The idea of leading a life where career building, academic achievement, personal growth, charitable endeavours, physical fitness, and healthy relationships are all possible seems like a far fetched dream for a lot of people. Juggling life’s multiple balls is what most people call work-life balance. Given the importance of each of those areas, I like to simply call it life balance, work just happens to be one dimension.
My experience has been one of consistently fine-tuning this equation. From returning to college for my second degree while working full time and keeping fit, to building a start-up while completing a masters with a first class honours and nurturing a professional network on the side, I have leaned on some very basic frameworks that helped me keep sane, productive, balanced and most importantly happy!
But… what does it take?
I consistently return to a lesson I learned from Scott Peck: discipline. As with any basic life-lesson, defining discipline is important. In my point of view, there are 6 main things that make-up discipline and leads to a balanced life.
Setting Time Bound Goals
Discipline starts with a vision. I can only motivate myself to do all the things I need to do (especially when they get hard or boring) if I have a north star or a prize at the finishing line. The bigger the prize the better I am at motivating myself.
I start every October by setting a 15 months goal. What I want to achieve in the next 15 months. Why not 12 months? Because I believe it takes at least 3 for me to get a fine-tuned game plan in place to hit my goals. It takes research, thinking, analysing, networking etc. It is not about BDUF (big design upfront), it’s about setting smart goals with an informed strategy to achieve them. This timeline works for me. Some people like quarterly goals. Whichever way you choose to make sure they are time bound and quantifiable. It’s hard to define success if you can’t measure it.
My objectives will always include multiple facets of my life (career, friendships, romantic relationships, finances, health, fitness, sleep, family etc). This is where balance comes in. If you don’t set a vision for any other areas of your life, work will take over, as it tends to be the one place where you have clear performance targets. In this plan I will always have one or two Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a stretch target that will keep me growing.
It is also important to visualise your goals. Mine are in my fridge, in my notebook and on Trello. Don’t let yourself forget what is important when things get busy.
Laser-focusing on the Important Things
A common pitfall when creating goals is to overcommit. Starting the year with a new diet, a new gym routine, a new course and a new job is the recipe for either burn-out or failure. The reality is you can’t achieve everything at the same time, so you must focus your energy.
The great thing about creating goals is that you now have a prioritisation mechanism. Prioritising will keep you on the right track for achieving what is important. In my case, I prioritise using blueprints. I plan my weeks and months in advance, blocking time in my calendar to work on important ticket items. This way, distractions and low value tasks won’t cloud my judgement.
It is too easy to get lost on a new route when you don’t have a map.
Accepting Delayed Gratification
This is potentially the biggest item in my list and the one that needs least writing about.
When you have big goals, inevitably you will have a busy diary and you will have to set boundaries and prioritise. Ultimately, you have to sacrifice short term “feel good” items, for achieving big ticket items, that will eventually pay off.
There is no other way of putting this. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The trick to keep yourself on the right track when that TV show is on, is to carve specific downtime, where you can moderately experience those short term pleasures. I use the 96/4 rule.
Whether it is Netflix series, a big night out or a cheat meal, I will allow for 4% of my time weekly to be used for “out of goal” stuff. That is almost 7 hours per week. If you plan for it in advance and you do it in a controlled and moderate way, then you can keep yourself motivated for the other 96!
Consistently Measuring to Influence the Result
Lagging Metrics are the ones you set-up with your goals. It is how you quantify those big objectives. It is how you know you have achieved them or not. The issue with lag measures is that by the time you hit a point where you can measure it, it is typically too late to influence them. For example, if you want to lose 10kg in 6 months, and you weigh yourself in month 6 to see if you achieved your objective, it is too late to change the outcome. Even if you break it down in 6, and measure each month, it is only at the end of that timebox that you will see whether you have succeeded.
For that reason you need leading metrics. Those metrics that will show you that you are on the right path. They are the activities you need to perform to get you on track for achieving your goals. For example, if you need to write a thesis, you have a number of papers you need to read, a number of words you need to write, objectives you need to meet. Those are your leading metrics to show that you are on the right path. If you select the correct leading metrics, you can influence the result as you go.
On personal objectives (eg. spending quality time with your family every week, losing weight, increasing the quality of your sleep etc) or professional ones (eg. being promoted, changing careers, beating a target etc), accountability is key to helping you achieve your goals.
Whether you are motivated by social accountability or you can be accountable to yourself, it is up to you! In measuring leading metrics, I find it super motivating to track and share my results! I use my mentors, my friends and my family as accountability partners. When it comes to sharing lagging metrics, I like to celebrate hitting those milestones. But what when things are not going well?
That’s when you need a game plan! Sharing those challenges with your accountability partners or with people in similar journeys will help you get back on track!
Being Kind to Yourself
Last but not least, do not forget to be kind on yourself. You can ace on all previous steps, but life sometimes throws curve balls at us. As much as it is critical to be accountable, it is equally as important to understand that things outside of our zone of control and influence will sometimes derail our plans.
The most important thing is to acknowledge the things outside of your control, react to them, and learn from those situations, so that next time, you can be better prepared or equipped to deal with those situations.
While it sounds rigid and at times boring, achieving balance in life requires planning and preparation. Once you get to the right rhythm and balance between audacious goals and life small things, hitting those milestones without burning out will give you great satisfaction.
Trust me, it is the case of getting “back to basics” and executing it step by step!