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Archive for January, 2008

How to strike a work and life balance

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Each week we will be asking Dr. Covey to comment on common questions.
This week we ask about work/life balance.

With today’s technology, multitaskers are using PDAs, cellphones, text messaging and emails to stay in connected 24 hours a day. While lighthearted nicknames like “crackberry” have been coined to describe this almost obsessive behavior, what happens when we become addicted to this connectivity? Do we exclude the other important dimensions of our life?

Q: What does it mean to have work/life balance?

A: This is a very personal thing and it is different for everyone. Generally speaking, having a good work/life balance means that your actions and priorities are aligned in a way that is taking care of what is really important to you.

Today the average college student or corporate worker considers themselves a “multitasker”. It’s not unusual to meet people in their 20s who are working, going to school, starting their own company, married, raising kids and enjoying hobbies. They end up with a huge list of things that fracture their attention. This isn’t wrong in any way–for the most part it’s admirable–but there is an old saying: to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a chronic multitasker, everything is a task. Soon, the things in life that are really important to them are in the same list as everything else, and the only tasks that get done are the ones that have become urgent, but often aren’t very important.

Because of this they are driven by an addiction to the urgent and continually respond to the the four P’s—those things that are Pressing, Proximate, Pleasant and Popular—leaving very little time to do those things that are truly important.

Q: What can happen to you when you allow yourself to become out of balance?

A: One of the main implications of being out of balance, however you define it, is that you neglect other areas of your life; family, health, etc. are often some of the first. When you become so addicted to only dealing with your urgent tasks you don’t think there is time for the non-urgent. You think that there will be time to deal with them later. But often, when you ask people what they feel is most important in their life, things they really want to accomplish, they are things that take time and long-term investment. By the time these things become urgent, it’s often too late to affect them.

For example, take a relationship. If you only invest in your relationships when they become urgent (you are on the brink of divorce or your child has become self destructive) you can’t just “take care of it.” It becomes a dominate issue that could take decades to “fix.” These issues can often be avoided if you invest in your relationships when they are important, but not urgent. This might mean turning off the computer and cellphone when you get home and really investing in your loved ones.

Another example is your health. If you don’t eat well or exercise because you don’t think you have the time or because it isn’t urgent, you could find yourself in a life risking situation later. When a health issue becomes urgent, it stops everything else. But if you take the time daily to eat well and exercise in some form, you take care of your body so that you lessen your chances of ill health.

Q: So, I have to say “no” to some things. What should I say no to?

A: First, you have to decide what is important. What do you really want to be and do with your life. What is your mission? What do you want people to say about you 30 or 40 years from now? Then, look at what is being asked of you and see if those things are a part of your life’s important goals. If not, smile and say “no.” If you’ve really decided what is important, you can become an agent in helping the people you work with, your family, friends and boss, know and understand your top priorities. This takes courage. It means you have to stand up for what you feel is important and help others understand why.

Q: But I’m worried that if I make time for personal things, like my health or relationships, that I’ll lose chances to be promoted in the workplace.

A: I suggest the opposite will happen. Reaching a level of life balance where you are learning to say “no” to the urgent and unimportant gives you time for things such as professional development activities. You are enabled to go the second mile in your efforts to help solve problems; you carve out time to mentor and be mentored, to look for other opportunities; you are able to anticipate needs long before they come up because you are not so urgency-addicted. Therefore, you are really promoting your promotability and increasing your options by choosing to spend time working on things that are most important. Of course, there will be some employers that won’t see things this way. They will look at you as a workhorse that should be given as much work as possible until your back breaks. My question to you would be, if this is the case, and you can’t focus on what is truly important to you, then why are you working there? You are worth more than that.

There are no quick-fixes to achieving work/life balance. Your priorities may change as your circumstances change. Thus, I invite you to consider the things that you value most and allow those to serve as the foundation. Then commit to consistently re-evaluate your current priorities, given your current circumstances and based on what you have identified as your core values. It takes courage, but remember not to trade in what you want most, for what you want now.

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How to keep your New Years Resolutions

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Each week we will be asking Dr. Covey to comment on common questions.
This week we ask about New Years Resolutions.

Do you feel like you fall into the same trap every year—make a resolution, keep it for awhile, break it, feel guilty, and so on? Or do you feel like it’s easy to just set the same goals every year—those last 20 pounds, more patience with my kids, improve productivity at work—yet never really pushing yourself? End this revolution. This week we ask Dr. Covey about how to reach your new years resolutions.

Q: Dr. Covey, why are New Years Resolutions important?

A: The start of a new year is often accompanied by a renewed energy around self-improvement and goal-setting in the form of resolutions. People often ask me this question and my reply is that I don’t think they ARE that important unless driven by a deep personal sense of mission. People often make resolutions, break them, and allow this to become their habit pattern until the process itself eventually becomes rather meaningless. Until people think really deeply about what is truly most important to them, this rather discouraging pattern is likely to continue.

Most people are “urgency addicted” and spend half their time doing things that are not important, that are urgent—things pressing, proximate, popular, and pleasant, but not really important.

This is why I feel strongly that people should take time to reflect and to think deeply about what is important to them. I suggest that people take time to decided what they really want to accomplish and why. Ask yourself what you mission is. Then make sure that your resolutions fit that mission. Can you see the difference between this process and the “quick fix” of coming up with ten resolutions and doing none of them?

For example, lets look at losing weight. If you are losing weight because you want fit into a certain size or you want others to like you more you are more likely to fail because the driving force of the goal isn’t coming from inside you. Your driving force comes from others. But, if one of your missions is to be a healthy person, you will look at your weight (if needed) as well as the health of your mind, your emotions and your spirit you are more likely to create meaningful goals and reach them. We call this, inside looking out, not outside looking in. Your goals are driven from within you and not influenced by others.

Q: How do I change so that I’m focused on the important things?

A: There are two forces that cause people to think seriously. One is the force of circumstance. They experience some kind of a crisis, emergency or major setback that causes them to really think seriously. The other is the force of conscience. The more people can spend time educating and obeying their conscience, the stronger their conscience becomes until they become driven by it. And if they’ll allow this to happen, it will drive them to ask and better understand the answers to the deeper questions of life. They’ll reflect on what is really important to them and think through the kinds of practices or disciplines that must be exercised in order to accomplish that which is most important.

Q: Can you recommend some things that people might consider when sitting down and setting goals for themselves?

A: There are a couple of things I have found that help people develop enough internal stamina and discipline to make great things happen. They start small—make and keep a promise, or set a small goal and accomplish it. The more they do this, the larger the promises become and the higher the significance of the goals. Little by little their sense of personal honor becomes greater than their moods, and they are more a function of their commitments then they are the different conditions of their life. When that begins to happen, they literally become the creative force of their own life. They move from small things to slightly larger things—have small “wins” and then bigger and bigger “wins”—until they begin to experience a level of exhilaration and excitement that makes them feel like they can accomplish just about anything.

Q: Looking ahead, what words of encouragement would you offer someone who might get stuck in the process?

A: Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by the process itself…it is gradual. Ask yourself the simple question—what is most important to you in life? Making a list of values that you want to live by is, in and of itself, a small “win.” As I mentioned earlier, acknowledging these small victories gives you confidence that you are on the right path and allows you to take a deeper look at what your goals and purposes are. As you move forward, you are encouraged to go, even more specifically, into action planning and setting deadline dates by which you want to accomplish those things.

I would also add this…it is human nature to have moments of doubt and discouragement, but do not give into them. Know that, in spite of weaknesses, you have the potential within you to live a life of greatness.

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