Tricia Molloy has run her own marketing consultancy in Atlanta for 26 years, helping entrepreneurs with their messages. But since 2006, after she published a book for entrepreneurs with tips for attaining success, Working with Wisdom, she has found herself increasingly giving presentations and advice on work-life balance.
"Everyone is trying to figure out how to work smarter and easier, and to balance demands at work with their personal life," she said in an interview.
She starts from the premise that perfect balance is unattainable. Instead, we must aim to improve balance by making conscious choices. That starts by determining what balance might be for you. Look at all the hats you wear – all the responsibilities you have to others and yourself. Write down the different aspects of life such as work, home, relationships, personal development, fun, spirituality and service. "Are you satisfied in these areas or do you need to give more attention to one or another?" she asks.
That will help you decide where to place your energy and set boundaries – the conscious choice needed for improvement. Write down your goals rather than leaving it in the realm of your mind, which can forget or evade: "If I had more time and energy, I would do X." But keep your goals modest. "If you try to achieve perfect balance, you'll only be more frustrated," she said. "It's all about prioritizing. You won't be a 10 in all of them."
As you reassess, she recommends these seven steps:
1. Find your purpose
Figure out what your purpose is in life – what you would do even if not paid – since that will supply energy. Defining purpose can seem so imposing and final that you may initially resist, but she stresses it's just for your current stage in life and will evolve over time. Look at what motivates you, what you value, and what feels natural – where your gifts seem to lie. Don't worry that you'll have to switch careers; if work doesn't fit with your purpose, volunteer activities may pick up the slack, like the accountant who loves animals and does the books of the local humane society for free.
2. Create space
Clutter – physical and psychological – gets in the way, draining energy. So does technical clutter, your technology that sidetracks you onto the Internet when you could be more on target with your goals. Make a list of all your obligations and see which ones no longer serve you well. Perhaps you have been on a committee for years and it's time to resign, creating space for a new endeavour. "It's our human nature to hold on to things longer than we should – physical things but also relationships. The lighter your life is, the easier it is to experience balance," she said, because of the increased energy and focus.
3. Manage your energy
Misery loves company and if you are going through life at low ebb, you will remain mired. Eat healthily, get plenty of rest, and make sure you are exercising sufficiently. But beyond that, spend time with successful, supportive people, since their energy will feed into your life. Also, practise acts of kindness, which will lift you and the people around you.
4. Talk to yourself in a positive way
It has been estimated that we talk to ourselves 10,000 times a day, with about 80 per cent of that chatter negative. She urges you to reverse the process, feeding yourself affirmations that will energize your subconscious mind. She recommends a mantra that you state every morning and a few times a day. Her affirmation is: "I have more than enough time and energy to get the important things done today." Might work for you, too.
5. Be authentic
If the goals you have for your life are someone else's, you will be going through life on automatic pilot. That's where purpose comes in. Pause when someone requests something, be it joining a committee or having dinner together. Give yourself a chance to evaluate whether that activity is what you truly want to do, or whether you should be saying no. On the other hand, be quick to admit when you have made a mistake, apologize, and be true to yourself.
6. Stay present
Be mindful as you go through life. Catch the gift of the moment. And limit your multitasking, which often does more harm than good. She cites people having dinner together but sneaking a look at their mobile every time a message comes in.
7. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
"What we focus on expands and what we appreciate appreciates," she said. "When we think of what we appreciate, more of it comes to us." Keep a gratitude journal, and a few times a week write down what you are grateful for that day, making sure that there is always some unique item amid repeaters like family. The journal forces you to pay attention to the good things every day, which boosts energy.
We make choices every day as we go through life. Addressing these seven issues helps you to get on track, and make more choices that will improve your work-life balance.
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