Previously published on Medium.
I took a rare lunch away from the office. Taking over an entire table at the back of the local café, I settled into the wooden chair. A small team of three followed me and sat at the table next to mine. What ensued could easily be considered a rather normal, employee-boss, outside the office work-lunch. A boss, a coworker and employee all casually (but not-so-casually) talking about work issues. After asking routine questions about family, holiday plans and the weekend, the senior team member casually leaned back and asked, “How are you balancing work?”
In posing the question the senior team member might as well have loaded a gun and cocked it for his employee. How does one answer that question, honestly, to their boss? It’s a question we all struggle to answer, as work-life balance is the ever-elusive goal for everyone.
Her head dropped, she paused, stuttered a little, and then said, “To be honest, not well.” Her reasons for struggling were standard—too much work, too many last-minute needs, too many shifting priorities. Yet let’s be real, these factors in work and life will be forever present. Circumstances are always shifting and changing. You may be able to wrap up work at 5pm for a week, but that last minute proposal or project is due next week and so you’re now working until 9pm. There goes your balance and your dinner, workout, and Monday Night Football plans. So how do you find work-life balance in a constantly changing environment?
Let’s start with this agreement: What changes most in life is people and their feelings. We aren’t changing jobs every week, soccer practice and girl scouts are a standing weekly occurrence, and dinner happens at the same time of day 365 days a year. People, and their need, are constantly shifting.
Therefore, work-life balance is obtained only through understanding people. By understanding others needs, priorities, fears and goals, you can then plan accordingly.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't being said. The art of reading between the lines is a lifelong quest of the wise."
—Shannon L. Alder
Step 1: Listen and Ask Gather as much information about the project and the person(s) involved in your work. What are the key goals of the project? What is the deadline? Is a first, second, or third draft needed for review? Are their key components that need to be present? What are your colleague’s individual goals? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
After you’ve listened and asked questions to gain better understanding, you can prioritize based on the true needs rather than individual wants.
Step 2: Set Expectations Communicate your priorities and plan to achieve the goal based on your understanding of the project and personal needs involved. Make sure your priorities and plans are agreed upon. If necessary, send an email around outlining all the details so there is no gap or misunderstanding.
Step 3: Compromise Truth is, rarely does everything go according to plan—a colleague gets sick, a project component is delivered a few days late, or an emergency comes up. These bumps in the road are what tend to throw our work-life balance off. Understanding the original priorities and the goals makes it easier to come back to the table and determine Plan B based on the new circumstances. You can draw upon prior expectations and reestablish new ones to move forward.
Step 4: The Power of No As employees we are often afraid to exercise our right to say “no”. “No” has a negative stigmatism; it implies that we are unwilling to work together as team to reach the goal. However, saying “no” is necessary at times. Saying “no” sets expectations up front. Any time you are saying “no”, you should always explain why to help others understand your priorities and needs.
“No is the most important word in the English language. Saying no to something means you’re able to say yes to something else that may be more important.”
—Andrew Zimmern, Creator and host, Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods series; chef; CEO Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen and Intuitive Content
Step 5: Practice Like many skills, finding work-life balance takes practice. People change, schedules change, and new opportunities pop-up. Fine-tuning your ability to understand others requires practice, and what better time to start than now?
image Chris Burkard