Burn out. You’ve felt it. Perhaps you’re feeling it right now. Overworked. Exhausted. The stack of papers is piling up on your desk and the deadlines are looming, but you just can’t seem to find the energy or the creativity to do what you must. The well has run dry. You thought telecommuting a day or two a week would help—skipping the hour-long commute, working in your PJs, maybe even writing on the back porch in the cool morning hours—but for some reason, you feel worse and there is no oasis in sight. You even tried taking a staycation, but because you spent more time on your iPhone with your coworkers managing emails than you did with your family, the relaxation you frantically sought slipped through your fingers.
What’s wrong with this picture? Are you sabotaging your work-life balance without even realizing it? Here are some indicators that should tell you it’s time for a better work-life balance (and how to get there).
You aren’t detaching from the office because your smartphone is an electronic leash
Smartphones are undeniably convenient. All those pretty, shiny apps staring brightly up at you, begging for interface. Or perhaps it’s the blinking red light that never shuts off, nagging you, creating an ongoing sense of guilt that you should be “on call.” The alerts and alarms may have once made you feel connected and techno-savvy, but tending to your phone’s every chime and buzz has become an exhausting, engrained habit. Worse, you bring your smartphone with you everywhere.
What you can do about it: Turn it off. Really. At a prescribed time each night, turn off your mobile phone. It will be painful at first, but your family will thank you for it.
You’re playing when you should be working or working when you should be playing
Log off Facebook. Walk away from the water cooler. If you find that 10:00 turns into lunchtime before you’ve done a thing, it’s time to revisit your time management skills. There are an infinite number of time wasters available out there—both online and off—and if you don’t monitor and moderate the time you spend indulging them, your productivity will quickly take a nosedive.
What you can do about it: Compartmentalize. Save socialization for early morning coffees and happy hours after work when you can really enjoy it, and limit your hallway conversations to two or three minutes (unless it’s your boss, of course). Don’t fall prey to those who want to pull you into their own time-wasting vortex; this includes chatty IMs and emails. Limit social media surfing to personal time unless you’re using it to promote your business through social channels.
You don’t understand your natural daily rhythms
I am not a morning person. Schedule an 8AM meeting with me and you’ll most likely get my staring eyes over the top of a large cup of steaming hot coffee. I’m listening and absorbing, but I’m not effectively producing or contributing at that time of day. Chances are that you and I, like many people, won’t make many contributions to a brainstorming session before 10AM. Biological rhythms are well-documented, though few of us realize the effect they have on us. Many people I’ve known and certainly every mentor I’ve ever had admits to being more creative at certain points in the day and more task-oriented during other times. Flowing with the tide of these natural cycles can help you perform creative work when you’re naturally creative and accomplish tasks when you’re naturally in your productive mode.
What you can do about it: Keep a daily journal. List the work you do by the time of day, noting whether it’s a creative assignment or a work task. Comment on the quality of your work you accomplished and whether you were successfully “in the groove” or felt disconnected. After a week or so, review your notes and look for a pattern. If you find you’re more successful doing creative work at a certain time of day and task-oriented work at another, try planning your work accordingly. Continue to record times and results and fine-tune until you recognize your natural rhythms.
You aren’t distinguishing between the urgent and the important
You find yourself constantly in “reaction” mode. It’s coming at you from all sides, every day. No matter how hard you work, it doesn’t feel like you can ever get your head above water. Part of the challenge may be that you’re blurring the boundaries between what’s urgent and what’s important. If we had the luxury of engaging in activities that are meaningful and satisfying to us, the need for time management training would be practically eliminated. Unfortunately, unexpected responsibilities intrude into our nicely planned schedule, screaming for attention. It isn’t long until our tidy schedule is reduced to a shambles, and we are desperately scrambling to accomplish something of merit.
What you can do about it: Reread Stephen Covey. He created a simple, yet invaluable time-management system to help organize tasks, behaviors and even thoughts so that we can soon remove the trivial, time-wasting behaviors from our day.
The time-management matrix increases your awareness of how you spend your time and enables you to identify activities that are impeding your productivity. Using the matrix and the examples above in each quadrant, note the activities that occupy your time during the day.
Studies have shown that by using these simple time-management guidelines, you can save up to two hours in an average workday. Start out by getting in the habit of mentally categorizing your work tasks according to how they fall on this grid. For example, if you receive a request from your supervisor to write an RFP response by the end of the week, that is not Urgent but it is Important, which means you position it into Quadrant II, and plan the week and research for the RFP, along with the rest of your schedule. However, if you don’t plan for the work or manage your time well and the deadline for the RFP is today, the task becomes both Urgent and Important and should be moved into Quadrant I, which means you must allocate your time and resources to the task immediately. There are also instances that feel important—such as telephone calls or emails—that are in reality only urgent. It takes practice, awareness, and discipline to effectively categorize how we spend our time. However, by applying conscious awareness toward how and where you spend your time, you can determine how much time you are spending in Quadrants III and IV and can eliminate (or at least minimize) those activities. By so doing, you can then shift more of your tasks, your time and your efforts to Quadrant II.
Ultimately, understanding that we all have natural creative cycles and learning how to detach from your work in healthy ways, will improve your work-life balance. It’s up to each of us to manage the vital need for recreating ourselves and living a more integrated, multi-dimensional life so that we can focus more on achieving our goals and living a more relaxed, creative life.
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Images courtesy of The Sun and OrgCoach