allows her the autonomy to decide her hours. In this case, some flexibility by both parties results in mutual satisfaction.

Imposition of limits – “If you wish to live with a continually renewing sense of success that really seems worthwhile and lasting on all your success targets, you have to give up the standards of maximization,” writes Howard Stevenson of the Harvard Business Publishing Company board. What Stevenson is referring to is the understanding and imposing of limits.

 

  • Understanding – There are limits to what an individual or an organization can accomplish. Unfortunately, despite folklore and fairytales, we cannot be the best at everything. To succeed in life and to have satisfaction in our successes, we have to be willing to accept that this fact is not synonymous with failure. While Warren Buffet may be among the best at investing, he certainly isn’t the best tennis player, and the opposite likely applies to Roger Federer. However, neither of these gentlemen would be considered failures. In spite of their limitations, we consider them to be great successes.

 

  • Imposing – The first step in work life management is always to determine your priorities. Once you do this, you can set boundaries that allow you to succeed at these goals. This doesn’t just apply to work, but to your personal life as well. The key component of imposing limits is to communicate your boundaries, thereby enabling others to aid, instead of inhibit your goals.

 

What do you think about the themes we discussed during the TweetChat? How do they relate to your own experiences with managing your professional and personal life?

Work/Life Imbalance

We often hear the phrase “work/life balance.”  The truth about work/life balance, not often implied by the term itself, is that your work and your personal life can’t always be perfectly in balance, and it’s important to recognize that there will be times where one will take priority over the other. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent, friend, or coworker – it’s just a reality.

So the real question people should be asking is not, “How do I achieve work/life balance,” but: “how do I prioritize my work/life activities – preparing for an imbalance of the two at any given time?” Four small things make a huge difference for me in preparing for imbalance:

1) Proactively manage priorities: Take a look at everything going on in your life and determine where things fall as priorities. Perhaps work is your #1 priority, perhaps family, perhaps something else entirely. Even look at your tasks on a more micro level: Your son’s soccer game, that presentation for your boss’s meeting, volunteering, and so on. One method for doing this is using the Urgent/Important Matrix attributed to both former US President Eisenhower and Dr. Stephen Covey. Keep in mind that this list is not tattooed to you, priorities shift over time, depending on where you are in your life and what’s happening around you. Revisit your list as things change, and don’t be afraid to reprioritize. There is only so much time in the day, so understanding your priorities is the first step to allocating your time properly. Your top priorities (and remember, not everything can be a top priority!) are the things to focus on first and which to dedicate the most energy. These are the things that you clear your calendar for and that take precedence when another demand comes knocking. Those tasks that are not your top priorities require management as well, which brings us to your network.

2) Rely on your network: I know the idea of relinquishing responsibilities can sometimes be challenging, like giving the keys to your new car to your teenage daughter. You said you would do it, but you find yourself still tightly holding the keys as she tries to pry them from your locked fingers. But the thing is, if you don’t give her the keys a couple things will happen: A) She won’t develop into a good driver herself without practice and B) You will be required to continue shuttling her to and from various activities, which I am guessing didn’t make it into your top three priorities. Point is, relying on other people, in and out of work, is both necessary and good. What projects can be delegated to others on your team (how to delegate work and responsibility); can another neighbor host the block party? We sometimes have the tendency to feel guilty for relying on our network, but that’s what they’re there for and when they need you, that’s what you’re there for too.

3) Set boundaries and communicate them: A question to ask yourself: “Why do I have doors on my house, but not in my life?” Doors play an integral role in our homes, they let people in, but they also keep people out, preserving your security and sanity. The problem is that we don’t use the door mentality with our lives; we don’t lockdown time for ourselves to keep people/tasks out and preserve security and sanity in our everyday work life.  You must set boundaries, and even more importantly, you must let everyone else know what those boundaries are. If having dinner with your family every night is a priority, then you need to leave the office at a certain time. If finishing that revenue analysis is urgent, then you are going to need uninterrupted time to work on it and you can’t take on additional work until it’s done (or as the Harvard Business Review refers to it: The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time). For each of your priorities, determine the requirements, including the boundaries, and respect them, if you don’t, no one else will either.

4) Continue to perform: The thing to remember is exactly what we said in the beginning: Your priorities are constantly evolving and you need to reassess them continuously in order to do your best work. When we see people getting burned out or failing to meet their goals, it is because they fail to prioritize, utilize their network and/or set the proper boundaries. Work life balance is a process, not a single moment. If you maintain the process, then you can continue to be successful in your tasks – and whether that task is related to work or not, you will see the benefits of high performance.

One final note:  Lead by example: The best way to show your coworkers, friends and family how to manage both their jobs and their personal lives is to do it yourself. One of the top questions I get as a leader is how I manage both the rigors of my job and the requirements of being a mom. My answer is, “I’m doing it right now. Follow me in a day and you’ll see how.” It is possible to do all the things that you want to do as long as you are willing to accept that the secret to work life balance is actually about preparing and managing work life imbalance.