Beware of six work-life myths that may be holding you back.
The first is that men don’t care about work-life balance. James Sudakow – husband, dad, and small business owner heading a consulting practice – frequently found himself asking questions about his own work-life balance and started chatting with other men. “Unfortunately, from many men who held ‘big’ jobs, I heard stories about missing a lot of things with their kids because of their jobs and how much they genuinely lamented that,” he writes on SmartBrief.com.
He decided to rethink his own approach to work-life balance, and that led him to confront five other myths with counter-intuitive moves:
- You won’t kill your career by setting firm boundaries between work and life: Technology has led us to feel we must be accessible at all times. “But what if you actually compartmentalized? Would there be collateral damage to our careers?” Mr. Sudakow writes. He decided to find out, implementing strict boundaries between work and life for an entire year. He expected it would impact his business. But he hasn’t lost a single client and revenue hasn’t suffered.
- You can put family first: We fear putting family first. But he did and found it allowed him to dive into more work without guilt that he was an absentee husband and father. “With no guilt, I was able to set better boundaries around work, which ultimately made me more focused, efficient and effective. At the same time, with a more limited and focused time allocated for work, putting my family first actually forced me to ruthlessly prioritize at work. All of this in combination allowed me to actually enjoy my work more,” he notes.
- Work-life blend is not the only solution: Many people these days advocate integrating work and life, so you move from activities in one area to another. Mr. Sudakow did the reverse, strictly compartmentalizing key times and days when he separated work and life. It helped him “be in the moment” more for both work and life and enjoy each more.
- Work-life balance is not a 50-50 proposition: Most of us know an equal balance between work and life is not in the cards, but some people still strive or hope for that. His current ratio is 65-35 in favour of life, but he expects that will change in different periods of his life.
- Work-life balance comes down to hard choices we have not forced ourselves to make before: In the end, this is about priorities. And that can involve hard choices. There are no magical, easy solutions. To achieve his 65-35 split, focusing on family, Mr. Sudakow had to accept his small business would move from growth mode to a sustain phase. That was difficult, but as owner, he had a choice. For others he talked to, it came down to deciding whether to pursue greater responsibilities at work or take on more travel.
“The decisions are hard. Living with the implications can be even harder at first, especially if you are like me and had never forced yourself to do that before. I found that once I was willing to do this, work-life balance was indeed very attainable,” he concludes.
So give some time to the myths he highlights, and see if your own work-life balance can be improved.
- Psychology professor Art Markham recommends structuring your day so the tasks that require the most internal commitment to address (such as working on a report or reading the specs of a new product) are tackled early in the day, while those that engage you from the outside (such as checking your e-mail or having a one-on-one meeting with a colleague) happen later, when the 3 p.m. slump strikes.
- There are two responses to new ideas, says consultant Alan Weiss: “Let me tell you why that won’t work,” or, “Let me figure out how I can make this work for me.” Which should you choose when encountering new ideas?
- Here’s a good question to use while contemplating future career paths, from life designers Bill Burnett and Dave Evans: “Who or what do you want to grow into?”
- To be a better listener, when someone has finished making a point, use that person’s name and then paraphrase in your own words the essence of what you understood that person to say. Then ask a follow-up question that keeps the focus on the person speaking.
- Take a brisk two-minute walk around the office every hour. Research suggests it may be even more beneficial than a standing desk to overcome a sedentary work life.
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