The single biggest theme I get asked about, [at any organized panel, one-on-one coaching conversation, formal Q&A or random mentoring interaction] is work life balance. This isn’t really surprising, we are working more hours and feeling more squeezed in our lives, so searching for life hacks, or empathy makes sense.
While I don’t really like the work life balance framing, I do have a make work betterstrategy that helps keep me in balance. At some point, I’ll organize my journey here into a TED-worthy story, but, for today, I will focus on sharing the strategy I use to manage my energy. This is key to my belief that I am not balancing work and life, instead, I’m balancing energy to help me thrive.
My strategy is really simple — I use the scientific method — try something, analyze, adjust, repeat. The trick is that every one of the conditions in my experiment is evolving, so the value is less in the solution and more in the a practice. A bit like life.
What does that look like?
Important to note, that theses lists will be different for each of us, there is no one size fits all here. The more you learn about yourself, the better results you will get. Here is my framework:
First, I inventory things that add energy. These include things like sleep, massage, yoga, meditation, learning something new, applying a new learning to a current problem, deep connection with people, helping others thrive and reading for pleasure.
Then I look at things that give energy when I complete them (but maybe not while I’m doing them). These include things like checking items off a to-do list, de-cluttering (email inbox, desk, calendar, etc.), exercise, finishing a big project.
Then I look at things that drain me of energy. These include negative people, uncertainty, minor physical discomfort (vitamin deficiencies, migraines, vertigo, etc. ), low blood sugar, extroversion overload, small talk, telephones, teenager drama, avoidable chaos, etc.
Lastly I look at my personal daily energy cycle. What times of day am I at my best and when am I more sluggish. Is that hard wired or environmental?
Now that I have my variables, I start to think about my rhythm within a day and a week. I look to tune the order of the kinds of tasks I need to get done, against the types of energy I have at a given time of day. I look to optimize both daily and weekly since I often can’t win this game every day, but over a week I have reasonable odds.
An example of what this looks like for me
- Prioritize getting to sleep early as often as I can, to make sure I have enough fuel to get shit done the next day. I reinforce this habit with the reward of reading for pleasure at the end of the night.
- Get up early to enjoy quiet, chaos free house and do low-effort tasks that build energy on completion (e.g., clear out my inbox, declutter my desk and drink all the coffee).
- After I’m organized [and awake], do the bigger items — either exercise to build for a longer day, or some important work meetings and tasks [ideally both].
- Be thoughtful about my propensity for low blood sugar. Have a reliable strategy for breakfast, lunch and mid-day snack and, if available, schedule a walking meeting in the afternoon to re-charge and connect with someone I care about.
- Think about who and how many meetings I have back to back. Build in recovery time if I have too much required extraversion or negativity. I am at my best if I have a “work quietly” break after 3 meetings. If I can’t, I need a recovery plan. This might involve staying late to get some work done when the office quiets down.
I use my calendar to manage execution, being mindful of what personal commitments are hardest for me to keep, and making sure I build that into my weekly default template (e.g., I struggle to keep exercise commitments, so I add a few kickers — first, I put an extra prep 1/2 hour before, to remind myself to wrap stuff up and get my clothes changed. Then, I schedule a class that has a hard start time, so my responsibility gene kicks in and gets me there).
As I mentioned above, these are not universal, they are my truths [today]. Having teenage girls has increased my needs for quiet recovery options (reading, yoga, massage, etc), pre-kids that was not as important. Life and professional transitions increase my need for exercise and mindfulness to keep me open, positive and creative. Things like seasons (number of hours of daylight) and crunch times (e.g., school holidays, theater tech week, kids finals, end of quarter, and key work deadlines) add additional variables to work into my plan.
Most importantly, I check in frequently to this framework, especially when I notice my energy and positivity waning, this helps me maximize for flow and avoid burnout. I feel more in control, and more at peace with my choices, since, embedded in this framework is making purposeful choices about what not to do at all.
What about you? What are your life hacks for making work better?
Cross Post: LinkedIn