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Work Life Values. Not work life balance.

5 MinutesIn Blog

“Work life balance”, with its implications of harmony and equality, feels to me to be a phrase aimed at setting successful, ambitious people up for failure. To be fair, it is why many coaches are in business, as busy execs search for an elusive nirvana. In this monthly “How to Thrive” email, I thought I would share an approach that I believe is both more achievable and sustainable.

1. Focus on what matters: too often, work life balance means focusing on the metric of time: replace the phrase ‘balance’ with ‘what are my work life values and principles?’. This immediately sets the bar to something you have more control over and something that should have more meaning to you.

2. Values: do you know what yours are? If you do have a coach, this is a great exercise to work on with them. If not, there are on line exericises and books like “The Chimp Paradox” and “Beyond Happiness“. The key to doing this is the prioritisation: to find the five values that are absolutely core to your belief systems, that unconsciously drive your decisions and that you want to be reflected over a long period of time. No more than five – first, you are unlikely to remember them, and secondly, you want these values to drive decision making and if they cover every eventuality, this won’t help. This is sometimes called ‘the deathbed exercise’: on your deathbed, what do you want to be able to say that you have given your time and energy to being and doing.

3. “Progress not perfection”: taking 30 or 60 minutes in your day, to start the process of identifying say the 10 or 15 values that matter, is an excellent way to begin. There is unlikely to be a perfect or peaceful time in your life when doing this exercise will be easy. Otherwise, you would probably have this values list already.

4. Identify a medium term time period: it is usually impossible to ‘balance’ in the short term; too many things can happen in the course of a day or week. A quarter is a helpful time period – long enough to allow for peaks and troughs but not so long as to feel progress is hard to measure. Even in the usual course of our topsy turvey lives, we have far more control over what we get out of a three month period, than we think we might, if we are intentional about it. Identify what a realistic time period would be for you and then take step 5.

5. Write your work life values statements: Write something down that attempts to reflect the value that matters. And if you develop this habit, it will become easier over time.
For example, if being healthy and fit is a core value, you might say something like “I make time to do some type of exerice at least three times a week”. ‘Some type’ could be a 30 second plank, or choosing to take the stairs for the whole day. By creating a statement that reflects your values but makes it possible for you to achieve, you are far more likely to feel “balanced”.

If you want to do this, don’t put it off: start doing what you can, with what you have, where you are. And let me know what you think. And if there are there other approaches that you are using to create harmony between your working and personal lives, let me know too.


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