Forget work-life balance
Three weeks ago I spoke at a CEO retreat in New Zealand where the theme was finding the ideal 'work-life' balance. It began with a close look at where time goes in the typical week of a busy executive. Unsurprisingly, everyone there was struggling to find enough time for themselves and family. With the average Australian putting in 50 hours a week at work the work-life balance concept has become a myth.
Technology has made us accessible around the clock. We strive to respond to every email, return every call, and be available for staff with an open-door policy. "Busy" is the most common answer to the question "how are you?" We manage our time rather than managing our energy. We punish ourselves at a Cross Fit class in the belief that 30 minutes of high-octane exercise will offset the 8 hours we just spent sitting idle in a chair.
Chasing the elusive work-life balance is setting us up to fail. What we really need to pursue is success and happiness across our lives. Rather than follow conventional wisdom, to claw back time for ourselves, I prefer Covey's approach of renewal in 4 key aspects of life. He called this his 7th habit - sharpening the saw:
Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising and resting
Social/Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with others
Spiritual: Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer or service
Mental: Learning, reading writing and teaching
Simple idea. Give yourself a score out of 5 for how you are doing currently on each of these 4 key areas of your life. If one is out of balance then ask yourself 'what one thing can I do each day that would improve this area of my life?' Rather than thinking about the amount of 'time' you have available, find a way to renew the energy in each of these 4 areas in a way that is so easy that it soon becomes a new habit.
The challenge of finding balance get's harder as you move in to more senior leadership roles. What tends to happen is we do more of what make us successful in the past. When what we need is learn new skills to be effective in the new role. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with work, having difficulty delegating to others, or working really hard but not making forward progress, then build some time in to your diary every week to get some perspective. This will pull you up from 'doing stuff' to get clear on where you return the most value in your role. Gaining a little perspective each week will ensure you begin each day with a sense of purpose and finish each day with a sense of accomplishment.