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Sam Davidson's blog

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Work/Life Balance is Different Than You Think It Is

With many companies going to flexible schedules or even allowing telecommuting, the idea of “work” and “life” are clearly blurring. Leading this haze are Millennials (also known as Generation Y, the largest generation to come along since the Baby Boomers). Their mantra of “Live First, Work Second” has employers scratching their heads; managing multiple generations in the workplace seems to be the least of a boss’s worries. If work and life are blurring, how come our definition of balance between the two isn’t? It still seems as though most of the work/life balance conversation centers around getting equal amounts of work and life. This is fine if you work a shift on an assembly line or schedule your life like a finely tuned machine (eight hours of work, eight hours of life, eight hours of sleep). But for many of us, balance is no longer about equality.

Instead of thinking about work/life balance as a scale, where each side is equally measured, the time has come for us to begin to think of balance like a gymnast. If you watch the Summer Olympics, you’ll notice these young women passionately jumping, flipping, and tumbling on a four-inch-wide beam. The point of that competition isn’t merely to stay balanced; it’s to stay balanced while moving forward.

Our lives today are much the same.

Whether you’re a working mother, a stay-at-home-dad, a budding entrepreneur, a recent grad trying to climb the ladder, a middle manager, or an accomplished executive, here are three ways you can stay balanced while moving forward at life and at work, if you stop worrying about all things in equal measure. Let the lines blur; just keep moving. 1) Be honest about what matters. Carve out an hour (yes, a full hour) in your schedule over the course of the upcoming week. Turn off your phone and get out pen and paper. Begin to make a list about what matters in your life. Here’s the catch: you have to be completely honest. Of course, your family, spouse, friends, and hobbies will make the list. What about your life’s work? Your fantasy football league? Travel? Selling things online, learning to cook, a well-manicured lawn? Don’t hold back. Make the list as complete as possible.

Then, show it to a friend or mentor who knows you well. Do they agree? Is there something you left out? Something that’s surprising? It’s important that this list be accurate so you can begin to build your work and life around those things that truly matter.

You may be surprised that something you spend lots of time on isn’t something that matters. By doing that, you’re out of balance, stuck in a rut forced to do something you don’t really care about. It’s time for a shift away from that which doesn’t add value to your life towards those things that do.

2) Stop complaining about being busy. We’re all busy. All of us. Constant inbound messages on social networks and the guilt of missing out on something important give us a false sense of urgency. That and the fact that all of us - no matter our jobs, family life, or retirement goals - each have the same number of hours in a day means that the playing field is neutral when it comes to getting things done. The gymnast never complains about the beam; she uses it as a catalyst to perform well.

For you, this means that you take the time (what limited amount you have) needed to focus on those things that matter. When you run out of time, do you know what gets left out? The things that don’t matter. This is exactly how it should be.

3) Start saying no. It’s fun and easy to say yes. When asked to volunteer, lead a project, or serve at church, saying yes makes us feel good because we’re granting the request of the one asking. But, if the opportunity we’re saying yes to isn’t something we value, we’ll very soon feel out of balance, over-committed, stressed, and burned out.

Practice saying no. Decline the extra fries at a restaurant. Tell the salesperson you don’t want the extended warranty. Then, work up to saying no (politely) when those closer to you have requests not in line with the things you value. You’ll soon find that these friends and colleagues won’t be offended; rather, they’ll begin to bring you opportunities in line with what matters to you, which will save you time and in the end, keep you balanced.

What tips to you have for living a better balanced or simpler life? (You can find great tips in my latest book, Simplify Your Life, which is currently on sale at Amazon.com - and only $2.99 for the Kindle edition!)

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