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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