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How to Have More Balance in Your Work and Stay Motivated

Three new ideas can help you become refreshed, relaxed, and renewed while working in today’s stress-filled world so that you can stay motivated and energized — daily, weekly and throughout your career.

by Karen Armon, February 2011

As the economy heals, more is required of us at work and in our lives than ever before. We seem to move from moment to moment, trying to slice time into seconds to squeeze one more task into an already packed list of to-dos. Unless we change how we approach our life, we can easily end the day exhausted, depleted, and barely able to notice that another day ended and another one is ready to begin.

In a January 2011 Huffington Post article, Joe Robinson, work-life balance coach, wrote, “The whole culture is suffering from overconscious intentionality, overseriousness, overemphasis on productivity and work. We’ve forgotten that the whole picture requires a dance between leisure and work.”

In my opinion, the idea of work/life balance is a misnomer. Those I’ve observed who attempt to achieve this elusive balance only become more frustrated and dissatisfied with their jobs and their lives. This can’t be the solution. As I reflect of how to get more out of our lives and careers, I have formulated three major thoughts on the topic.

Thought #1: Know Yourself, Your Boundaries, and Your Commitments

“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x;
y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.” Albert Einstein

As we move into greater and greater roles of responsibility, we seem to use an “additive” approach to life. We “add” more tasks; we “add” more commitments, and we “add” more to our list of goals. Trying to balance the ever-expanding responsibilities that we take on only seems to lengthen our day.

In a January 2011 McKinsey Quarterly article, “Recovering from Information Overload,” Derek Dean and Caroline Webb state, “A body of scientific evidence demonstrates fairly conclusively that multitasking makes human beings less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective leaders, we need to stop.”

At each step, I believe that we should reflect and renegotiate what we take on. But many don’t because it seems too selfish, too irresponsible, and sometimes takes too much time to even think about. I suggest, however, that it is essential. To reflect and renew is fundamental to understanding what to say yes to, and having the courage to say no to the rest. Here’s how:

  1. Know Yourself: Each of us has a threshold of stress that we can handle and a level of energy to meet each day’s challenge. Know what those are and identify them very clearly for yourself.

  2. Your Boundaries: Each of us has things that we are no longer energized to do and, if we compromise to do them, we deplete our motivation and passion. These are real limits that need to be thought through and defined.

  3. Your Commitments: Many of us are over-committed and feel that there is no way out. Instead, evaluate each opportunity and understand completely what is expected. Negotiate your part and endeavor to fulfill agreed-to expectations. If you can’t, communicate quickly so adjustments can be made. It is not lazy or wrong to say “no.”

Thought #2: Integrate Using Today’s Tools in Technology

“If you don’t deliver, you don’t earn the flexibility [on work-life balance].” Jack Welch

Technology today can either pull you apart or cause you to integrate your life with your work. Trying to balance your “life” and your “work” as if they were two separate entities can easily pull you in so many directions that make you feel out of control. The sheer number of communiqués via technology today is mind-boggling. Social networks, both public (such as Facebook, Linked In, or Plaxo) and private (such as ExecuNet) and Social media (such as YouTube, Flickr, or Twitter) coupled with emails, electronic newsletters, and blog feeds have exploded.

I’ve known executives who have two cell phones — one android for electronic communications and one for telephonic connections — as well as a laptop, desktop and now, a tablet device! I believe however, that technology has become so device-driven and application-specific that integration is the new wave of technology. But that day is not quite here.

How can you reduce the noise and stay relatively connected yet balanced? Here are my suggestions:

  • Determine what your life/work technology needs are and stick with it. Getting the coolest, latest techno gadget is only a guarantee that you’ll be driven to use it. Instead, determine which pieces of technology are best for you and will support your life (see above). 

  • Break down the walls of compartmentalization and integrate your communications. Many business professionals are driving themselves crazy by trying to separate their business life and their personal life. But it’s a myth. Rather, compartmentalize your method of communications to different groups. Have a personal policy about what you will share “publicly” and what you will share “privately.” 

Morris Shechtman, a psychotherapist that consults organizations about work today, agrees in his presentation The Eight Skills Needed to Success in Today’s High-Risk World, that “We are either ‘learning’ or we are ‘teaching’ and this is what technology does for us.” He adds, “Remove the firewall between personal and professional; instead, set limits/boundaries.”

Thought #3: To Get More, You Must Be More

“Integrate what you believe in every single area of your life. Take your heart
to work and ask the most and best of everybody else, too.” Meryl Streep

To have a more fulfilling life and career, it is imperative that one become more authentic and real with each person one interacts with. Trying to be something you aren’t or conforming to behaviors that are not central to your beliefs is a sure way to become stressed out and burnt out.

Many of the executives that I coach are stuck because of expectations that they should “progress” in their lives — getting more money, more responsibilities, and ever-increasing roles — which may or may not fit them. They search for meaning in life by expecting others to give them what they need, when in reality, the issue is that they are living incongruently with who they are and what they really want out of their lives. It is not the employer’s role or responsibility to give employees what they want — it is theirs and theirs alone.

Who cares if you take a step back in your career if it’s all too much? Why live by others’ expectations, or by a set of standards created early in your career that you find are not right for you now? Today’s world includes so many opportunities — there is no need to live your life in quiet desperation.

Now, I understand that this may not be as true for you as it is in other parts of the world. But the barriers are coming down through technology that allows all of us to work from anywhere in the world. All one needs is a computer, a website and a cell phone, and you can set up shop. All that needs to happen from there is a lot of hard work and determination. I know — I’ve been running my own company since 1992!

To become more of who you really are, and live a more authentic life, take these steps:

  • Make changes yourself, but take baby steps. Violently revolutionizing your life is hard on those around you. Rather, take baby steps and see yourself moving toward what you really want. Eventually, it will come together.

  • ·Give yourself more “into the moment.” This isn’t about getting the most of each moment in your life; rather this about giving more of yourself in each moment. Too many of us are looking for others to solve our life’s issues or problems, and in reality, we need to be more and give more to get more each and every day.

  • ·Take your heart to work and ask the most and best of yourself. This doesn’t mean more work, or more money, or more responsibilities to be given to you. Rather, learn to be the best of who you are to others — regardless of acceptance or not. Focus on being who you are rather than what you do, and you’ll enjoy yourself more on your life’s path.

Karen Armon is an executive-level career coach and author of the book, Market Your Potential, Not Your Past. Get her new free eBook, Ten Micro-Trends that Impact Executive Careers Today (http://www.marketoneexecutive.com/ebook.asp).