Ever feel that we talk about work-life balance until it’s coming out our ears… but somehow we’re still unbalanced?
It’s true for the vast majority of us. You know why?
Imagine a see-saw that two children are trying to balance so it stays level.
They’re doing a great job… except a pesky three-year old keeps running over and pushing down on one end of the see-saw.
Unless the two children can get the little pest’s mother to take him away, their see-saw won’t stay balanced, despite their best efforts.
Similarly, most of us have external factors that are constantly pushing us off-balance.
We’re not going to be able to achieve work-life balance until we find an effective way to deal with the distractions and attention-grabbing people and platforms that are in our way of enjoying our ride on the see-saw that is life.
Unbalancers: People Who Expect Immediate Responses
Are there people in your life right now who expect you to be always available, responding quickly to them at any given moment?
It could be your boss, your friends or your spouse.
When faced with those expectations, many of us tend to check up on our emails and messages constantly, 24/7, fearing that we might miss something and that it might be urgent (FOMO trigger).
The problem with that pattern is that you’re being reactive, not proactive, and that will take you nowhere, fast. If you want to make progress on the important tasks in your lives, you need a buffer: space to be able to think quietly and act proactively.
How do you create this space? It requires three steps:
1. Identify the People
This step is the easiest.
Who are those people who are rocking your see-saw? Your boss? Your spouse? Your best friend? Your mother? Your co-worker? Your kids?
Write down their names. You’ll have to slowly but surely create a change in the way they communicate with you, and it’s not going to be the same process with each of them.
Now you’re ready to move on to…
2. Pre-defining “Urgency”
Initiate a win-win conversation with each of the people on your list where you define together what is considered an urgent matter in your company/team/family/etc.
This should be a win-win conversation, where you explain that pre-defining urgency will enable you to respond to them when they really need you, and simultaneously give you the space you need to make progress on the important things for your company/team/family/etc.
Let’s take two examples:
a. You explain your boss that if she sends you an email or SMS, then your average response time is X hours/days.
If she needs you to respond faster than that, then she should call you first:
“Hey, I just sent you an urgent email/SMS – please have a look.”
This understanding will enable you to focus, work quietly and make progress with next year’s projects faster.
I’m sure your boss would love to hear that.
You can also ask your boss to call twice in the event that it’s urgent.
The “Anything Urgent – Call Twice” rule is very helpful for meetings, or any other event when you would have a reason to not answer the phone until the event is over.
Once you’ve established the “Anything Urgent – Call Twice” rule, you can feel comfortable ignoring the phone until the meeting/dinner/party ends, unless someone calls a second time, in which case you can excuse yourself with an “I’m sorry; this is urgent.”
b. You explain to your kids that they should take into consideration that if they text you, it will take you X minutes/hours to respond.
Then discuss with them that they should call you in case of an emergency and what exactly constitutes an emergency.
This agreement will enable you to get home faster, as you won’t need to stop every few minutes at work to answer their messages.
Any explanation that will have everyone around you RESPECT your time and attention, so you can have the space to think, create, plant seeds and act for the future and be a better employee, parent and friend, works.
3. Technical Support
Once you’ve established the parameters for balance with the important people in your life, you can set up your devices to support them.
DND (Do Not Disturb)
DND is a wonderful feature we all have in our smartphones.
The basic settings are that only those who are marked in our favorite contacts will be able to reach us when we’re on DND mode.
All other callers will be silenced, UNLESS they called twice.
Anyone and anything urgent will be sure to reach you, but anything that isn’t will patiently wait until you finish your book reading, your writing assignment, your presentation slides and so forth.
You can also set up DND automatically on specific hours of your choice so DND can become your routine for certain activities.
For example, when you’re spending time with your kids, you might want to give them your undivided attention, as kids tend to throw tantrums if they don’t get your undivided attention… so being 100% present with them and only responding to urgent matters will guarantee a quieter home and afternoon.
Reset Laptop Notifications
I still see people notified about each and every email that lands in their inbox.
What an awful distraction to your brain and a restriction to your ability to finish a task – any task! You don’t need to deal with that anymore.
Now that you’ve pre-defined urgency with all the important parties in your life and set out methods of communication, you can gracefully disable notifications and check your email every so often – on your own terms and needs.
Reset Mobile Notifications
In a similar vein, I suggest disabling most mobile notifications.
Now that you’ve pre-defined urgency, you don’t need to get an alert about every email or message, and you might not need notifications on icons, either.
Create a new relationship with the sights and sounds that your device makes.
I recommend that your calendar should still be heard and seen to the maximum.
Aside from that, rethink the attention that notifications require from your eyes and brain and choose them carefully so that they are in alignment with your professional needs.
To get balanced, first get buy-in from the un-balancers.
Bring them aboard your sense of vision and dedication.
Make them a part of the process.
Then use the tools of technology to create the space you need to support your values.
Put this into action for yourself – and then email me to let me know how it’s going!
Work-life balance, Step 1 – here we come!