Achieving Balance by Working Smarter Not Harder

New Year’s Resolutions: Achieving Balance by Working Smarter Not Harder

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday, filled with the things that rejuvenate your soul. I had two glorious weeks off to focus on getting our house in order (we moved in August and, though unpacked, felt very unsettled). I checked email only a few times a day, answering only those that could not wait until after the holiday and otherwise did not work. 

I needed this break. Badly. I had a crazy fall, highlighted by the aforementioned move and a schedule that nearly had me crying “uncle.” A few times I believed that I had found my capacity – and not in a good way.

I resolve in this New Year to find better balance in my life. I know that sometimes work will consume my time (e.g., around grant deadlines) and other times family obligations will supersede (e.g., when my son gets sick), but on the whole, I seek that elusive balance that lets me end the day feeling like I’ve accomplished what I needed.

 
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How do I plan to accomplish this? By working smarter not harder and strategically planning my days, weeks and months. You can do this too.

  • Articulate your values or what is most important to you. Do you want to make a lot of money? Have a lot of responsibility at work? Have a little responsibility at work? Spend more time with your family? These all represent possible values. Our values and priorities change as we go through life so it becomes important to articulate where you stand TODAY. Limit yourself to only about 3; otherwise, it becomes overwhelming as your values start to contradict. It also forces you to make the hard decisions.  When push comes to shove, will you choose family time or the chance to earn more money? The answer to that question starts to show your values.

  • Define your vision or goals. Where do you see yourself at the end of the year? End of the month? 5-years from now? I listened to Hank Haney (a famous golf instructor who has worked with Tiger Woods among others) on the radio this week, and he said that a “goal without a plan is a dream.” Too often I see the opposite: a plan without a goal which I define as folly – like shooting arrows but having no target. You need to define success in terms of your values. This becomes your target. In your work life, your boss may help you define success. Work with him or her to make sure that you both agree on that definition.

  • Honestly identify your strengths and weaknesses. We all have things we enjoy and things that drain us mentally and emotionally. Likewise, we have things we do well and things we do not do well. Your plan should build on your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses. While you cannot tell your boss that you will no longer complete unenjoyable tasks (unless your goal is unemployment!), you can honestly assess why you do not like a particular task – perhaps you don’t have enough knowledge or confidence to complete it well – and find ways to overcome that weakness (e.g., with more education or training).

  • Identify what stands in the way of achieving your goal. If nothing stood in the way of your goal, you would have achieved it. Honestly assess why you have not. For example, maybe you need to raise more money this year but do not know your constituents well enough. Identifying this focuses your time and energy on activities that really make a difference in achieving your goal rather than wasting time spinning your wheels. Again, focus on those top 3-5 things that provide real barriers to your success, not the nuisances that you use as excuses. For example, when we first moved, I could not exercise while the elliptical sat in pieces in the basement – a barrier. With it all set up, preferring sleep to exercise becomes an excuse not a barrier.

  • Develop a plan to meet your goals. The plan should leverage your strengths and overcome your weaknesses while honoring your values. Continuing with the previous fundraising example, if you need to get to know your constituents better, develop concrete steps to meet your constituents. Talk to your program staff about introducing you to some key individuals. Join the local Chamber of Commerce or service club. Have a timeline, budget, and accountability measures to improve your chances of success.

  • Work the plan. Planning is easy; executing is hard. As you plan your weeks, days, even hours, ask yourself if the activity you plan to undertake (1) fits your values, (2) moves you closer to your goal, and (3) helps you overcome one of the key barriers standing in the way of your goal. If you answer no to any of these, don’t do it (or re-prioritize it). If you answer yes to each of these, go full steam ahead! You are working strategically with every action moving you closer to your ultimate goal.

  • Evaluate the plan. A few months down the road, look at the plan again. Have you made progress toward your goals? Are your goals still reasonable and accurate? If not, honestly assess why not and create a new plan based on your new reality.

Life happens. Kids get sick. Bosses change and make new demands. Family circumstances change (for the better or worse). When you have a clear understanding of your values and ultimate goals, you can more easily roll with these punches. More importantly, you will spend your valuable time working on those things that, in the end, will make the most impact on you and your life. 

Unless you can find a way to expand the number of hours in a day (and if so, let me know!), working strategically offers one of the best chances of finding success in both personal and professional arenas. Talk to me in six months and I’ll let you know how it works for me.