I recently read an interesting study published inHarvard Business Review about how successful executives balance work and life. Based on five years’ worth of interviews with almost 4,000 executives worldwide, the study shows five main themes amongst those executives who most effectively combine their work and home lives:
1. Defining Success for Yourself – The first step to creating whole life alignment is to define what success means to you , and stay true to your values amidst tempting offers. Your values may shift over time, but it’s important to be clear on what success means to you today and honor that truth. Sometimes this may mean your progress is a little slower on a particular project at work because you want to spend time with family, other times this may mean you miss out on time with your partner because you received an invitation to an exclusive work event. One helpful tool to get clear on your values and define what success means to you is this Values Exercise.
- Get clear on your values and then make deliberate choices that align with your values. This is how you prioritize activities and start to make sense of the conflicts that will inevitably arise.
2. Managing Technology – Leaders who successfully live a balanced life are better able to set boundaries with technology and avoid distractions. The ability to focus on a single task for a specific of time – whether that task is spending quality time with your children or cranking out a presentation for your Board – is one of the keys to creating a healthy work/life balance. Undivided attention is crucial. Otherwise, you are not only less productive, but you will also feel more psychologically drained as a result of what Brigid Schulte refers to as “time confetti” – that feeling of being in many places at once in your own mind.
- Stop multi-tasking and do Power Hours instead.
- Set clear boundaries with your team around your availability (ex: I will not be online from 6:30 – 8pm every evening when I’m with my family).
- Bulk tasks by manually downloading your email and checking it only 3 times a day.
- Block out at least one hour a week for creative, high level thinking. One executive I know has a meeting with “Dave Johnson” every week on the calendar….no one knows that meeting Dave Johnson entails going on a walk or sitting in a coffee shop doing big picture thinking.
3. Building Support Networks at Work and at Home – In order to feel relaxed and balanced, it is crucial to have plenty of competent support both at work and at home. Emotional support in particular is essential both at work and at home. Being able to confide in others allows a person to vent, feel more authentic, and receive advice from a trusted source. And, according to the HBR Study, “Many leaders reported that health crisis – their own or a family members’ – might have derailed their careers if not for compassionate bosses and coworkers.” There will be difficult moments, unexpected crises, and it takes community and support to move through these challenging times and into calmer waters.
- Take Inventory – ask yourself, “hmmmm, where am I most lacking support right now?” Make a commitment to hire or delegate more in that specific area. Maybe it’s getting someone to clean your house every week instead of every other week so that younever have to worry about laundry, or perhaps it’s spending an hour training one of your employees so they can take over a weekly task. One interviewee said, “We hire people to do the more tactical things—groceries, cooking, helping the children dress—so that we can be there for the most important things.”
- Hire a Coach – Having an unbiased, third party to support you in creating goals and receiving support can be very useful. Here is a directory of coaches from the Hendricks Institute.
4. Traveling or Relocating Selectively – Many leaders surveyed believe in traveling more extensively when they’re young and less encumbered. Of those surveyed, 32% said they had turned down an international assignment because they did not want to relocate their families, and 28% said they had done so to protect their marriages.
- It’s ok to Just Say No. Sometimes, you may choose to pass on an opportunity because of the strain it would put on your life outside of work. Stand your ground andreturn to your values. If in doubt, remember that over a third of these successful executives had to make the same choice and turned it down. You are not alone, and you will not lose your livelihood by turning down one opportunity. If you create a 3 Year Vision and focus on what your success really is, new opportunities will show up.
5. Collaborating with Your Partner – It’s important that you and your partner have a shared vision for success. A true collaboration is one in which each individual is getting his or her needs met. Many of the leaders surveyed “consider emotional support the biggest contribution their partners have made to their careers. They also look to their partners to be sounding boards and honest critics.”
The study also mentioned “Interestingly, Men, however, appear to be getting more spousal support overall. Male interviewees – many of whom have stay-at-home wives – often spoke of their spouses’ willingness to take care of children, tolerate long work hours, and even relocate, sometimes as a way of life.
“Women, by contrast mentioned their partners’ willingness to free them from traditional roles at home. One said ‘He understands the demands of my role and does not put pressure on me when work takes more time than I would like.’ Male executives tend to receive more support at home, while female executives praise their partners for not interfering with their work.”
- Marry someone who shares your career vision. Have those conversations before you walk down the aisle.
- Actually, the solution to this one is much more complicated….I would suggest looking to Denmark as an example of how to support working families.
In summary, whole life alignment is possible, and it does require making conscious choices. It is crucial that you define what success means to you, set boundaries with technology, build strong support networks, learn to say “no” to extensive travel or relocation, and find a partner who supports you emotionally.
This article first appeared in Forbes.