By Kerry Wekelo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Work and home used to have much clearer boundaries than we now have in this information age of 24/7 connectivity. We tend to blend work with just about everything else, but then compartmentalize how we view work versus our personal life and outside activities. We forget to compare the amount of time and energy we spend on each, which then quickly creates an imbalance between work and “other.” Being pulled in two directions can cause anxiety in which we are fearful or uneasy about how we will manage our life.
In order to be the best you can be in all areas, all aspects of your life need to be in near balance. If you are working too much, then you will not have the energy to do things when you are not at work. If you play too hard outside of work, then you will not have the capacity for your job.
A Word on Balance
Balance is a tricky thing. In fact, I’m not even sure absolute balance is possible at any given time. What is possible, however, is a balance on average, over time. Our lives are not steady, and work is constantly changing, so the reality is that some days will require you to focus more on work, and other days more on personal life – tipping you off balance. The key is to counter-balance your activities in order to bring your energy and focus closer to center.
Through much trial and error, I have landed on six guiding principles that I personally practice and advocate for all my friends and family, and through my corporate work at Actualize Consulting. We give each new hire a soft squeezable “Zendoway Cube” that I created, with different prompts printed on each side as a reminder of these daily principles.
The truth is that many of us forget to breathe during the day. Yes, we breathe enough to stay alive, but we don’t breathe in ways that take full advantage of the powerful ally our breath can be. In times of stress, we can turn to our breath. It is free, accessible to us at any time, and an effective antidote to the anxiety and physical symptoms of stress.
The next time you find yourself stressed, upset at a co-worker, about to scream, wanting to hide under your desk, or just go home sick – take a moment to breathe. Another cube I developed is Breathing: fun, simple prompts for intentional breathing:
- Belly Breathing: Inhale slowly through the nose, pretending to blow up a balloon in the belly. Wait 2 seconds, and then slowly exhale through the mouth, emptying the balloon of air so the tummy deflates.
- Balloon Breathing: Raise your arms high from your sides up over your head as you take a deep breath. As you exhale, let all the air come out like a balloon as you drop your arms.
- Ahhhh: Take a long breath in and say ahhhh.
- Hummm: Start to hum, place your hands over your ears. Notice how the sound changes. Continue to place your hands on and off your ears.
- Smile: Try to smile for one minute.
Another important way to keep your work/life balance healthy is to handle issues as they come up, instead of letting them simmer and take up important energy and space in your head. If, for example, I have a disagreement with a co-worker and don’t address it directly with them, chances are that I will take that frustration home and keep thinking about it. This simple exercise listed on the Challenge side of the cube can be helpful:
- Notice your current emotions.
- Pause to allow what you are feeling.
- Pivot to a positive possibility.
Moving forward in this way truly saves so much time. Handle issues now to keep them from spilling over much more than they need to.
One of the most vital aspects of success in our personal and professional relationships is communication, the thread that connects us to each other. Without effective communication, ideas don’t get shared or transferred, collaborations suffer, relationships break, and leaders become dictators. There are countless communication techniques to explore. I have found one in particular that is easy to remember in the heat of the moment with my kids and adults. It comes from an old saying that suggests we ask ourselves three questions before speaking our words:
- Is it true?
- Is it kind?
- Is it necessary
If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid. If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then what you are about to say is most likely respectful and important.
Movement is another way of taking care of your wellbeing. If you’re picturing me sending you to the gym or a track to do a hard exercise workout, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I learned in my yoga training that opposites heal. Many of the aches and pains we experience are due to us not moving our bodies. We are not made to sit all day every day; we need to do the opposite of sitting, and move. Be creative in how you choose to move, using simple exercises at your desk, walking a few minutes every hour, dancing, or taking time to play your favorite game.
The nourish principle is about much more than just putting food into our bodies. It’s about taking the time to get to know our own nutrition needs, and to lovingly provide for those needs in a way that is life-giving and positive, fueling us to be our best in all our daily interactions. If we are not eating a well-balanced diet, our personal performance, whether at home or at work, can be negatively impacted. Think about the days you might have had a chocolate bar or treat and coffee to get you over that afternoon slump. It may have done the trick for 15 minutes, and then your energy faded right out, likely even to lower than before. That’s not a healthy way to nourish yourself. Each day, ask yourself how your food and drink choices are impacting you. Are they fueling and energetic choices or quick fixes to get you by emotionally?
Our daily routine has to allow space for us to flourish. I highly advocate taking time for yourself each day. As a simple start, consider “What inspires you?” Make a list, then complete an activity that inspires you or that you love. In the book, Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, he describes how LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner schedules up to two hours of blank space on his calendar every day. McKeown also points out that Bill Gates takes up to one week each year just to read and think. We also must make time for ourselves to just be in the moment.
I know it’s easy to get caught up in all the things we have to get done each day. It might seem like having to pay attention to your work/life balance is just one more thing to add to the list, but I can promise you it is worth adding. When your life is well-balanced, on average, between work and other activities, you will be more satisfied, more motivated, happier, and healthier.
As McKeown says, we have the option of “living by design, not default.” We have the power to choose what we engage in each day. We can take the initiative to design our life instead of having our life design us. We can choose balance.