Rita Perea is President and CEO of Rita Perea Leadership Consulting Associates, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully engage employees, lead teams, manage change and balance work and life.
The coffee shop conversation started when I asked my friend to share her biggest work-life balance challenge with me. I wanted to find out what this incredibly successful executive saw as a barrier to having a healthy, happy, fulfilling personal and professional life.
After setting down her mocha latte, my friend sighed heavily, rolled her eyes and dramatically slumped forward on the coffee shop couch. “Oh, where do I begin????”
The question about perceived barriers to work-life balance hung in the air as I waited for her to gather her thoughts. The pregnant pause lasted for a long time. She finally straightened up, squared her shoulders and set her jaw. I knew that she was getting into “warrior princess” mode and would be sharing the good stuff with me momentarily.
My longtime friend looked me in the eye and started, “I think that I do really well to keep things moving forward at home and at work. In both worlds I find that I am continually managing people and projects to not just meet, but to exceed, expectations. It might seem a bit funny to others to think about the task of being sure that the dog gets fed every morning as part of a project, but if you take a 30,000 foot view of it, the project becomes keeping the dog healthy for a long time. That involves the action step of feeding him each day, right? And someone has to step up or be assigned to do that task. For me, chunking things, even my personal life things, out into projects with goals and an informal action plan really helps me keep it all straight and organized. So I use the same sort of project management strategies at home and at work. I feel more balanced when I can be the same person with the same dynamic style at home and at work.”
I nodded as I listened intently and told her that I completely understood. I use the project approach myself with success. I think of all of my personal and professional projects as pieces of a puzzle. The puzzle is my life in totality, both at work and outside of work. When all of the puzzle pieces fit together well and are aligned, life works well for me.
When a piece is not fitting in, becomes too massive or out of control with too many sub-pieces to manage, life can become seriously unbalanced. Research supports this and informs us that over time an out-of-balance life can lead to exhaustion, irritability, obesity, mental fogginess and, ultimately, the medical condition of adrenal gland fatigue, for both men and women.
My female executive friend continued, “The thing that throws me off track and makes me crazy is when I get to the tipping point with too many projects that I am managing at home, at work, and in the community. Look, I need to be visible and involved in the community for my job. That is a given and I embrace that. I sit on several community boards and volunteer my personal time to do so. It is hard when a person who is being paid as an employee of the board does not respect that as a volunteer I only have so much time and energy to give to the cause. These community commitments can be fulfilling but they can also add an additional layer of projects to manage in my life. Sometimes I need to take stock of my commitments in a very honest way and make some decisions about if I am the best person for that position on that Board or committee. When I am feeling over committed, I find that it is a good idea to do some soul searching to determine if my time is being used to the best for all concerned, including my family. I am also occasionally assessing if I am robbing someone else of a leadership opportunity that may enhance their career or be a meaningful in their life. If so, it may be time for me to graciously move out of the way.”
My training as a work-life balance specialist supports this “taking stock” of time commitments strategy that my friend uses. I like to suggest that people begin employing this technique annually, and then incrementally move to a monthly review of both personal and professional time commitments.
Just the very act of reviewing how you are spending your time and seeing where you can add or shave some off will help you feel as though you have some breathing space.
My friend concluded our coffee meeting by saying, “At the end of the day, I am my biggest champion or my biggest hinderance to my own work-life balance. It comes back to me. I am the only one who can do the diligent work of making healthy choices to support this balancing act we call life everyday. Some days I do it better than other days. Recognizing this and being gentle with myself is also part of finding that balance.”
If you find yourself continually feeling rushed, stressed, like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it, take my friend’s advice. Honestly take stock, assess, analyze and then take action to create more work-life balance in your personal and professional life.