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Don’t try to be productive every moment of the day. Stop and smell the flowers. (Yarruta/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Don’t try to be productive every moment of the day. Stop and smell the flowers. (Yarruta/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Balance

It’s not ‘unproductive’ to smell the flowers Add to ...

Do you treat killing time as a sin?

In the frenzy of our multi-tasking life – with work always available on our handheld devices – it’s easy to try to fill every moment of the day with something productive. So we read or write reports on planes, organize to-do lists and scan documents before a meeting starts, make calls while driving, and answer e-mails or do stretching exercises while watching TV with the family. “There is a tendency among productive people to try to make the best use of every single minute, from the time they awake,” writes Zen Habits blogger Leo Babauta. “I know because not too long ago I was one of those folks.”

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He accepts that may be productive. It may even be smart. But he questions whether that is what our lives are meant to be. Are we like computers, carrying out a stream of tasks all day long? Are we just a cog in a machine of productivity?

“What about joy? What about the sensory pleasure of lying in the grass with the sun shining on our closed eyes? What about the beauty of a nap while on the train? How about reading a novel for the sheer exhilaration of it, not to better yourself? What about spending time with someone for the love of being with someone, of making a genuine human connection that is unencumbered by productive purpose, unburdened by goals?” he writes.

“What about freedom? Freedom from being tied to a job, from having to improve yourself every single minute, from the dreariness of never-ending work?”

He argues “killing time” – the phrase we use for filling available moments – is a misnomer. It’s not a matter of killing time but of enjoying it. Ask yourself, when you have some spare time, “How can I best enjoy this moment?”

He concedes that working may bring joy. But so might relaxing, having a conversation with a cherished friend, or taking a walk.

So don’t obsess about killing time. Enjoy time.

Find balance by setting priorities

You don’t want work-life balance. You want control.

That’s the belief of technology executive Meg Bear. “You don’t want or need ‘balance’ in your life. You may, however, be working too much. So let’s quit talking about ‘needing work-life balance’ and start being honest and talk about how we might have lost control of our priorities and our lives,” she writes on her blog.

In that vein, she suggests:

The issue is not the amount of work you grapple with but the type of work as compared to your expectations. You are probably seeking a greater say in what you do and the ability to tune the mix to feed your soul, as she puts it. And while that may seem beyond your powers to resolve, she suggests you focus on that objective and push for improvements in your life. Consider what it is you wish you were doing that you’re not and what you are doing that you wish you weren’t stuck with.

Also, consider the things that are going well in your life. “Start realizing that you have a wealth of great things to be proud of in your life. You don’t have a balance problem, you have a full life. Reframe the whole topic with yourself as tuning your time expenditure to help your life be more rich and fulfilling,’ she writes.

Keep in mind that small things matter in a big way. Don’t make problems bigger and tell everyone you will fix them. Instead, break big problems – including the pile of work before you – into smaller problems, and resolve them. Achieving something small will pay big dividends by making you feel powerful and in control.

Work-life balance tips

Here is a roundup of some short – but practical and effective – work-life balance tips to consider:

· On the Daytimer Blog Jeff Doubek suggests revisiting your plans for the week to make certain each day has at least one or two purposeful activities from other walks of life besides work. “If each facet of your life were the colour of a crayon then your weekly task list should show a spectrum, not just the monotone colour of your job,” he remarks.

· If you feel you’re indispensible and can’t afford to take a vacation this summer, executive Patty Azzarello on the Fast Company blog counters that a sound work reason for going on vacation is that it shows you are competent. “Not being able to take a vacation for years shows that you and your team are so out of control that you can’t even be gone for a week,” she writes. She adds that nobody will be impressed when you brag about not being able to get away. They aren’t convinced that makes you seem as special as you might be expecting.

· Small business blogger Melinda Emerson says an important step for getting better work-life balance is to only take essential business trips. Entrepreneurs are always eager to sell, she observes on the American Express Open Forum Blog, and so when the opportunity to get before a prospect arises they hop on a plane. “Make sure you gauge a potential client’s readiness to buy before investing your time and money in a face-to-face meeting. Time away is precious time you could spend with your family. If you must travel for business, try to stay away only one night to reduce chances you’ll miss an important date, game or performance,” she declares.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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