Work-Life Balance: Three Steps to a Harmonious Life

BY BOB SHENEFELT

As a vision coach, I work with successful entrepreneurs and business leaders to help them turn their very good, accomplished lives into truly wonderful, fulfilling lives. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from the individuals and groups I work with is that they can’t seem to strike a comfortable work-life balance. An entrepreneur myself, I rode the teeter-totter of work-life balance for years. Then, after intensive study, I realized that this concept of “balance” we’ve been seeking may not really be the Holy Grail, after all.

Gandhi said that, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony,” and he was right. At iMatter, my vision coaching company, we teach that true fulfillment stems from having all things in alignment. We seek harmony rather than balance.

It’s a subtle distinction, but hear me out. The foundation of the “iMatter” idea is the realization that our lives are divided into two worlds – the “I” and the “Matter.” The “I” – the spiritual side – is where love, faith, belief and the other intangibles of “being” reside. The “Matter” consists of our physical needs, our material wealth, the goods we own, as well as our intellect, reason and fears.

Society teaches us to divide the spiritual from the material in this way. Family and fun, for example, are kept apart from work and financial success. In the office we say, “leave your problems at home.” At home, we say, “I don’t want to think about work.” This division between our lives and what we do for a living, leads us into the constant balancing act that so few of us can master.

I like to compare this situation to gardening. You raise vegetables for sustenance. You raise flowers because they’re beautiful and make you happy. But now, you have to divide your time between two gardens. To do your gardening the iMatter way, you would plant your vegetables and flowers together in one harmonious bed. By viewing life holistically, we experience the abundance of the “and” rather than the tyranny of the “or.”

It sounds good on paper. But how does it work? Here are three simple practices I often share with my clients to help them achieve harmony in their lives.

1. Define What Matters Most

The types of people I generally work with in my practice are highly motivated, passionate individuals. They have long lists of things they want to accomplish in both life and in business. Ask a person like this to write down what he wants to accomplish in a day, and he’ll fill the page with twenty-some items. Then, he’ll be disappointed with himself when he only accomplishes five things. In addition to this pressure, he also feels a strong responsibility for the other people in his life and business. He can easily lose track of his own daily goals by answering questions, making decisions, clearing roadblocks and putting out fires for other people. Sound familiar?

It’s very difficult to hear the voice of your own soul in the midst of such madness. Unless you’re confident about what you believe, what you want to do, where you want to be, who you want to be with and what you want to be remembered for, someone or something else will figure all that stuff out for you. And that greatly endangers your opportunity to experience happiness.

Taking the time to figure out what matters most also can also help you to be more efficient . An awareness of what’s important means that you will almost automatically filter out the things that aren’t, and that makes decision making much quicker and easier to do.

So, why not take out a piece of paper right now and write down the things that matter most to you? First, think about the big things. What do you want to be remembered for? What legacy do you want to leave on this earth? Next, think about the smaller things. List three things that apply to “Work” and three things related to your “Life.” Resist the temptation to write more than three. Remember – harmony is often about getting rid of the things that don’t matter most.

2. Plan, Prepare and Schedule

Most people have to-do lists of one kind or another. What’s great about that is that they help you stay organized. What’s not so great about the average to-do list is that most people do not take the additional step of prioritizing what’s on them by aligning each task with their values.

I encourage my clients to spend at least 5-15 minutes per week on planning, preparing and scheduling. There are a number of solutions available, such as the Franklin Covey or Day Runner planning systems. For the tactical aspects of planning, you can’t go wrong with almost any of these.

However, for my own planning purposes, I like to add a spiritual element – daily journaling. Taking a few moments to jot down my thoughts helps me to stay aware of and adhere to what matters most to me any given day. Journal entries don’t have to be time consuming and verbose. In fact, I have a formula for it – five categories that I fill out in a few quick minutes. They are:

1. Today, I am grateful for... Being grateful helps me keep my outlook positive, so I see opportunities instead of challenges.

2. Frustrations. Listing frustrations keeps me from stewing on them, and helps me plan to address them.

3. Emotion/Body. Thinking about my body and emotions helps me remember to take time for myself and stay healthy. It’s important – without a healthy mind and body, how can I give the world my best?

4. Lessons Learned. Listing lessons learned keeps me focused on growth. There’s always something to learn from situations that don’t go right.

5. Forgiveness. Nothing is more distracting that harboring negative feelings about someone or something ... or even myself!

 

Next time you sit down to plan, give journaling a shot. Use my categories or make up some of your own. Then, and only then, work on your prioritizing your task list. You will be doing so with an awareness of what’s in your heart and on your mind, making it easier to focus on what matters most.

3. Share

Society, as we know it today, is not generally comfortable with the blending of the “I” and the “Matter.” As a result, many of us avoid leveraging one of the most powerful balancing forces we could ask for: the other people in our lives.

In an effort to keep our work lives and personal lives separated, we may find ourselves reluctant to communicate with our loved ones about what’s concerning us at work. Similarly, we may clam up at the office when we’re carrying a personal weight on our shoulders.

For example, let’s say I know that I’m going to be working extra hours at the office to secure the business of an important client, and I’m worried about it. I choose to “protect” my wife from feeling my work stress, so I keep it to myself. She notices that I’m working late and acting grumpy at home, and begins to take it personally. Now, I have stress at home, as well. If, instead, I were to share everything I’m going through with her, she would have the opportunity to understand and lend support. Knowing that it will be a busy week for me, she would reschedule her own week to be home for the kids when I’m not. She would make sure to offer verbal encouragement. She would help me stay focused on what matters most. (And, of course, I’d do the same for her when she needs it – sharing is a two-way street!)

Similarly, if I were grieving about a great personal loss and was willing to share that with my key team members at work, they would, without a doubt, extend a helping hand to support me through the difficult time. I know it’s radical to challenge the widely accepted notion that we’re supposed to “leave our problems at home,” but I believe that, in the progressive office environment, it’s okay to be human. It’s okay to share.

This is easier said than done in environments where there isn’t an established atmosphere of open communication. To help with this, we have created a tool called the Five Minute Check-In that’s available for free download at imatter.com. It provides a foundation for great relationships that’s acceptable in any setting, and it creates safe space to allow groups, partners or even couples to share and reach a deeper level of communication.