The 2015 edition of Getting Things Done by productivity and time management guru David Allen is out now. It’s a great resource for anyone struggling with time management in pursuit of the most elusive of goals—achieving optimal work-life balance.
However, in my experience—and I’ve learned this the hard way—the key to finding a healthy balance starts with coming to grips with who you want to be in life. What’s the personal brand you want to build and leave behind for those you care about, both personally and professionally?
The answer to this question becomes the litmus test you can use when you find yourself in the rat race of juggling priorities each day, priorities that often force you to pick between work and personal commitments.
In fact, I think Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization, said it best in a recent Entrepreneur.com column: “Forget about balance. It’s an illusion. ‘Balance’ assumes that we spend an equal amount of time in all or most areas of our life. The problem with that is that almost no entrepreneur can actually achieve that. For me, it’s about creating harmony, not balance…a life that is in harmony with your vision of who you are and what you want to do.”
Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to help me keep a healthy perspective on my personal and professional lives:
Sorry, But You’re not Superman or Superwoman
Unless cloning is an option, you can’t be in two places at one time (physically or mentally). If you’re an overachiever, this is hard for you to accept since you want to give 100 percent to your profession and 100 percent to your personal life.
As a result, the more you try to achieve a balance, the more frustrated you get, because it’s simply not possible if perfection is your goal. The quicker you come to grips with this realization, the easier it will be to find that ‘‘harmony’’ referenced by Dr. Misner.
Working 9 to 5—The Myth of the 21st Century
Dolly Parton’s 1980 Grammy-winning song “Working 9 to 5” almost certainly no longer resonates to most of us. This is particularly true for millennials, where the line between personal and professional is close to non-existent due to the ease of instant access brought to us by email, smartphones, and other applications that let us work anytime, anywhere. That said, you still need some structure within your life to ensure you get the most out of your 24-hour day and as you search for the best balance.
If you’re juggling work and personal commitments, create a shared calendar that you, your spouse, and your kids can access on your smartphones or tablets, so everyone can see who needs (and wants) to be where and when.
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The shared calendar will allow your spouse and kids to see when you’re in an important meeting and, most importantly, when you’re available to talk. It will also allow you to better manage conflicts when they occur versus being surprised at the last minute.
Ensure you have open time throughout the day to focus on unexpected events needing immediate attention, such as returning a phone call from your top customer or partner, and addressing any critical family-related issue that might surface. Filling your calendar with back-to-back meetings will only lead to stress and frustration, since it’s very possible unplanned events requiring your attention will occur.
- Finally, block out time to exercise, meditate, or read a book. Staying committed to “me time” is a critical component of maintaining strong mental health when life gets crazy.
Focus on Quality Time—Not Quantity
Looking back on my quest for work-life balance, there were many times I missed football games or musical plays, because I was out of town or working on an important work-related deadline. Although they were disappointed at the time, if you ask my now 27-year-old and 21-year-old children what they remember most about their childhoods, they’ll point to the quality of time we spent together—vacations we took, deep discussions we had, and holidays we spent together.
Luckily, they didn’t keep a “mom score card” on the specific events I attended or missed along the journey, although this was a big source of guilt for me, at the time. I’ve since overcome that guilt, because it’s not being there all the time that matters; instead, it’s what you make of the time when you’re with them.
Quality versus quantity also holds true in your work life. For example, a deeper focus on meeting quality versus meeting quantity can greatly free up your calendar, giving you time to balance other commitments. The same holds true for managing the flow of email.
Keeping up with email is a major obstacle that interferes with my work-life balance. I’ve recently told my staff that if I’m copied on an email versus listed as a recipient on the “To” line, there’s a chance I may not read it, let alone respond. Doing this has cut down on my email traffic, as well as empowered my team to take action without seeking my approval and removed me from some of the day-to-day decision-making.
There’s More Than One Path
Finding work-life balance isn’t easy, and the path getting there is different for everyone. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal decisions made each day. The good news is there’s no single path, and if you make the wrong decision tomorrow, you can make corrections the next day. Those close to you, like family and coworkers, are typically forgiving and know what you’re going through.
Your primary goal is to live your life so that in 20, 30, or 40 years, you’ll look back and can say you did the best you could to make a difference in the lives of those you care about personally and professionally.
About Connie Certusi
Connie Certusi is Executive Vice President and General Manager, Small Business Solutions of Sage North America. Connie leads the startup and small business solutions business, encompassing Sage One, Sage Accountants Network, and Sage 50 Accounting. She is also responsible for the Sage Employer Solutions products. With over 20 years of experience in the technology market serving small businesses, she has a passion for helping entrepreneurs and small business owners succeed. She lives in Atlanta and is known for liking fast cars and Aerosmith.