When was the last time your life felt perfectly balanced? Or you were successfully dedicating just the right amount of time and energy to the people, places, and things that mattered most to you? Or your efforts flowed seamlessly to meet your daily personal and professional needs?
Chances are good, your answer might be, “Maybe when I was five.” In this fast-paced, technology-crazed world in which we live, it’s more likely that you regularly flop into bed at the end of the day feeling frustrated and exhausted–having failed yet again to achieve the ever-elusive “work-life balance.”
While list-making, goal-setting, and working “smarter” can be effective strategies for achieving greater work-life balance, they often fall short because we lack the mindset to sustain those techniques.
According to executive coach and mentor Cindy McDaniels with Vistage Worldwide, obstacles to achieving work-life balance are multi-dimensional:
- Life in the 21st century is extraordinarily fast-paced.
- We’re continually contemplating new pursuits.
- It’s difficult to know where the value lies.
- We make ourselves crazy trying to attain “perfect balance.”
However, our most challenging obstacle ultimately may be that we unknowingly let others design our lives.
For instance, how many times have you eagerly accepted a promotion or salary increase at work in exchange for additional duties and responsibilities? How many times have you said, “Yes,” to a community organization that has asked you to volunteer? Wouldn’t we be ‘crazy’ not to accept a pay raise or ‘selfish’ not to donate our time?
A more compelling question might be the number of times you’ve asked yourself if a promotion or community engagement is something you truly want (or can manage successfully) before answering, “Yes!” What makes work-life balance so challenging to accomplish is that we often make choices based on what other people think we should do.
Work-life balance begins with choosing for ourselves how we want to spend our time. If a particular opportunity isn’t both desirable and well-timed, then we need to be brave enough to speak up and say, “No.” Certainly such decisions are difficult to make, and other people who are involved may do their best to change our minds. However, achieving greater balance begins with making tough decisions. When it comes to our lives, the decision-makers should be us!
Based on her considerable experience coaching successful CEOs, McDaniels offers the following suggestions for accomplishing increased work-life balance:
- Begin today to take control of your life.
- Work toward increased balance one day at a time.
- Learn to gently say “No!” for the right reasons.
- Practice being mindfully present as you navigate the course of your day.
- Avoid distractions by outside influences; instead spend time doing the things you love with the people you enjoy.
- Make personal and professional choices that best leverage your time.
- Be flexible and adaptable. Things won’t always go the way you plan. However, your response to a challenge can serve as a stepping stone toward greater balance.
- Make the best of what appears to be a setback. Ask yourself, “What’s the best thing I can do right now?” Then take immediate action. Indulging in negative emotions can disrupt your mindset and lead to greater imbalance.
- Identify root causes of setbacks and related emotions. Then assess whether (and how) to best proceed. Eliminate, revise and adjust plans to optimize balance.
- Remember that momentary decisions (often emotion-based) are as important as long-term decisions to achieving balance.
- Making good decisions about what you want to do with your time isn’t selfish. Your decisions must be right for both you and your loved ones.
- Remind yourself often that time is your most precious commodity.
Like goal-setting and prioritization techniques, mindfulness requires continuous practice. As McDaniels often counsels her corporate clients, “Work-life balance is an intentional combination of technique + mindfulness.” It takes both to succeed.