Work-life Balance continues to be a top leadership issue. It is arguably the most common challenge shared across high level executives, mid-level managers, small business owners and Individual Contributors.
According to a recent study by the advisory firm The Corporate Executive Board Company, work-life balance is the second most important attribute in the workplace, just behind compensation. It is therefore not surprising that ICF’s 2014 Global Consumer Awareness Study revealed that 27% of individuals who participate in a coaching relationship did so with the goal of improving work/life balance.
And while it is truly a gender-neutral issue, it is actually even more acute for women. Over the years, technology and productivity tools evolved the term from Work-Life Balance (WLB) to Work-Life Integration (WLI). One would even argue that technology progress led to Work-Life Invasion rather than Integration. Regardless, the core issue remained and remains a fundamental leadership challenge.
Over the past two decades, as a working mother who travelled frequently around the globe, as a business leader and as a leadership coach, I’ve had strong and selfish motives to crack this very hard nut. And I believe I have.
Truly, this is not an easy exercise. It is more of a journey that requires self-awareness and clarity, authentic commitment and relentless focus. Yet, it is a very rewarding investment. In my opinion and in my own experience, this is the only way to successfully integrate work and play on our terms.
It involves 5 steps and it is highly personal. Here are those 5 steps – that need to be followed in the order of the list-:
1. Know your Top needs and wants
Identify your personal list of “non-negotiable priorities”. Each of us has a short list of things that matter to us so deeply, without them, we are not centered or well-aligned to who we truly are and aspire to be. I stumbled over my biggest non-negotiable when my youngest son Nicolas, who was 7 at the time, asked one evening at the dinner table “ How come you never come pick me up from school ?” I felt so miserable, resentful and angry for the following weeks that it forced me to start looking at what I could do to feel better. It took me more long weeks to finally realize that the reason this knot in my stomach was not going away was because my son contradicted one of my key principles and fundamental beliefs: “I was and wanted to be a good mother”. As a result I was thrown out of alignment with who I was and wanted to be. Each of us has such a personal list of non-negotiable items, which I call Big Rocks. Becoming fully aware of this list is the fundamental stepping stone to the journey of living the life we want. Even if you think you know, make the effort to verbalize it and write it down. A main “non-negotiable” to a previous colleague of mine was that he wanted to coach his kids’ hockey team. Another colleague’s was to be a good husband and that included keeping company with his pharmacist wife during her monthly on-duty nights….
2. Take charge
While there are many compelling reasons to play victim, and blame a poor work life balance (WLB) on: our job, our boss, a competitive market, our family duties… (Pick one). It is ultimately up to us to decide who gets to choose where and how we focus our time and energy. Until we have fully grasped that Work-Life Balance or Work-Life Integration is our sole responsibility, we will not be able to make sustainable changes. When I finally realized what was going on in my life, I also realized that nobody but me could solve the issue that my son Nicolas had highlighted. It was clearly my responsibility. So one Friday afternoon, I made the bold decision to surprise my 2 boys and showed up at their school to pick them up.
3. Self-empower to make hard choices
Ok, so you have clarity of your Big Rocks and you have come to the conclusion that only you have the mighty power to make changes. Now you need to move forward and start setting boundaries, making hard choices and sometimes saying no. In order to do that, you need to decide that you are worthy enough to deserve the resulting well-being and benefits. This is a very personal lever, leading to the self-empowerment needed to make the necessary changes. Once done, you can write your Personal Work-Life Balance Statement. Following my first bold move, I decided to pick up my children every Friday PM and to work from home every Wednesday afternoon when I was in town. I also identified a few other small adjustments to my schedule that made me happier without impacting my productivity. My colleagues also planned their weeks around their Big Rocks and this meant for the hockey guy to be in the office at 6 am twice a week….
4. Commit, Plan, Experiment, learn
Now that you are clear about what is important to you and comfortable in making the needed chances, how do you make it happen? Not everybody is a time management maven, email expert or planning specialist. Well the good news is that is the relatively easy part. There is no shortage of productivity tools that can get you started. Time management is one topic I help my clients with. Here are few important thoughts to keep in mind. Planning is everything and the more you can anticipate the more you are in control and less likely to be randomized. The time you will be spending in front of your Task List and your calendar is a valuable investment and the key to the freedom kingdom. It is equally important to be flexible and recognize when it is acceptable to deviate from what you had planned. I continue to have “planning time” in my calendar where I list all my upcoming tasks, projects and activities for both my business and personal life. And I make sure to map those activities into my calendar. I also use this image with my coaching clients: “imagine that your week is a purse full of gold coins and that every time you accept a meeting, commit your time to a task, you are giving away one of your gold coins. So before allocating the time, ask yourself Is the task / meeting / commitment worth one of my gold coins?”
Our Needs and Wants evolve with time. So it is important to review the list every year or with every major change we experiment (new job, new house, new place (city, country), new baby…). It is equally important to keep the sense of ownership and empowerment together with the level of commitment to continue to be true to yourself. Through this journey, you probably clarified your key values and recommitted to your top priorities and this is genuinely a huge gift you awarded yourself.
With these 5 steps, you are already on a path to a fulfilled and happy work like balance. How will you choose to celebrate this accomplishment? How will you hold yourself accountable so that you stay on this path? I would love to hear about your journey, please feel free to reach out via email or by leaving a comment.