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We head into January with the battle cry, "This year is going to be different!" and many of us set dozens of resolutions for a better 2014. But Gary Keller, a Texas entrepreneur and author of The One Thing, observes that "when February arrives, reality hits and before Punxsutawney Phil or Wiarton Willie can predict an early thaw, our progress feels frozen and we're ready to put our goals on ice."

He notes that, according to a 2009 British study, 88 per cent of New Year's resolutions end this way. To avoid that fate, and join the successful 12 per cent, he recommends setting one goal and then blocking out time to make daily progress. "Big success doesn't happen through giant leaps, but rather through little steps every day," he advises.

Mr. Keller was one of a number of experts I talked to last year about work-life balance and stress. To help launch a new year, I asked each what one thing they would recommend for us in the coming days so that we can handle our burdens better:

Monique Valcour

Professor of Management, EDHEC Business School, France

Maintaining work-life balance is a matter of investing your time and energy where it yields the most value for you. Imagine that you have an internal dashboard that shows how much energy – physical, mental and emotional – you have in your tank. Use it to evaluate whether and how extensively to engage in tasks and activities. Ask yourself: "How would doing this – be it attending a meeting, joining a committee, taking a walk, visiting a friend, or completing some paperwork – affect my store of physical energy, mental energy, and emotional energy?" Invest yourself in activities that energize you and limit those that drain you.

Louise Thompson

New Zealand life coach and author of the just-published The Busy Woman's Guide to High Energy Happiness

If you want to take one powerful action to improve your work-life balance in 2014, consciously decide who you want in your "Circle of Five." The five people you spend the most time with are your biggest influencers, and that can either power you forward toward achieving your dreams and goals, or it can keep you stuck and held back.

If you want to have a fit, healthy body, start to hang out with people who want to walk and talk rather than meet over coffee and muffins; if you want a successful business, spend more time with successful operators rather than those who are struggling too; if you want to be a happy-go-lucky relaxed person, attract and foster relationships with those individuals who demonstrate those qualities.

Your Circle of Five, when consciously chosen, can be the most powerful force in effortlessly pulling you toward your best year and best life.

David Posen

Oakville, Ont. stress doctor and author of Is Work Killing You?

Work-life balance is not a luxury. It's a necessity – for good health, energy and productivity. And there are serious consequences if our lives fall out of balance for too long. Balance is an antidote, a counterbalance, to chronic stress. Balance prevents burnout.

The key to making time for leisure (including exercise, relaxation, hobbies, relationships, entertainment) is the word "permission." Give yourself permission to make time for yourself, for the things that nourish you. Time management is an issue to address. But the bigger issue, for many people, is guilt, since we feel badly if we do things for ourselves rather than for work, family and others. Remember that time for ourselves can include time with others, such as cross-country skiing with friends.

The goal is balance. The key is permission.

Jon Wortmann

Co-author of Hijacked by Your Brain: How to Free Yourself When Stress Takes Over

Learn to step back with regularity and intention. Smart phones pinging, 1,000 e-mails waiting, meeting after meeting: It makes your brain feel as if it's being stalked by a lion. It's not enough to practise stress management techniques when you're stressed. Build the practice of stepping back – breathing, walking, meditating, imagining, praying, doing yoga – into your daily routine.

Ideally, try some act of mindfulness every hour. Remind your brain: There is no lion. You will be less stressed more of the time, and your brain will take care of you more naturally in the most difficult moments.

Cali Williams Yost

CEO and Founder, Work+Life Fit Inc.

Stop trying to find balance in 2014. Instead, focus on finding your unique "work+life fit" each week.

The pursuit of balance every year is a frustrating, fool's errand because it doesn't exist. The unreachable goal of a 50-50 split between your work and life leads to disappointment and frustration.

But a simple shift in focus to find your unique work+life fit – figuring out how to fit your various interests together in a comfortable way – can help you see the possibilities based on your current realities at work and in the other parts of your life. Follow a simple weekly work+life fit practice, where you intentionally choose the small, meaningful actions, or tweaks, that help you be your best, on and off the job.

Chris Johnson

Michigan-based exercise physiologist and author of On Target Living

Become aware of your body – and the stress within. Are you breathing shallowly or deeply? Are you tense and irritable? Are you sleeping well or resorting to sleep aids?

A lot of people these days feel numb, in their bodies and minds. You need to develop strategies – daily ones – for recovery, to avoid the debilitating illnesses that stress can bring. Focus on breathing deeply, from the belly. Take a stretch break – even if the people around you look at you as if you are from a different planet. Take a walk, get a massage – and sleep.

Does your cat have trouble sleeping? That's because cats can shut their brain down. Learn the same technique.

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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