Is a Balanced Life Impossible?

A work-life balance is something we all wish we had. To me it has always seemed elusive. I can only do one thing at a time, so balance must come from splitting time among activities that I care about. At any one moment, balance is an illusion.

Victor Hugo wrote, “To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.” Harmony may be a better way to evaluate our efforts, rather than balance.

As a reflection exercise this week, I focused on the word balance. Here are some thoughts I had.

1. Consider both heart and head. The energy to do something comes from the heart. If you listen mostly to your head, you will most likely run out of steam.

2. Keep moving. Life is like riding a bicycle. If I keep moving, then it is easier to keep my balance. If I wait too long to take action, I risk getting stuck.

3. Lean into the future. What is in front of me tends to be more important than what is behind me. I can’t change yesterday’s balance, but I can change tomorrow’s balance.

4. Recognize hopes and needs. I need to know the difference between my hopes and my needs. Hope helps me reach for more. Needs focus my efforts, and demand humility.

For me, balance may always be just out of reach, but maybe that is a good thing. How do you find balance in your life?

Four Certainties about Competence

As a reflection exercise, I sometimes like think about something I value from my perspective.  Recently I spent some time thinking about competence. Competence means possessing the skill, knowledge, and ability to effectively perform. It provides significance and context for our actions. Here are four things I know about competence.

1. I am never as good as I think I am. It is human nature to see things unfold better in our minds than in reality. I never practice missing a 30 foot golf putt in my mind. But when playing, I miss more than I make.  When I take time to think through an idea before taking action, I plan for a positive outcome. The basis of self-confidence is belief that we can be successful, the reality is we must fail along the way.

2. I can always improve. Improvement is a never ending process because I am not perfect. I am not even close to perfect. Any competence I possess can be improved. I can gain new knowledge, or increase my skill, or invest time in practice. Master pianists have natural talent, but their competence comes from hard work. It is the same with me.

3. I care more about my skills than anyone else. Others can only judge my competence from their perspective. However, my perspective is more important. My evaluation of myself determines my actions. Do I work to improve, or am I content with my current level of competence? External influences affect my plans, but ultimately from within me comes my motivation to improve. No one can force me to become better without my participation.

4. I must use and improve my competence in order to keep it. If a surgeon returns from a five year hiatus, would you want to be their first patient for surgery? If I do not use my skills, they will begin to lose proficiency. Some investment of time is required to maintain my level of competence.

Throughout our lives we gain and lose competence based on the decisions we make and the time that we invest. Taking time to reflect on competence has helped me challenge myself. How do you improve or maintain your competence level?

Drop Some Work to Expand Your Progress

Time is the limiting factor for all of us. When I get overwhelmed with work,  something has to give. If not, life will get very frustrating. When we add new projects or responsibilities in our life, we have to eliminate old ones. If we don’t, the time allocated to each task shrinks. Ultimately, we become less and less productive.

Deciding what to give up can be trying. All of your tasks are important, right? Here are some things to consider.

1. Delegate to another person. This option has many benefits in the work environment. You can pass on your knowledge and skills, as you develop your team, an employee, a peer, or someone you contract.

2. Find the appropriate substitute. Sometimes matches are easy. For example, spend more time exercising and less time eating, or spend more time reading and less time watching video. Matching what you drop and add can make the transition easier.

3. Avoid giving up relaxation for work time. It is tempting to think you are just going to work harder to get everything done. It may help for a short time, but it won’t work long term. We all need time to recharge. If you decide to reduce your recreation time, also improve the quality of your recreation time. For example, substitute watching television with something you enjoy more. Spend more time with your family, or more time meeting friends. Go to the theater, learn to cook a new recipe, or visit the gym. Develop a habit of making the most of your recreation time, the same as you strive to make your work time more productive.

When I think back over the last five years, I could have been more proactive in the way I chose to spend my time. We can choose what we drop, and choose what we add. If we don’t someone else will choose for us.

Time for a Break?

You have probably read a lot of tips on how developing the right habits will help you increase your productivity and effectiveness. But when do your habits just become routine? When do you know if you are in a rut?

I had a mentor that taught me that we improve our effectiveness by solving problems, or challenges we face. In fact, he said that we sometimes need to create a problem just so we can see opportunity that we wouldn’t otherwise  recognize.

That is why I think it is important to occasionally take a break from our habits. We will be able to evaluate from a different perspective what our day could become.

For some of you this may sound crazy. We spend our life building habits. But when you look closely, habits sometimes morph into routine actions. We begin to separate the reason for the habit from the habit itself. If we can step back and reconnect with the why, we may see better opportunities.

For example, the way we use technology drives many of our habits. But as technology advances, we may not be able to take advantage of the change, if we are not able to break our habits.

Another example is not taking advantage of the variety of ways to achieve our purpose. There are unlimited methods that can be employed in exercise, diet, project implementation,  relationship building, etc. But if we are stuck in certain habits, our results will never reach our potential.

Good habits lead to good results. Don’t throw away habits for a life of chaos. But to see more opportunity, occasionally we need a break.