I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as true work/life balance. Anyone who has it figured out or is telling you how to achieve it is feeding you nothing but BS.
Everyone is uber-busy and as much as we’d like to achieve balance between our work and professional lives, it doesn’t exist in the form we like to think. You cannot manage time, you can only manage tasks.
In all of our lives, balance is not the ultimate goal, it’s just an average of what you are doing. We all juggle multiple things at once in our lives – businesses, kids, spouses, friends, charities, etc. To say you are not trying to do it all is a lie.
I’ll be the first to admit I can be an absolute hot mess at times. I’m married, have 2 daughters, one of which started middle school this year, own my own business and am deeply involved in my community. Late nights are nothing new. There are days that I’d rather sit and read Outlander than be productive.
Life keeps going and so must we.
Kiz Adams, Work/Life Balance Coordinator at the University of Georgia has become one of my new favorite people. A former UGA Law School professor (true story – she taught my husband when he was in law school there), she now holds a new position at our alma mater, working to help UGA employees balance out their professional and personal lives (kudos to the Provost for creating this role). Kiz spoke at the Terry College of Business Professional Women’s Conference I help with each year and her session alone was worth the price of the entire conference.
How do we manage all these moving parts in our lives? Here are some of the key takeaways from Kiz, and the biggest time wasters you will encounter, and hopefully by knowing these, you will be able to restructure your time so you won’t go about your day as one hot mess.
One of the first things to know is that…
Efficiency is not Effectiveness
Urgent does not mean Important
Clock is not a Compass
Make Professional Goals, then prioritize them. Make Personal Goals, then prioritize them. When making your goals, ask yourself, “What’s important at this time in my life?” This will dictate A LOT. We all go through seasons in our lives. My goals 5 years ago are different from what they are now. Once you make your choices, own it!
There’s a graphic floating around social media that talks about your brain functioning like an internet browser with multiple tabs open. It can get quite overwhelming. Doing a weekly brain-dump is a great habit to get into. If you’re not familiar with a brain-dump, it’s when you write everything that needs to get done on a list (this can be personal things or professional) and then prioritize it all. I do this every Sunday evening. Of course, things will get added throughout the week as I remember or as they come up. You can also do this via Google Docs or in your smartphone.
Figure Out Where Your Time Goes
You only have 168 hours every week. Do you know how you are spending your time? For one week, a normal week, log in your time – yes, every time you check your email, every time you look at Facebook, every time you blog, etc. – and at the end of the week, total it up and see what you spend your time on. Evaluate that.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How much is applicable to my goal(s)?
- Do I need to reevaluate my goal(s) (time-invested v. time-spent)?
- Am I underestimating how long tasks are taking?
- Am I interrupted often?
- Do I procrastinate?
- Have I taken on more than I was originally hired to do?
Restructure Your Time
It’s not enough to recognize when you have a problem managing your tasks, you have to change the behavior. Start with one area – don’t try to change it all at one time. Schedule your important, high priority stuff first. Also, tackle the stuff you don’t want to do first. That always makes things easier!
Stop Wasting Time – The Time Wasters that Haunt Us
It’s bad enough our attention spans are now shorter than a goldfish. We are easily distracted and good at wasting time. Some of these time wasters are ones you wouldn’t think of, so have an open mind.
No. 1 – Email
How many times a day are you clicking over to your inbox or checking in on your phone? Stop checking this constantly. Set aside 2 or 3 times each day to check your email (unless there is something urgent you are expecting). For example, check it at 8am, 12pm, and 4pm – and ONLY at those 3 times. Also, organize your emails with tags, reminders, folders, etc. to make your inbox easier to decipher.
No. 2 – Multitasking
You would think this would be a time-saver, right? Wrong! This is a myth. It takes more time to switch between tasks. Studies have shown that after a mere 30 second interruption, it can take 5 minutes to get on track and research has shown that most workers switch tasks every 3 minutes (Kiz Adams, Terry PWC Conference Presentation). So that’s about 160 switches each day. Doing Kiz’s math from the conference, you can also see in the picture, 160x5min=800 minutes of lost productivity (13 hours). Her suggestion? “Batch” your tasks in 90 minute- 2 hour time segments. That’s about all your brain can handle at one continuous time. I’ve started doing this and I get more done.
No. 3 – Meetings
Plan meetings carefully and always have an agenda and focus. Do not just meet to meet.
No. 4 – Reports & Memos
Avoid any unnecessary narrative if possible and use bulletpoints. Charts and spreadsheets can get your point across quite effectively.
No. 5 – The Internet
I could write a novel here, as I’m sure you could Google this and find more articles than needed. Just be specific on what you are doing and have a time limit.
No. 6 – The Chatty Coworker
Fortunately for me, I’m the only one in my office. My chatty coworker is a dog who likes to bark at anything that moves outside the window. However, for those who do work in an office, if you can, just close the door or invite that person on a walk. If all else fails, just gently talk with person about their talkativeness.
No. 7 – The Boss that Gives You More and More and More
It’s great to have the vote of confidence from your boss that you are doing a good job and that they value your work. However, sometimes that can be taken advantage of when they pile stuff on your already-full plate. If this is you, kindly ask your boss to prioritize the new task(s) and ask yourself if you have to do this and if you have the skills. And if need be, you may have to talk with your boss and come up with another plan.
No. 8 – The Travel/Commute
If you are one of the ones who spend a good bit of time in your vehicle (or on a train or bus) getting to and from work each day, you know you have time to waste. This is the perfect opportunity to catch up via audiobook on some business books, or compose notes on your tablet or smartphone for a project. Maybe you can just use the time for some coveted “you” time (the moms everywhere are jealous).
No. 9 – Procrastination
I am so guilty of this. The advice Kiz gave was spot-on and I couldn’t have said it better. Just jump in. Do something to force your hand. Narrow your focus. Break things into 10-20 minutes segments. Most people procrastinate because they get overwhelmed thinking about everything that has to be done, that’s why breaking it up is a good way to start.
No. 10 – Perfection
Perfectionists are the worst. We will tinker with something just to get it right, wasting who knows how much time just to make sure we have the right font, or something is spaced right, or we have the right wording. Here is where we need to let go or just outsource.
Wrapping it all up, what can we do to help make our lives more manageable?
Wake up Early
Get up early in the morning and get going. Getting an early start always sets you ahead for the day and makes you feel like you’ve gotten something accomplished before the day really starts.
Do the highest priority/most important task first
Doing the most important task first usually takes the biggest weight off your shoulder for the entire day or week. Same can be said for the most dreaded task!
Be 100% focused on whatever you are doing at the moment.
It doesn’t matter if you are pushing your child on a swing or writing a business proposal, be 100% focused on the task at hand. Your child or partner will remember the undivided attention you gave them. You will also find when you are 100% focused on what you are doing, you’ll be more effective and efficient because there won’t be anything to distract you.
Learn to unplug and put the electronics up.
This is hard, but you just have to unplug at times. We can frequently go into information overload and working in social media, it happens more than I care to admit. When your business is 24/7/365, it’s hard to unplug but trust me, you just got to. Your eyes, mind and family will appreciate it. After a refreshing break, you’ll find yourself more focused and ready.
Just say “no”. And do not feel you have to explain why.
You do not have to agree to everything. There is not enough time in the day to be superwoman (or superman). Busy makes us feel important, when in reality it doesn’t. We choose to be busy. We think if we go on and on about what all we have to do, we will be perceived as being someone important. We have to prioritize what we do. It could be your children, your spouse or something else. When you do say no, unless specifically pressed, you do not have to explain your reason(s) why. It’s no one’s business but your own why you are declining something.
Realize that YOU are in charge.
Only you have the power to say yes and no. No one else speaks for you. Do not concede to putting it in someone else’s hands. You have more power than you think.
Draw the line and defend it.
Being a working mom, I have boundaries. You need to have boundaries too. You need to know what you will and won’t do and defend that. This could be time with your kids, ethical business situations, things that pertain to your religious beliefs. We all have lines we won’t cross and when tempted, we need to defend it. On the same lines, find your family time and defend it as well. If your family time is from 5-8pm, for example, do not take phone calls or work during that time. Sometimes that balance means turning clients down. Remember, if they want to work with you bad enough, they will work with you on this.
Last but not least…
Success is finite; aim for significance.
Success can be a new client or an award. Significance means you made a difference. We all want to have success, but that really only lasts so long. Aim for something that you will be remembered by. If you are too caught up in the everyday busyness of our lives, we’ll never achieve that long-term success (significance) we are looking for.
How are you working your life out? How are you managing it all?