Dr. Stephen Covey, author of the celebrated book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, has begun talking about a different topic every week on his website, and he recently took on the issue of work/life balance. There was one paragraph in particular that I thought was particularly good: "[people]are driven by an addiction to the urgent and continually respond to the four P's-those things that are Pressing, Proximate, Pleasant and Popular - leaving very little time to do those things that are truly important."
That's a lovely way of expressing how workers often manage to avoid genuinely important tasks. It's contained in the answer to a question below. Underneath that exchange, I also included his thoughts about the need to find personal success in things such as health relationships in order to achieve work/life balance. Read the full exchange here.
Q: What does it mean to have work/life balance?
A: Today the average college student or corporate worker considers themselves a "multitasker". It's not unusual to meet people in their 20s who are working, going to school, starting their own company, married, raising kids and enjoying hobbies. They end up with a huge list of things that fracture their attention. This isn't wrong in any way-for the most part it's admirable-but there is an old saying: to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a chronic multitasker, everything is a task. Soon, the things in life that are really important to them are in the same list as everything else, and the only tasks that get done are the ones that have become urgent, but often aren't very important. Because of this they are driven by an addiction to the urgent and continually respond to the the four P's-those things that are Pressing, Proximate, Pleasant and Popular-leaving very little time to do those things that are truly important.
Q: But I'm worried that if I make time for personal things, like my health or relationships, that I'll lose chances to be promoted in the workplace.
A: I suggest the opposite will happen. Reaching a level of life balance where you are learning to say "no" to the urgent and unimportant gives you time for things such as professional development activities. You are enabled to go the second mile in your efforts to help solve problems; you carve out time to mentor and be mentored, to look for other opportunities; you are able to anticipate needs long before they come up because you are not so urgency-addicted. Therefore, you are really promoting your promotability and increasing your options by choosing to spend time working on things that are most important. Of course, there will be some employers that won't see things this way. They will look at you as a workhorse that should be given as much work as possible until your back breaks. My question to you would be, if this is the case, and you can't focus on what is truly important to you, then why are you working there? You are worth more than that. There are no quick-fixes to achieving work/life balance. Your priorities may change as your circumstances change. Thus, I invite you to consider the things that you value most and allow those to serve as the foundation. Then commit to consistently re-evaluate your current priorities, given your current circumstances and based on what you have identified as your core values. It takes courage, but remember not to trade in what you want most, for what you want now.