Ah, it's that time of year again. In the throes of summer, we are pulled in even more directions - the kids are out of school and ready to play. If only we could figure out how to manage the fun that awaits with our already hectic schedules. Is there such a thing as finding balance?
It is not just employees who should be asking that question. According to a 2010 survey by the Corporate Leadership Council, work-life balance was ranked as one of the top three drivers of engagement for high-potential employees. It has also received increasingly more attention in determining "Best Employer" awards, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.
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I recently conducted a session on work-life balance with two colleagues, Deanna Banks and Ann Herd, for our executive MBA students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. We defined balance as an alignment between a person's values relating to work and nonwork, and how they spend their time and money. We used the WorkStyle Profile, a tool recently published by Center for Creative Leadership, to assess each person's style. This tool enables individuals to first understand their behaviors or how they combine their work and nonwork tasks, see which role they invest more energy in, and then see the degree of control they feel when managing the boundaries between work and their personal lives. The assessment gives individuals a better understanding of the approach they take when dealing with multiple roles in their lives and includes a guide for finding balance.
We offered the executives suggestions and exercises to help achieve that equilibrium:
• Identify your values. One reason people seem so frustrated with not having balance is that they feel they are not meeting important needs. For example, if being healthy is really important to you, it can be frustrating if your busy schedule leaves little time for exercise. Books such as "The Highest Goal," by Michael Ray, can help.
• Create your vision for your future. Meditate, relax and let your mind wander to see your positive vision for your future. Use this picture to create a vision board on your computer or on paper with pictures or words to represent your core values and your most important roles. Periodically look at your vision board to stay focused on your priorities.
• Identify what's working (or not working) for you. Create two circles. In one, write how you currently spend your time; in the other, how you'd like to spend your time. Identify the similarities and differences. Pinpoint what makes you feel most energized or deprived, what causes you to be fully engaged, and the activities that move you toward or away from your vision.
• Manage boundaries.
• Develop an "Absolute Yes List" - things to which you will always say yes (such as listening to your child when she calls on the phone).
• Develop an "Absolute No List." One executive I know said he protects his Sundays by always saying no to work meetings and calls.
• Create or manage physical boundaries, such as using separate computers or offices for work and home.
• Set aside time for specific tasks. Create personal time and a location for self-care.
• Negotiate your schedule with stakeholders. One executive said she tells her assistant not to schedule meetings before 9 a.m. so she has some quiet time for work.
• Find a role model who manages boundaries well and learn from him or her.
• Increase your job fit by changing the time that you devote to a particular role. For example, alter your schedule so you can go into work later if you need mornings for your family.
• Let go of activities that do not reflect your values.
• Manage your transition between roles. For example, build in quiet time when driving home from work to get ready for your home role.
• Practice mindfulness - be present in the moment.
• Say no with authority - don't give false hope that you will say yes.
• Translate your vision and values into three-month goals, then weekly goals and rituals.
• Determine two to three goals to achieve in the next three months to bring you closer to your vision.
• Determine possible barriers and challenges.
• Look for support.
Finding balance is not easy for any of us. What's important is that you take the time to identify your values and vision, and then set goals to move toward that vision.