Want More Work/Life Balance? Try These 3 Things to Lead Your Life by Design Rather Than by Default

Most professionals will tell you that work/life balance is an elusive ideal, quite possibly a complete myth. But by being deliberate about which things they will and won’t do, professionals can and do create the time to meaningfully engage with work, family, and hobbies. Those who are prospering are vigilantly managing their own human capital to focus on themselves, the ones they love, and their stronghold on success.

Deliberately managing your choices does not guarantee complete control. Life sometimes gets in the way, whether it’s caring for a loved one or the furnace going out on the coldest day of the year. But despite such challenges, many sustain their momentum at work while staying connected to their life. There are 3 main themes that reflect how work/life balance is achieved: scaling down your definition of success, managing your availability, and managing technology.

Scaling Down Your Definition of Success:

As any project manager will tell you, while it is important to know what “winning” looks like, it’s critically important to know the contributing factors that lead to “winning.” The same principle applies to leading a deliberate life: understanding that your definition does not need to be driven by how society determines success and setting audacious goals.

Definitions of professional and personal success are measured by the smaller, additive, things for those who are achieving more work/life balance. For one professional, the path to success may mean being home for dinner with the family at least 4 nights a week. For another, it could be about having an impact at least once per week at work. For a third, it’s about recognizing financial success by having the ability to do one fun outing per week, such as a ball game or a nice dinner out with their family.

Managing Your Availability:

Across the board, most professionals insist that managing family and professional life requires a strong network of supporters. At home, this may mean help from extended family or paid assistance as a necessity. For one person I know, the cost of a riding lawn mower was equivalent to having a lawn service mow his lawn once a week for 5 years. So, he basically decided to pay someone else to mow his lawn for the next 5 years rather than spend the time moving it himself – which afforded him more time with his family on the weekends.

Much like the lawn service, support at work matters too. Trusted team members serve as valuable resources as well. Early in their career, many think they can control everything, be everywhere at once, attend every meeting, and have an answer for everything, but they cannot – no one can! Professionals who are living their life by design emphasize the importance of knowing when to say “yes,” when to say “no,” and when to empower others to come up with their own answers and solutions. It boils down to making sure that you manage what you can control and handoff what you cannot.

Managing Technology:

As a busy professional and small business owner, it is critical that I decide when, where and how to corral my e-mails, text messages, and other communications. With today’s mobile communication solutions, the “office” goes where you go, which makes it easy to be in two places at once. So, one thing I have had to learn and commit to is the value of undivided attention. When I am at “home,” I really try to be “at home” by putting my device out of reach, sometimes leaving it in my car when attending my kids’ sporting events (I have, actually, found this to be quite liberating).

For professionals, always being “plugged in” can erode the team’s performance. One professional observed that 24-hour availability can actually hamper initiative by others on the team: “If you have people who must constantly ask your advice all the time, you feel important. But there is a difference between being tremendously important and just not letting anyone around you do anything without you.”

In pursuit of rich professional and personal lives, we will surely continue to face tough decisions about where to concentrate our efforts. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to leading a life by design, small actionable things, like scaling down your definition of success, managing your availability, and managing technology are a few ways individuals can go from living by default to living a life by design.

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