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Balancing Your Work, Family and Social Life
Striking a balance between your work, family and social life
By Gene Grisman, Ph.D
Many of us have an image of personal balance every day as a set of scales in perfect balance. But that is an unrealistic goal. You are in for a lot of frustration if you try to carve out a predetermined amount of time each day for work, family and social life. Illness can disrupt all your plans. A business project may require peaks of intense work followed by valleys of slow time.
Balance requires constant adjustments, like an acrobat on a high wire who keeps shifting his weight left and right. By focusing on the four main areas of your life—emotional/spiritual needs, relationships, intellectual needs, and physical needs—at work and outside of work, you can begin to safely walk the high wire.
Here, drawn from my conversations with many successful Americans, are ten ideas for balancing all aspects of your life:
1. Make an appointment with yourself. Get rid of the idea that everyone has an advantage over you. Don’t just use your organizer or calendar to meet others. Give yourself a short time. Do something you enjoy regularly. It will recharge your batteries. Once you’ve entered your calendar, save those appointments. Kay Koplowitz, founder of the American cable television network, which broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Koplovic managed the network’s daily operations for 21 years. For more than two decades, there has always been some potential claim to her time. That’s why she vigilantly protected the scheduled tennis match, just like a business meeting.
2. Take care of your body. Having high energy levels is a trait of many highly successful people. Regardless of your current energy level, you can increase it by following these steps:
Eat. Don’t skip meals. Your physical and mental energy depends on your diet. Improper eating patterns can cause a frayed temper, depression, lack of creativity and an upset stomach.
Training. Time and time again, highly successful people tout the benefits of exercise routines. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett College for Women and former president of Spelman College, walks four miles every morning. She calls it her mobile meditation. The benefits of exercise are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. If you are healthier and more durable, you can work better and longer.
Relax. A psychologist who has studied creative people says that they often rest and sleep a lot.
3. Cut yourself some slack. You don’t have to do everything. Just the right things. Publisher Steve Forbes taught me a lesson: “Don’t be a slave to your inbox. Just because there’s something out there doesn’t mean you have to do it.” As a result, every night I tick off just a few “must-dos” from my long to-do list for the next day. If by three o’clock the next day I cross off all the “must haves”, I know that everything else I do that day will be the icing on the cake. That is a big psychological plus for me.
There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself hard, disciplining yourself
do what it takes to hold yourself to the highest standards. It increases stamina and turns you into a pro. Every now and then, though, you have to forgive yourself. You will never become 100 percent effective, nor should you expect to be. After something doesn’t work, ask yourself, “Did I do my best? If so, accept the outcome. All you can do is all you can do.
4. Blur the boundaries. Some very successful people achieve balance by setting aside time or days for family, recreation, hobbies, or the like. They create boundaries around certain activities and protect them. Other individuals who are equally successful do the exact opposite. They blur the boundaries. Consultant Alan Weiss says, “I work from home. In the afternoon I might watch my kids play in the pool or be out with my wife. On Saturday, or at ten o’clock at night, I might do things when the spirit moves me and when they are appropriate.”
Some jobs don’t fit this strategy. But the blurring of boundaries is possible more often than you think. One way is to involve the people you care about in what you do. For example, many companies encourage employees to bring their spouses to conferences and annual meetings. It’s a good idea. If the people who mean a lot to you understand what you’re doing, they can more fully participate in your successes and failures. They are also more likely to be a good sounding board for your ideas.
5. Take a break. Many therapists believe that taking a break from the work routine can have great benefits for mental and physical health. Professional speaker and executive coach Barbara Pagano practices a kind of quick charging, by scheduling a day every few months without an agenda. For her, that means staying in her pajamas, turning off her phone, watching an old movie or reading a novel in bed. For that one day, nothing happens, except what she decides hour by hour. Adds singer-songwriter Billy Joel, “There are times when you have to let a field sit in the desert.” Joel describes what farmers often do: let the plot rest so the soil can regenerate.
6. Take the road less traveled. Occasionally get off the highway and take a back road, literally and figuratively. That path can take you to the library or to the golf course. Do something unusual to avoid the worn furrows of your life. Try a new route to work, a different radio station, or a different cereal. Break out of your old mold once in a while, with a new way of dressing or a different hobby. The road less traveled can be a reward after a demanding event, a carrot to reward yourself, or it can be a good way to relax before a big event. Bobby Dodd, the legendary football coach at Georgia Tech, knew the power of this concept. While other coaches put their teams through brutal training twice a day, Dodd’s team did their drills and drills, but then took time to relax, play touch football and enjoy the bowling alleys. Did the idea work? In six consecutive championship games!
7. Be calm. Susan Taylor, editorial director of Essence, makes sure she has peace every morning. She sees it as a time to center – to be still and listen. She keeps a pen and paper with her to write down ideas that come to her mind. How you use your alone time should match your values, beliefs, and temperament. Some individuals devote regular time each day to visualizing themselves achieving their goals and dreams. Others read, pray, meditate, do yoga, or just contemplate the sunrise or sunset. Whatever form it takes, time spent alone can have a huge payoff. Achievements speak to the inner strength they find and how it helps them put competing demands into perspective. They feel more confident in their choices and more confident. They reveal a sense of balance, concentration.
8. Be a peacetime patriot. Joe Posner achieved wealth and recognition by selling life insurance. A few years ago, Posner helped form an organization in his hometown of Rochester, New York, to prepare underprivileged children for school and life and, he hopes, break the cycle of poverty. You may find an equally valuable way to give back through your church, hospital, civic club, alumni association, or by doing some pro bono work. Or you can help individuals privately, even anonymously. There are powerful rewards for balancing personal interests with the needs of the common good. One of the most beautiful things is the pure joy that can come from giving. Another reward is the better world you help create.
9. Do what you love to do. As a boy, Aaron Copeland spent hours listening to his sister practice the piano because he loved music. Following this love, he became the most famous American composer of classical music. When I asked him years later if he was at all disappointed by that choice, Copeland replied, “My life has been fascinating.” What a word to sum up life. By itself, loving what you do does not ensure success. You have to be good at what you love. But if you love what you do, the time you spend becoming competent is less likely to be exhausting.
10. Focus on strategy. As important as it is, how to save time to balance your life is not the ultimate question. That question is: “What am I saving time for?” Strategy has to do with success – but successful at what? If others are paying your salary, being strategic generally means convincing them that you’re spending your time in a way that benefits them. If there is a dispute about how you should use your time, either convince the people who can reward or punish you that your idea of using your time is appropriate, or find another job. That “for what?” you should also ask the question about the life you live. It’s really an all-encompassing question and it’s about wholeness.
So what makes a successful life in balance? I can think of no better definition than that given by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To laugh often and a lot; win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to win the praise of honest critics and suffer the treachery of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better, whether because of a healthy child, a garden plot, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life breathed easier because I lived. This should have worked.
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