In some work environments, it might be hard to find examples of highly successful people who have a healthy balance between work and the rest of life. If everyone you know is as busy as you are, that does not make it right or good. It only means that most people are struggling with the same issues.
Craig Parker is a 41-year-old senior project manager for a large commercial builder based in the Midwest. Craig loves his job — the satisfaction of meaningful work, being part of a great team, adding value to his clients. His company has been good to him, allowing him to grow and develop his skills, sometimes by making some costly mistakes. His compensation is more than fair; in fact, it would be hard to match if he decided to work elsewhere.
He works hard, like most people in his industry. Most days you will find him on the job by 6:30 a.m. and he frequently does not get home until 8 p.m. Most Saturdays he works at least half a day, “just to catch up,” he tells himself. But, honestly, it has been a long time since he has felt caught up.
Craig has been married for 15 years and has two children, seven and 10. He loves his family and feels guilty that right now they are getting the short end of the stick. His wife, Holly, has been supportive of his career and enjoys the lifestyle his income allows. But, for a while now, she has made it known that she feels all alone when it comes to parenting. It has been too long since they have felt connected, and Craig secretly wonders if his marriage is in trouble.
His doctor gave him a lecture at his last appointment because his weight, blood pressure and cholesterol were all up. It was evident that too many meals on the run, no time for exercise or recreation, and nonstop stress were taking a toll on his health and sleep patterns.
Even though he tells himself that he is lucky to have a job in this economy, sometimes Craig feels like a hamster on a wheel. Someone, somewhere is making the wheel spin faster and faster, and he cannot find a way to get off. By the end of a project, after too many long days, he has even found himself feeling resentful about the pressure he is under, even though he is not even sure who is to blame.
Craig is representative of many key managers in FMI’s client companies — smart, successful, diligent and driven. Increasingly though, many are starting to realize that if they do not find some balance, their families, health and general well-being will continue to suffer.
The common concern is that if they slow down for even a minute, they will lose their edge. We see this so frequently that we consider it a predictable step in the leadership development process. The good news is that learning how to find balance on the slippery slopes of success is not only possible, but it also can be a launching pad for even greater effectiveness and success in the workplace and a more meaningful life in general.
WHERE DID IT FALL APART?
Work is an important part of life. It provides us with more than an income. It gives shape to our days, contributes to our sense of purpose and allows us to be part of something bigger than ourselves and take appropriate pride in our accomplishments.
But when work becomes all-consuming, it takes a toll on families, on physical and emotional health, and even on one’s ability to make wise decisions. Sharon L. Allen, chairman of the board at Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, recently said, “When you think about it, if people invest all their time and energy into their jobs, it may have the unintended consequence of making them dependent on their jobs for everything — including their sense of self-worth. This makes it even harder to make a good choice when faced with an ethical dilemma if they believe it will impact their professional success.”
The deepest part of our true selves needs more than work. We need relationships, recreation and simple downtime. And yet, many today feel those things must be sacrificed if we are to make it in an extremely competitive industry.
We have seen this many times and can confirm that it is not only possible but also important to make changes that create better balance, health and well-being, but it will mean swimming against the powerful forces of contemporary expectations and examples.
Imagine that your life has a dashboard with gauges, just like a high-performance automobile (see Exhibit 1).
If you could measure your current level of engagement with the major areas of your life, how would your gauges read? Full, half-full or empty?
- Personal health
If you had to force-rank these areas, what order or priority would you give them? Force-ranking is important because it makes you determine where you focus your time and energy.
Once you identify how much time and energy you are currently giving to each value, you will better understand why particular areas of your life seem stressful.
Pay attention to which areas of your life cause anxiety or guilt. Ask yourself why. Next, ask yourself where other important people in your life might agree or disagree with your assessment. What would your children, spouse, friends, family, boss, etc., say about your priorities?
This is just an assessment, so have compassion with yourself — none of us is perfect at everything! An accurate assessment can be painful, but it is crucial to developing a personal strategy for change.
BUILDING YOUR HOUSE
Now it is time to construct a plan. From the homeowner’s perspective, building a home always:
- Costs more than we expected to pay
- Takes longer than we expected to wait
- Is a bigger mess than we expected to encounter.
And yet the satisfaction that comes from a well-built home that meets our needs and gratifies our senses is worth it in the end.
FMI’s process of building work-life balance is kind of like that, and one of the reasons why we use the image of a house to teach both scope and sequence of learning a better way of living life (see Exhibit 2). A solid foundation is essential and must be laid before the walls can be constructed. The second story can only be laid after the first story is framed. The roof comes last, and ties everything together. Let’s look at this model one step at a time.
Reconnect with your personal mission and core values
Knowing what we stand for, believe in and value most are valuable steps to laying the foundation for building a quality life. When leaders lead from the most significant parts of their true selves, they become much more effective at responding to the world around them. That is why we believe that finding work-life balance must begin with an assessment of our personal mission and core values.
Every leader needs a solid place on which to stand if he or she is going to thrive. The question, “What centers me?” deserves an answer from every leader. Our experience shows that most people discover that their personal values and sense of purpose (personal mission statement) provide that stable place from which they can lead effectively.
Another way of discovering your personal mission is by asking, “Why am I here?” While that question may seem a little philosophical, it is worth pondering. An example of a personal mission statement may be as simple as “I am dedicated to achieve every goal I choose to pursue, professionally and personally, ethically and honestly.” The good news is that all people have the right to answer that question for themselves. If you do not, others will. You can bet your boss has an answer to that question, as does your spouse, if you are married.
Clarify your personal definition of success
Very few people get up in the morning with the intent of screwing up everything they touch. Most of us roll out of bed, already deciding what needs to be done in the coming day. While we may not be conscious of that decision, what we are thinking is, “What do I need to do to be successful today?”
Practice time/energy management
Most leaders have some training in time management and understand why they must deal with the “important” versus the “urgent.” Greater productivity is not measured solely in hours spent on the job, but in results. One approach to work-life balance is to concentrate on ways to increase energy and focus throughout the day, while also being intentional about conserving enough of it for after-work and weekend living.
Sleep management is an essential component of managing energy. There is broad scientific consensus that the majority of people need seven to eight hours of quality sleep to function optimally.
Our diet has a far greater impact on our energy levels than we might expect. Learning to eat the right foods at the right times can dramatically affect our energy levels.
Everyone acknowledges the importance of exercise. You may also have heard cartoonist Paul Terry’s popular response. “Whenever I feel the need to exercise, I lie down until the feeling goes away.” Achieving and maintaining a high level of fitness increases our energy, alertness and ability to function under stress. Exercise is so important that researchers tell us that if we have to make a choice, a half hour of cardiovascular exercise or strength training is more desirable than an extra half-hour of sleep.
Develop healthy practices and routines
The final step in building the life you desire is to put in place healthy practices and routines. Many of us developed the habits and routines we practice now in a different stage of our lives. For example, when we were young and single, we could work long hours, sleep less and pay little attention to our diet or drinking habits, with little immediate effect. We were not responsible for anyone other than ourselves. Our time and money was ours to spend as we chose. Fast-forward a few decades, and those same habits will sink our ship in a hurry.
Every season of life demands an overhaul of our practices and routines to ensure they are relevant to the stage of life we are in right now.
Over the years that we have been teaching these principles, we have heard many success stories from men and women who were once like Craig, whose story we told at the beginning of this article. By making the changes described, these people experience a far greater sense of control over their lives and no longer feel like victims.
They experience the freedom that comes when we learn to live in harmony with our purpose and values. They discover the fulfillment of a well-integrated life. As satisfying as work can be, they are now reconnected with family, friends, hobbies and all the other things that make life even more satisfying.
Mark Hooey is a consultant with FMI Corporation. He can be reached at 303.398.7208 or via email at email@example.com. Tom Alafat is a principal with FMI. He can be reached at 303.398.7209 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ed Rowell is an author and coach to leaders.