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Balance your life by making wise choices.

Balance has its rewards. It reduces stress and provides greater intrinsic rewards, such as a sense of satisfaction and peace of mind. A survey of 2500 male and female senior executives by the Families Work Institute and the Boston College Center for Work & Family showed that executives who give equal weight to work and personal life feel more successful at work, are less stressed, and have an easier time managing the demands of their work and personal lives.

As Richard a Swenson says in his book In search of balance, “Balance is not the panacea and it cannot work miracles. But balance can help people sustain in the midst of stress and overload by keeping the highs and lows from swinging wildly.”

Thom and Art Rainer, in their book Simple life, described a survey they conducted of 1,077 individuals, most of who still had children living at home. The individuals were asked what they needed to happen in their lives for greater fulfilment. The majority of the answers revolved around simplicity and work balance, including time for the things in their lives that really mattered, and having better and closer relationships with others.

Employers also benefit from having employees who are able to effectively balance the demands of work and their personal/family life. They have more motivated employees, reduced turnover, and improved staff morale, among other things.

To balance your life you have to examine your personal values. What is really important in your life? Build in the time for what is most important to you. It’s important that you allocate your time properly. You could keep track of your daily activities for a few weeks to find out how much time you are spending on the different activities.

As Arianna Huffington, writing in her 2014 book, Thrive, commented, “It was very liberating to realize that I could ‘complete’ a project by simply dropping it – by eliminating it from my to-do list.”

You can’t do everything. Life balance is the process of working at all the significant areas of your life – such as work, family, social, personal and spiritual – so you can enjoy life and fulfill all these roles without experiencing undue stress. You can be a good parent, spouse, friend, and boss, with a healthy outlook, healthy body, and healthy mind. But you can’t always be great in every area. You have to choose the significant areas, and you have to choose how much time you will dedicate to each.

Life balance is a matter of making wise choices.

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Schedule your projects in 90-minute chunks

Some people try to work all day on a project, and on the surface it would seem to make sense to focus on one high-priority task at a time until it is completed.

But many things can distract you in the course of a day. Disorganization, for instance, can distract you from your goals and scheduled activities as well as waste valuable time. Declan Treacy, in his book, Clear Your Desk, says that people spend an average of 22 minutes per day looking for things on their desks. He also says that each piece of paper will distract you up to 5 times per day.

Richard Swenson, in his book, The Overload Syndrome, claims the average worker has 36 hours of work on his or her desk and spends 3 hours per week sorting piles trying to find the next project to work on. Jeffrey Mayer claims that 60% of the stuff on most people’s desk can be tossed.

If a professional such as an attorney, who charges by the hour, wastes 30 minutes per day in total, and has a billing rate of $150 per hour, the firm loses $16,500 per year in lost billings. Multiply that by 10 attorneys and that’s $165,000. This is based on working 220 days per year.

Elimination of many common timewasters requires self-discipline, and some of the time wasters, such as procrastination, may never be completely eliminated. But time management tools and techniques will help alleviate the problem of disorganization.

The technique of handling mail only once, for example, combined with a follow-up file, will eliminate much of the clutter that accumulates on desks.

Most of us have a few time-consuming tasks that could go on for days or weeks. We could be working on a new book or developing a training program or writing a series of booklets. But we also have the shorter, usually more urgent tasks that must be done as well.  Add to that the interruptions that everyone experiences and you are no longer “sticking to one task.”

Normally people have a dozen or more projects on the go at any one time – each with its own deadline.  People need to know when they are going to be completed; but they also need to know how they are progressing.  They want status reports. Clients don’t like to hear that you won’t be able to start their project for another eight weeks.

But even if you only had one large task – say to write a book on your industry – it would still be more effective to work at it in chunks for two hours or less then to work at it steadily from 9 am to 5 pm every day.

For one thing, you are justified in engaging your voice mail and ignoring your email for 90-minute stretches, but not for 8-hour stretches.  People may wait two hours for you to return their calls, but rarely eight hours.

Similarly you can close your door for up to two hours, ignore your email for two hours, or go to meeting for up to two hours. In other words, you would have fewer interruptions from others if you worked at your task a few hours at a time.

You would also have fewer self-interruptions.  Have you ever tried writing for 8 hours – even with a lunch break?  I have, and I was looking for interruptions.  Somebody would say “Can I interrupt you?” and I’d be thinking, “Yes, thank goodness, yes.  Please interrupt me.”  We go squirrelly after a while. Our minds go numb, we daydream, and we waste time as our energy is depleted.  It’s more effective to go for short sprints than to try to run marathons.

If we work at jobs in chunks, we can also schedule those chunks in our “prime time.”  Most people are more mentally alert in the mornings.  So we have more flexibility in our scheduling.

We are all different, and we all have different levels of energy and concentration.  If you are able to work three or four hours or have an even longer attention span, more power to you.  But most of us have shorter attention spans.  Go with what works for you.

You may be working at home alone and have few distractions – and if you are able to work five hours or more with little problem,   take advantage of it.

But when confronted with an “overwhelming task” such as writing a book, most of us tend to procrastinate.  Breaking the task into smaller chunks of time is a great way to overcome procrastination – even if those chunks are only separated by 15 minute breaks.  That way we are only committing ourselves to two hours at a stretch.


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Helicopter planning – getting a better view of the future

In this digital age of speed, change is taking place so rapidly, we have to spend more time planning and less time working from a traditional “To do” list in order to survive.

Planning could be seen as bringing the future into the present where you are able to change its outcome. Use the analogy of driving to work through traffic. You don’t know what the holdup is ahead; you only know that you have come to a standstill. And your focus is on inching forward one car length at a time. But if I were to take you up in a helicopter so you could see for miles ahead, you would know that there is a major accident six blocks down the road, and that you could easily avoid it by making a right turn just ahead and traveling along a parallel street. Seeing the future that awaits you allows you to make adjustments in the present.

Similarly, in business and in life in general, you must see beyond your daily “To Do” list and weekly schedules and get a glimpse of the future and how you can best adjust and prepare now for what lies ahead. I refer to this as “helicopter planning” – rising above the busyness of each day and spending a portion of your time visualizing and planning for the future.

I use the analogy of a helicopter because it can rise straight up, getting some space between you and the current situation, and it can hover so you have a good view of what’s happening right now, while looking ahead to see what the situation will be further down the road if you continue doing what you are doing.

Helicopter planning requires that you get some space between you and the clutter and busyness of everyday operations. It could be in the form of a weekend retreat with a few business advisors or in a local hotel for or a day or two in an unstructured meeting either alone or with your advisory board, partners or whoever. It is important that you distance yourself from your business so you can get a more objective view of it – as well as free yourself from the daily activities and interruptions

Today, you need the information, knowledge and wisdom of others more than ever. If you are a one-person business, the least you should do is block off a half day each week or two – dedicated to business planning. This is the time when you’re no longer working in the business, but on the business. Since Tuesday is considered to be the most productive day of the week, you might want to leave that time to work on the plan that you develop. You might consider a Friday morning, for your helicopter planning. Or you could make it a Saturday morning if necessary. You might recruit two or three retired businesspeople to serve as an advisory board. There are probably more than enough people who would gladly volunteer their services. All successful business owners need to get out of their daily grind and find time for helicopter planning.

If you are not in business, you can still use the same concept for your personal life. In this case you would involve your family as well.

In these planning sessions you might focus on areas of the business that are critical to making it to next month, the next quarter and beyond. You will have to decide which three or four priorities take precedence over everything else. These might include such things as managing cash flow, focusing on customers and quality service, and accelerating revenue growth. For personal planning, it might involve your career, financial status, self-development, family vacation, and so on.

Be sure to relate the 80-20 rule to your business. Do 80% of the new customers come from 20% of the things you do to get them? Is 80% of the new business obtained from 20% of your salesforce?  Is 80% of the revenue derived from 20% of your product line or services? Do 80% of the activities consume 80% of the time? And so on. Then plan what actions you will take to maximize your return on invested money, time and talent.

Change is occurring so rapidly, long-range planning is shrinking in length. We used to think of long-range planning as being 10 or more years, medium-range being five or more years and short-range being one year or more. Now you could consider five years long-range, and six months or less, short-range. That’s about the time it takes Apple to come out with a new iPhone.

Planning is an ongoing activity essential to the survival and success of your business.


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Purposeful living

Having purpose in life refers to being dedicated to a cause that is bigger than you. One that you will never fully attain in a lifetime. Whereas goals are specific, measurable and have a deadline, purpose is general in nature, a way of living as opposed to a means of achieving. Goals provide the what, how and when. Purpose provides the why.

Purpose brings meaning to life – reason for getting up in the morning and tackling each day with enthusiasm. It provides the standards by which we live and the motivation for what we do.

Can work be a purpose? Probably. But when work ends, then what? People who retire to nothing usually end up dying earlier and becoming ill more often than those who give up their jobs, but not their purpose in life.

Leider, in his book, Power of Purpose, relates a survey conducted at an American university where 60 students were asked why they had attempted suicide. 85 percent replied that life seemed meaningless. And surprisingly “93 percent of these students, suffering from the apparent lack of purpose in their lives were socially active, achieving academically, and on good terms with their family situation.”

It’s not so much what we do, but why we do it that will give us an insight into our purpose. What are our values? What really matters to us? What is our belief system? Do we feel strongly about some aspect of life, the world, the environment, people? What determines our behavior? What makes us angry, sad, or happy? What moves us emotionally? Purpose comes from within us, and we must dig deeply sometimes to find it.

Once we know our purpose in life, we should express it as a personal mission statement. Then, any goals we set must be compatible with our purpose. Our walk will reflect our talk. Nothing is more stressful than pursuing goals that conflict with our purpose. We must be at peace with ourselves. What we accomplish through goals is not as important as what we become. If we are forced or force ourselves to work on goals that are incompatible with our purpose, we become emotionally upset. According to Andrew Matthews, author of the book, Being Happy, emotional upsets produce powerful and lethal toxins. To quote, “Blood samples taken from persons experiencing intense fear or anger when injected into guinea pigs have killed them in less than two minutes. Imagine what these toxins can do to your own body.”

When we work on goals or activities that reflect our values and purpose in life, we have fewer anxieties and a greater sense of success and happiness.

But how do we go about defining our purpose or mission in life? Perhaps a good start would be to jot down some of your beliefs and feelings on paper. Roger A. Merrill, author of Connections Quadrant II Time Management, suggested that developing a mission statement is a process that takes time. Writing a rough draft and carrying it with you, making additions and deletions as you go along, will eventually result in a brief statement that reflects your own values.

It might end up stating “to elicit growth and change in the lives of those I meet” or “to look upon everyone with love” or “to become more Christ like”. It could be longer. A. Roger Merrill suggests that a personal mission statement should contain three basic elements:

  1. What you want to be.
  2. What you want to do or accomplish.
  3. The values and principles upon which your being and doing are based.

I find that once you know what you want to do, it usually involves other people, so I express my mission as what I will do for other people, how I will do it, and my reason for doing it. The important thing is that it reflects your values, what you consider to be important. As Victor Frankl, survivor of a concentration camp, has often been quoted, “Life asks of every individual a contribution, and it is up to that individual to discover what it should be.”