Tools You Can Use to Achieve Balance

Tools You Can Use to Achieve Balance

We all seem to constantly seek work-life balance. We often talk about ways of achieving it. We pursue the perfect alignment of work, family, and personal goals but we still struggle with how to achieve it given the set number of hours we have each day. So, is this desire even achievable with the increasing number of things we are trying to get done?

I certainly have not mastered the art of balancing it all – or more accurately, juggling it all. At times, I’ve been so overwhelmed I haven’t even tried to achieve any balance in my life. As I’ve gotten older though I am realizing that not making time for myself and my health and well-being for the long-term to focus on short-term to-dos really isn’t in my best interests. Or, for that matter, for any of the people around me.

YOUR TO-DO LIST

So, this past year, I adopted a few techniques to help me prioritize family and personal tasks above all the work tasks. To begin with, in my task management app, I have categorized my tasks by Work, Family and Personal and I now try to make sure there are always a few things in the Personal section. On the weekends, I prioritize the Personal items over the Work items to make sure I’m spending time on me.

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YOUR CALENDAR

Also, in my calendar, I color-code all my meetings and appointments so I can visually see where I am spending my time. I have assigned specific colors for work meetings, family activities, exercise and fun social activities. Of course, there are weeks when one or two colors seem to dominate but, when I have the flexibility, I schedule in more time for family and personal activities. The more colorful my calendar is, the more I know I am doing a better job of balancing my time.

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YOUR FRIENDS

When work tasks get overwhelming, it’s easy to skip some of the personal or family activities. To avoid doing this, I make a habit of scheduling these activities with a friend. It’s much harder to cancel when you’ve coordinated doing something with someone else. This is especially true for me when it comes to walking or exercising or going out for lunch or dinner. Not only do I make sure I’m making time for relaxing and enjoyable activities for myself, but I get the bonus of connecting and catching up with a friend.

Now, I think I just need to schedule in some down time. What color should that be?

TRY THIS OUT: Look over your to-do list or calendar to assess if you’re able to balance all the different demands on your time. Is there something that’s taking up a lot of your time? Are there things you wish you were doing but don’t show up anywhere? Which of these techniques might be able to help you achieve a little more balance in your life?

 

Just Say NO!

Just Say NO!

Almost every productivity expert agrees that one critical way to improve your productivity and focus is to stop taking on every new task and learn how to say, “No.” For me this has been a huge struggle and continues to be a challenge.

I am a people-pleaser and I enjoy helping others. I like to be asked to do things and I thrive on getting things done. I was always happy to take the notes in all our meetings. I would plan the holiday parties and company volunteer events. I would always stop what I was working on whenever anyone asked if I had a minute. But, I also found that I became the “go-to person” whenever anything needed to get done.

I soon realized that I was so busy doing tasks for other people that my most important tasks weren’t getting done or were slowly falling to the bottom of my list. Then, I would end up staying at work longer or staying up late to take care of the things that I needed to get done.

Finding myself in this situation a few too many times made me realize that I would have to get comfortable with saying, “No” to some of the tasks that came my way. I thoughtfully considered how I could confidently decline some tasks.

Now, before just saying, “Yes,” here are the questions I ask myself to decide which tasks I should take on and which ones I should pass on.

IS IT JUST BUSY WORK?

When asked to help with a task, I assess how I will benefit from doing it. If I find that I won’t learn anything or gain some value from doing it, I feel better about turning it down. Knowing that the task will take up my time but won’t add anything certainly makes it a bit easier.

CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO IT?

If someone else can easily handle the requested task or may even benefit from the challenge of taking it on, it’s easier for me to decline and suggest delegating that task to that person. Often, if someone can learn or gain a new skill or experience from doing a task, they will probably be happy to do it.

DOES IT EVEN NEED TO BE DONE?

Many times, we just do things, to do them. I find that if you think critically about how important the task is, you may find that it really doesn’t even need to be done. Is this a must-have or a nice-to-have? What happens if the task doesn’t get done? Or, maybe there’s just one important piece that needs attention but the rest of it can be ignored. Try to only work on the things that matter most.

TRY THIS OUT:  Look over your to-do list. Are there tasks on your list that you really don’t need to be doing? How can you comfortably say, “No?” Try pushing back on the tasks that prevent you from focusing on completing your most important tasks.

Arrive on Time Every Time

Arrive on Time Every Time

This time of year, the kids are heading back to school and everyone’s anxiety seems to increase as the pressure to deal with the madness of the morning rush and arriving to school or work on time returns. How many of us start our mornings with, “Hurry up! We’re going to be late.” With the same morning routine and commute, why is it so hard to be on time?

With all the tools and technologies, we now have, from fancy alarm clocks to GPS apps telling us exactly how long it will take to get to our destination, we really don’t have any excuses to be late. Here are some of the techniques I use to help me be on time.

GRAB AND GO

Make sure you have everything you need to take with you ready to go before it’s time to leave. It’s critical to make sure there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place so you are not hunting for your car keys or looking for lost shoes when it’s time to leave. Find a set place for your keys and create a “mud room” space somewhere for shoes, coats, hats and backpacks. With the kids, I encourage them to gather all of their stuff the night before so they aren’t running around in the morning.

BUFFER TIME

Before you leave, check your map app to see how long it will take to get there and ensure you’re taking the best route. These apps will alert you to traffic issues and will route you around any unforeseen trouble spots. Take the time that is projected and add 20%. For example, if it says it’ll take 10 minutes, give yourself at least 12 minutes to get there. For a 20-minute drive, leave 25 minutes ahead of time.

For meetings, don’t leave your office when the meeting is supposed to begin. Make sure you leave your office with enough time to get to the conference room when the meeting is scheduled to start. If necessary, leave enough time to stop by the restroom or check-in with a co-worker on the way to the meeting.

HAVE A PLAN

If you are going somewhere you haven’t been before, do some research. First, check and review the directions. Find out where to park and how long it may take to walk to your destination from there. Keep the phone number on hand in case you get lost or need more detailed directions.

Don’t worry about being too early. Take the extra few minutes to check email or social media, make a quick phone call or, even better, review and update your to-do list. It’s a great to have some extra time to get something done.

TRY THIS OUT: Next time you are late, think about whether any of these tactics would have helped get you there on time. Next time you’re headed out, give it a try and see if it helps. Better yet, keep at it and when it becomes a routine, you’ll quickly find you’re always there on time!

The Myth of Time Management

The Myth of Time Management

So many of us talk about time management. Countless articles have been written and tools have been created to help us manage our time. There are time management gurus, tutorials and classes. Half of our working day is spent juggling our calendars in a never-ending attempt to “manage our time.”

But, what if we cannot manage time? Consider that this may just be a completely useless exercise. If you think about it, no matter what we do, time will always continue to tick forward. We cannot rewind it and we cannot fast forward it. It just is and just continues according to the plan – each second, every minute, the next hour and then into the next day.

That said, it should be obvious that time itself cannot be managed. I would propose that instead we rethink what we’re trying to “manage” and reorient our focus to the things that we can and do control:  our priorities, energy and attention.

PRIORITIES

Each day we all have more to do than we can handle. We know what needs to get done and we constantly make choices about what’s most important and what needs to be prioritized. Setting clear and deliberate priorities is the single most critical factor driving our productivity and future success. We can and do control how we spend our time even if we cannot control time itself.

ENERGY

We can also decide how to spend our energy. Energy is finite and to optimize output, it’s imperative that we focus our efforts and our energy on the most important priorities. This is harder to do than it seems these days due to the countless distractions that get in our way. So often, we expend more of our energy on the things that are seemingly urgent but not all that important.

ATTENTION

Focus seems to be a lost art especially for me. With countless dings, pings, alerts and notifications, it’s virtually impossible to focus on any one thing for an extended period. I personally struggle with this constantly. Research has shown that multi-tasking is not possible and simply does not work. To be most productive it behooves us to focus our full and complete attention on one task at a time. I have found that the Pomodoro technique works best for me since it forces me to focus for a set amount of time and reward myself with a break.

TRY THIS OUT: Do you spend a lot of time trying to manage your time? Does it work for you? Do you spend any time managing your priorities, energy and attention? If not, pick one and try to focus on it for a day or two. Do you find that you’re more productive?

The Time Paradox

The Time Paradox

We’ve all heard it and said it ourselves many times: “There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.” And, through my analysis over the past year, I have found that this is indeed the case. Not having enough time is not just a feeling, but an actual reality that we all face every day.

In my research on productivity, I consistently find that the most productive people don’t just work hard but they take care of themselves as well. So, I decided to experiment with my time each day to try to find the optimal use of every hour but, I haven’t been able to figure it out. Why not? Because there simply are not enough hours in the day.

It’s a basic and very simple math problem. Let’s start by looking at the two “big rocks” which basically account for two thirds of your day right off the bat.

  • 8 hours for a good night’s sleep
  • 8 hours at work

Next, let’s add in the necessary things that we just must do every day:

  • 5 hours to prepare and eat three meals
  • 1 hour to get ready
  • 1 hour to commute
  • 30 minutes for household activities

That leaves us with less than 4 hours to take care of everything else that we should be doing to be healthy and productive including the following:

  • 1 hour to exercise
  • 1 hour to spend with family
  • 1 hour to read
  • 30 minutes for mindfulness (meditation, yoga or journaling, etc.)

But now there’s no time left for the following fun activities which we would rather and often do spend our time doing including:

  • Watching TV
  • Checking Social Media
  • Entertaining
  • Shopping
  • Playing Games or Sports

So, to get it all done, we skimp on the amount of sleep we get, we avoid taking mental breaks and limit exercising to just a few times a week. To make time for the things we like to do, we neglect the things we should be doing simply because there are not enough hours in the day.

Here’s a visual breakdown of how we should ideally spend our time compared to how we end up spending our time:

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One of my favorite TV shows is “24” and each season they save the world in 24 hours because they don’t sleep, eat, rest, socialize or even go to the bathroom! How’s that for being productive?

TRY THIS OUT: For the next few days track how you spend each hour of your day. How does it compare to the ideal breakdown of time? What are you spending more time on than you should and what are you not doing that you need to find time to do? Are there ways to adjust your schedule to find that optimal balance?

A Perfectly Productive Day

A Perfectly Productive Day

One no-brainer way to increase your productivity and sanity is to perfectly plan out your day to ensure you’re doing the most important things when you are most focused and energetic.

To get started, spend a week assessing your focus and energy levels throughout the day so you can identify your finest hours for deep work. During this time, keep a notebook handy and log when you are able to focus and be productive versus the times when you are restless, unfocused or lack energy.

According to my focus and energy levels, this is how my typical day unfolds. First, I need some “me” time in the morning and then my most focused and productive time of the day is between 8 and 10:30 a.m. After that I quickly lose my focus. By noon, I need some social interaction, movement and external stimulation. The afternoons are my most unfocused and low energy times and then I get my second wind in the early afternoon to evening. After that spurt, I really need time to wind down.

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It doesn’t really matter how your energy levels rise and fall through the day, it’s just helpful to recognize your natural highs and lows.

Once I understood how my energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day, I was then able to clearly determine the best times for certain activities or tasks that would result in optimal efficiency. I must admit that as a result of this exercise, I decided to change my schedule around to focus on deep work versus checking email first thing in the morning. For many years, I started my day pouring through and responding to emails and then I realized I was wasting my most productive hours doing mindless work.

So, based on my findings, here’s what my perfectly productive day would look like:

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While this presents an ideal case, inevitably things will come up that will prevent you from sticking to your optimal schedule but having a solid starting framework will still help you structure your day when you do have flexibility.

Watch this entertaining video to inspire you to plan out your own perfectly productive day.

TRY THIS OUT:

  • When scheduling meetings, proactively propose times that best suit your schedule.
  • Block your calendar during your most productive times to focus on deep work.
  • Turn off email and social media notifications during focused work times to eliminate unnecessary distractions.
  • Proactively reach out to your network to schedule lunch meetings, walks or outings in different and new places to get motivated and energized.

 

Not Enough Time

Not Enough Time

I hear this sentiment too often these days: “I’m super busy and I just don’t have enough time.” When asked how we are doing, we often just instantly and thoughtlessly respond: “I’m busy.”

It appears that being busy, overbooked and frazzled is seen as a sign of success. Perhaps it shows that we are wanted and needed. It could be that it makes us feel important. Or, maybe it’s our way of projecting our productivity. But being too busy and being productive are not necessarily one in the same.

Time is one of our greatest treasures and how we use our time is critical to improving productivity. Are you spending your time on the most important things? Do you find time slipping away without getting anything done? Are you running around all day but not accomplishing anything meaningful?

The best way to make the most of your time is making sure you’re spending time on the most important things first, foremost and at the times during the day that you are most focused and productive.

So, what’s most important? When considering taking on or starting a new task think about these questions to determine if it’s a good use of your time:

  • How does doing this task benefit you?
  • Does it fit within your current goals?
  • Are there any dependencies or deadlines?
  • Can it be done later?
  • Could someone else do it?
  • What is the impact of deciding not to do it?
  • If you do it, what won’t get done?

Based on your answers to these questions, pick your top three tasks for the day and then plan when you’ll get them done. By going through this process, you may still be busy but you’ll also be more productive in terms of accomplishing the things that matter most.

Keep in mind that it’s not about not having enough time, it’s just a matter of how you decide to spend your time.

TRY THIS OUT:  As a next step, review your calendar for last week and assess which things were a waste of your time and figure out how to eliminate them going forward. Then, look to the week and ahead and plan how you’re going to spend your time on the tasks and appointments that really matter.