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Seeking work-life balance often is a hopeless pursuit. And the commonly suggested alternative, integrating your work and life, can also be frustrating. So it’s worth paying attention to management-psychology consultant Gail Golden, who recommends ending the struggle for work-life balance and opting to curate your life.

Your first reaction might be confusion. How does curating fit in that context? It’s something that happens in museums and art galleries, where curators conjure up wonderful exhibitions. She says you also see the impact of curating when you walk into some people’s homes and study a well-designed menu or wine list. Somebody has put thought into what is shown and what is set aside.

She says curating your life means sorting your activities into three categories:

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  • The things you are not going to do, at least not right now.
  • The things you will be mediocre at.
  • The things you will be great at.

“This is not simple,” she writes in her book Curating Your Life.

“Life is complicated, so beware of simple answers. Curating your life is a challenging, ongoing discipline that requires a whole bunch of skills. A well-curated life doesn’t stay the same, any more than a museum always has the same exhibits on its walls.”

It starts, of course, by deciding what’s important. A museum creator must figure out what the theme or uniting principle of an exhibit will be, and you must take the same approach with your life, identifying your values. She loves these three questions a colleague recommends: Am I doing good work? Am I having fun? Am I making money? Use them to help figure out your conscious and unconscious values.

Then make sure you spend your time and energy on things that matter. Eliminate activities that don’t matter by another not-so-simple routine: saying no.

“The real challenge is eliminating good stuff – stuff you think is worthwhile or you like to do. It’s like the poor art curator who has to decide whether to cut out the Renoir or the Degas from the art exhibit. One of them has to go,” she writes.

Ask yourself if an activity is important to you or makes you happy, rating each on a scale of one to 10 for each attribute. Items low on both scales should be eliminated. A priority in your life should be activities high in importance and happiness. Activities with mixed results will have to be assessed wisely.

She also wants you to embrace mediocrity – choosing activities you will do but allow yourself to be mediocre at. After considering importance and happiness related to such candidate activities, evaluate what will likely happen if you adopt a mediocre standard in tackling it? What is the cost of seeking perfection in the activity, and is it worth that effort? Keep in mind that sometimes it’s more expensive to do something in a mediocre manner, as you may have to redo it.

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Don’t announce your chosen mediocre activities to the world. “Just quietly go about doing these tasks to your own mediocre standards. You will probably be surprised about how few people actually notice,” she advises.

Finally, choose greatness in one or more activities that matter to you and others, keeping your own capabilities in mind. If you’re not sure where your greatness lies, experimentation may be in order. Her experience, she notes, is that when people have regrets, it’s more about the possibilities they didn’t pursue than the efforts that failed.

That applies to seeking greatness, but perhaps more broadly to the notion of curating your life. It may be time to set aside the quest for balance or integration and seek the curated life.

Quick hits

  • Stop being busy. Being lazy is good for your brain, says productivity consultant Chris Bailey. A wandering mind helps you plan for the future, come up with new ideas and recharge.
  • If you’re fatigued by being online too often in the day, look for ways to take low-tech routes, advises consultant Elizabeth Grace Saunders. Plan your next project on a whiteboard or brainstorm what will go into your report on paper instead of a computer.
  • Creative ideas happen when you stop thinking about what others will think, says blogger James Clear.
  • Job descriptions don’t always give a true understanding of the job. Consultant Sharon Wilson recommends asking: “What are the five skills I will use most often in this position?”
  • When we compare ourselves to others, we’re often comparing their best features against our average ones, says blogger Shane Parrish. Comparisons between people are a recipe for unhappiness, unless you are the best in the world.

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