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Balancing Your Work, Family and Social Life
Balance your work, family and social life
By Gene Griessman, PhD
Many of us have an image of personal balance as a set of scales in perfect balance every day. But that is an unrealistic goal. You have a lot of frustration if you try to allocate a predetermined portion of time each day to your work, family and social life. An illness can disrupt all your plans. A business project may require peaks of intense work, followed by periods of slow time.
Balance requires continuous adjustment, like an acrobat on a high wire constantly shifting his weight to the right and to the left. By focusing on the four main areas of your life – emotional/spiritual needs, relationships, intellectual needs and physical needs – at work and away from work, you can safely begin walking the high wire.
Here, from my conversations with many highly successful Americans, are ten ideas for balancing all aspects of your life:
1. Make an appointment with yourself. The idea that everyone has priority over you. Don’t use your organizer or calendar only for appointments with other people. Give yourself some prime time. Regularly do something you like. It will recharge your batteries. Once you have set yourself on your calendar, watch these appointments. Kay Koplovitz is the founder of the United States cable television network, which is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Koplovitz led the day-to-day operations of the network for 21 years. For more than two decades, there were still some potential claims about his time. That is why he is vigilant to protect a scheduled tennis match as he would a business appointment.
2. Take care of your body. Having a high energy level is a characteristic held by many highly successful people. Regardless of your current energy level, you can increase it by following these steps:
Food. Don’t skip meals. Your physical and mental energy depends on nutrition. Irregular eating patterns can cause a frayed temper, depression, lack of creativity and an upset stomach.
Exercise. Over and over, successful people mention the benefits of exercise routines. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett College for Women and former president of Spelman College, walks four miles every morning. He calls it his mobile meditation. The benefits of exercise are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. If you are healthy and have more stamina, you can work better and longer.
Rest. A psychologist who has studied creative people reports that they rest often and sleep a lot.
3. Cut some slack. You don’t have to do everything. Just good stuff. Publisher Steve Forbes taught me a lesson: “Don’t be a slave to your box. Just because something is there doesn’t mean you have to do it.” As a result, every evening, I extract from my long list to do just a few “must do” for the next day. If, at three o’clock the next day, I have crossed all the “musts,” I know that everything else I do that day will be icing on the cake. It is a great psychological advantage for me.
There is nothing wrong with pushing yourself hard, disciplining yourself to
do what needs to be done when you hold yourself to the highest standards. This builds stamina and turns you into a professional. But at some point, you have to forgive yourself. You will never be 100 percent effective, nor should you hope to be. After something doesn’t work, ask yourself, “Did I do my best? If you did, accept the result. All you can do is all you can do.
4. Blur the boundaries. Some very successful people achieve balance by setting aside times or days for family, recreation, hobbies or the like. They create boundaries around certain activities and protect them. Other similarly successful people do just the opposite. They blur the boundaries. Consultant Alan Weiss says, “I work outside my home. In the afternoon, I might watch my kids play in the pool or go out with my wife. On Saturday, or at ten o’clock on a weeknight, I might be work. I do things when the spirit prompts me, and when they are appropriate.”
Some jobs don’t lend themselves to this strategy. But blurring the boundaries is possible more often than you might 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 people who mean a great deal to you understand what you do, they can share more fully 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 a work routine can have great benefits for mental and physical health. Professional speaker and executive coach Barbara Pagano practices a fast-paced, one-day schedule every few months without an agenda. For him, that means staying in his pajamas, unplugging the phone, watching old movies or reading a novel in bed. For that one day, nothing happens, except what he decides from hour to hour. Adds singer and songwriter Billy Joel, “There are times when you need to let the garden lie.” Joel is describing what farmers often do: let a plot rest so the soil can replenish itself.
6. Take the road less traveled. Occasionally, get off the freeway and take a side road, literally and figuratively. This route can take you to the library or the golf course. Do something unusual to avoid well-worn grooves in your life. Try a new route to work, a different radio station or a different cereal. Break out of your old mold every now and then, with a new way of dressing or a different hobby. The road less traveled can be a reward after a demanding event, a carrot that you reward yourself with or it can be a great way to unwind 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 practices twice a day, Dodd’s team did the drills and practices, but then took time to relax, play touch football and enjoy the bowl sites. Did the idea work? In six straight championship games!
7. Stay still. Susan Taylor, editorial director at Essence, makes sure she has quiet time every morning. He sees it as a time to center – to be still and listen. He keeps a pen and paper with him to write down ideas that come to him. The way you use your alone time should match your values, beliefs and temperament. Some people devote a regular amount of time each day to visualizing themselves achieving their goals and dreams. Others read, pray, meditate, do yoga or just contemplate a sunrise or sunset. Whatever form it takes, time spent alone can have an enormous payoff. Achievers talk about an inner strength they find and how it helps them put the demands of competition into perspective. They feel more confident about their choices and more independent. They discover a sense of balance, a centeredness.
8. Be a patriot in peacetime. Joe Posner achieved wealth and recognition selling life insurance. Years ago, Posner helped form an organization in her hometown of Rochester, NY to prepare underprivileged children for school and life and, she hopes, break the cycle of poverty. You can find an equally worthy way to give back to your church, hospital, civic club, alumni association or by doing some pro bono work. Or you can help people 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 sheer joy that can come from giving. Another reward is the better world that 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. By following this love, he became America’s most famous composer of classical music. When I asked him years later if he was even disappointed by this choice Copeland replied, “My life was magnificent.” What a word to sum up a life. By itself, loving what you do does not ensure success. You need to be good at what you love. But if you love what you do, the time it takes to become proficient is less likely to be difficult.
10. Focus on strategy. As important as it is, how to save time to balance your life is not the final question. The question is, “What am I saving time for?” Strategy has to do with success – but success in what? If other people pay your salary, being strategic generally means convincing them that you are spending your time in a way that benefits them. If there is an argument about how you should use your time, either convince the people who can reward or punish you that your idea of using time is appropriate, or look for another job. “What for?” should also ask questions about the life you live. It is really a comprehensive question and it comes to the whole question.
So what makes for a successful life balance? I can think of no better definition than that given by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Laugh often and a lot; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to gain the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; appreciate beauty, find the best in others; leave the world a little better, if not a healthy child, a garden patch or a social condition delivered; to know that even one life breathed easier because I lived. This is they have succeeded.
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