Competence: work-life balance is a Sisyphean goal

Work-life balance is the wrong perspective.

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High-Trust Leaders are in great demand.

They live their values and persevere with grit and passion, while demonstrating great skill, empathy, and clarity.

Because they care, they are susceptible to saying “yes” to many requests for their time and energy. Too many.

And then the struggle begins. How to achieve balance between all the roles and responsibilities, professional and personal?

Balance is a misnomer. It implies that one can apportion time and attention nearly equally to various roles and responsibilities. A fool’s errand fraught with frustration and guilt, and frankly not desirable.

Rather than seeking balance, better to seek COHERENCE.

coherence | ˌkōˈhirəns | noun 1. the quality of being logical and consistent. 2. the quality of forming a unified whole.

1. Recognize you have a finite amount of time and attention. Prune back the lesser commitments to allow greater devotion to those that matter more, the ones that feed each other.

2. Learn to say no. With a little practice, it’ll get easier. And pretty soon people will make fewer requests to “pick your brain,” “meet-up for coffee,” “stop by for a quick visit,” etc.

3. Understand that coherence is a force multiplier with each important part of your life improving and reinforcing the others:

  • When things are going well at home, how does it affect your work?
  • When work is going well, are you a better parent, spouse, sibling, and friend?
  • What happens when you take time for yourself to workout, meditate, rest, and recharge?

4. Don’t get stuck. There is a season for each commitment. Some times work demands most of your time and attention. Other times it’s family or your leadership role in the community non-profit. Don’t fall off the wagon of regular exercise, nutrition, and reading. The trick is to avoid getting stuck in one (I’m looking at you workaholics) and neglect the rest. Many committed leaders shift into crisis-mode at work and then allow it to become the new normal. Every now and then move the puck back to center ice.

5. Hold yourself accountable. Pick an appropriate amount of time to review how you did in each role. One day is too short — there’s no way to invest in every role each day. Six months is too long — you’ll let yourself off the hook because there’s always “later.” Pick 1-3 month periods to schedule time and activities for each. Adjust if necessary, but not without a bonafide reason, and then make up for it later. Review the results. The yardstick isn’t “Did I spread my time equally?” It’s “Did I invest in each with full attention and engagement?” You may not have spent as much time one month with family and friends, but you made the most of the time you had and scheduled a long weekend shortly thereafter for a family ski excursion. Ask your truth-teller in each role for feedback. Celebrate when you successfully said “no” to lesser priorities to preserve time/energy for higher priorities, including your health!

Be a High-Trust Leader — get off the mouse wheel chasing ever-elusive work-life balance. Instead, seek coherence by showing up as your best self in the interrelated roles that matter. It takes daily effort to honor boundaries and make intentional adjustments to achieve an upward spiral of growth as the experience and lessons in one role enhances the others.

“We are coming to understand health not as the absence of disease, but rather as the process by which individuals maintain their sense of coherence (i.e. sense that life is comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful) and ability to function in the face of changes in themselves and their relationships with their environment.” – Aaron Antonovsky