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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

I teach Leadership Communications to MBAs and corporate leaders. I have had over 20,000 people participate in my courses over the last 12 years.  At the beginning of my course, I often ask people to make a short list of their current challenges. “Work-life balance” comes up for more than half of the people.

Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are running, we aren’t in balance.  We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.

All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.

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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance is a Stupid Idea

  1. It doesn’t exist – Humans have 2 legs, not 3.  Triangles are naturally in balance, humans are not.
  2. You wouldn’t want it if you actually got it – It is the journey that is meaningful, not the seat at the end.  We are journey creatures, not “sitting-on-a-sofa-at-the-end” creatures.
  3. It causes endless frustration.  The search for balance is asking for frustration. It is strong foundations that allow for tall buildings to stay up, not balance.

Instead of seeking balance, work on your foundations and work on your wings.

Build Strong Foundations and Trust your Wings

There is an old story that tells of 3 men.  The first, he built his house on the sand.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The second, he build his house on the dirt.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The third, he built his house on the rock.  When the storms came, his house stood firm.

Success is built on strong foundations.  Are you building your house on the rock?  Jim Rohn often said “work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  You should be learning and training for the job you wish to have, not the job that you have now.  If you don’t know anything deeply, learn something deeply.  If you know one thing deeply, learn another skill.

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Trust Your Wings

I remember my father taking me to the park to learn to ride a bicycle.  I was 8 years old.  I sat on the bike and he held the seat from behind.  He said “I’m holding you up, you can pedal”.  I started to pedal.  He was walking and then running to stay with me.  I said “don’t let go!”.  He said “I am not holding you”.  He had let me go.  I was on my own.  I made it another 10 meters and then fell off (on the soft grass).  I was angry that he had let me go, he was so excited that I had cycled by myself.  His joy won.

I’d have liked my father to keep his hand on the bike seat for longer.  I would not have asked him to let go.  He trusted me.  Now, I need to learn to trust me.  I am a preparation freak.  I like to over-plan.  It is a big challenge for me to put myself into a situation where I don’t feel that I am fully ready yet.  However, life has taught me that it is only there, outside my comfort zone, that the magic happens.

This is not a call to throw yourself recklessly into dangerous situations.  My granny would say “look before you leap”.  She was right.  Only a fool would jump between 2 cliffs that were 20 meters apart with a 200 meter drop.  If there is a 1 meter gap, and the other side looks interesting – make the leap.  My granny’s saying says “look before” but it implies that you should be taking the leap.  Trust your wings, make the leaps.

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Let’s Stop the Search for Balance

If we were supposed to be balanced, humans would have 3 legs.  We don’t.  We have 2.  We are constantly falling, but constantly finding our wings to regain our balance, only to lose it again.

Now, if you don’t know where you are going, or are walking round in circles then maybe you do have a bigger problem…  but that is not the aim of this post.

Keep on falling, keep on recovering.

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Featured photo credit: Eric.Parker via flickr.com

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Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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