Balancing 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’s an unrealistic goal. You are in for a lot of frustration if you try to allocate within every day a predetermined portion of time for work, family and your social life. An illness may upset all your plans. A business project may demand peaks of intense work, followed by valleys of slow time.
Balance requires continual adjustments, like an acrobat on a high wire who constantly shifts his weight to the right and to the left. By focusing on four main areas of your life – emotional/spiritual needs, relationships, intellectual needs and physical needs – at work and away from work, you can begin to walk the high wire safely.
Here, drawn from my conversations with many high successful Americans, are ten ideas for balancing all aspects of your life:
1. Make an appointment with yourself. Banish from your mind the idea that everyone takes precedence over you. Don’t use your organizer or calendar just for appointments with others. Give yourself some prime time. Regularly do something you enjoy. It will recharge your batteries. Once you’ve put yourself on your calendar, guard those appointments. Kay Koplovitz founder of the USA cable television network, which is on the air 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Koplovitz ran the daily operations of the network for 21 years. For more than two decades, there was always some potential claim on her time. Therefore she vigilantly protected a scheduled tennis match just as she would a business appointment.
2. Care for your body. Having a high energy level is a trait held by many highly successful people. No matter what your present level of energy, you can increase it by following these steps:
Eat. Don’t skip meals. Your physical and mental energy depend upon nourishment. Irregular eating patterns can cause a frayed temper, depression, lack of creativity and a nervous stomach.
Exercise. Over and over again, highly successful people mention the benefit of exercise routines. Johnetta Cole, president of Bennett College for Women and former president of Spelman College, does a four-mile walk each morning. She calls it her mobile meditation. The benefits of exercise are mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. If you are healthier 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 do not have to do everything. Just the right things. Publisher Steve Forbes taught me a lesson: “Don’t be a slave to your in-box. Just because there’s something there doesn’t mean you have to do it.” As a result, every evening, I extract from my long list to-do list just a few “musts” for the following day. If, but three o’clock the next day, I’ve crossed off all the “musts,” I know that everything else I do that day will be icing on the cake. It is a great psychological plus 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. That builds up stamina and turns you into a pro. At time, though, you must forgive yourself. You will never become 100 percent efficient, nor should you expect to be. After something does not work, ask yourself, “Did I do my best? If you did, 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 times or days for family, recreation, hobbies or the like. They create boundaries around certain activities and protect them. Other individuals who are just as successful do just the opposite. They blur the boundaries. Says consultant Alan Weiss, “I work out of my home. In the afternoon, I might be watching my kids play at the pool or be out with my wife. On Saturday, or at ten o’clock on a weeknight, I might be working. I do things when the spirit moves me, and when they’re appropriate.”
Some jobs don’t lend themselves to this strategy. But blurring the boundaries is possible more often than you may think. One way is to involve 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 also are 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 major benefits for mental and physical health. Professional speaker and executive coach Barbara Pagano practices a kind of quick charge, by scheduling a day every few months with no agenda. For her, that means staying in her pajamas, unplugging the phone, watching old movie or reading a novel in bed. For that one day, nothing happens, except what she decides from hour to hour. Adds singer and composer Billy Joel, “There are times when you need to let the field lie fallow.” 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 expressway and take a side road, literally and figuratively. That road may take you to the library or to the golf course. Do something out of the ordinary to avoid the well-worn grooves of your life. Try a new route to work, a different radio station or a different cereal. Break out of your old mold occasionally, with a new way to dress or a different hobby. The road less traveled can be a reward after a demanding event, a carrot that you reward your self with or it can be a good way to loosen up before a big event. Bobby Dodd, the legendary football coach at Georgia Tech, knew the power of this concept. While other coaches were putting their teams through brutal twice-a-day practices, Dodd’s team did their drills and practices, but then took time to relax, play touch football and enjoy the bowl sites. Did the idea work? In six straight championships games!
7. Be still. Susan Taylor, editorial director of Essence, sees to it that she has quiet time every morning. She regards it as a time for centering – for being still and listening. She keeps a paper and pen with her to jot down ideas that come to her. The way you use solitary time should match your values, beliefs and temperament. Some individuals devote a regular time each day to visualize themselves attaining 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 competing demands into perspective. They feel more confident about their choices and more self-reliant. They discover a sense of balance, a centeredness.
8. Be a peacetime patriot. Joe Posner has achieved wealth and recognition selling life insurance. Several years ago, Posner helped form an organization in his hometown of Rochester, NY to prepare underprivileged children for school and life and, he hopes, break the poverty cycle. You may find some equally worthy way to give something back through your church, hospital, civic club, alumni association or by doing some pro bono work. Or you may help individuals privately, even anonymously. There are powerful rewards for balancing personal interests with the needs of the common good. One of the most wonderful 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 that love, he became America’s most famous composer of classical must. When I asked him years later if he had even been disappointed by that choice Copeland replied, “My life has been enchanting.” 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 you spend becoming competent is less likely to be drudgery.
10. Focus on strategy. As important as it is, how to save time for balancing your life is not the ultimate question. That question is, “What am I saving time for?” Strategy has to do with being successful – but successful at what? If others pay your salary, being strategic generally means convincing them that you are spending your time in a way that benefits them. If there is a dispute over how you should use your time, either convince the people who can reward or punish you that your idea about using time is appropriate, or look for another job. The “what for?” question should also be asked about the life you live. It is truly a comprehensive question and gets at the question of wholeness.
So what makes for a successful balance life? I can think of no better definition than the one given by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because I have lived. This is to have succeeded.
Balancing Your Work, Family and Social Life