Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is about maintaining a successful equilibrium between the time you spend at Microsoft and the time you do not. Balance is difficult to achieve because Microsoft tends to hire Type-A people who are highly driven. That alone generally tips the scale toward work. Life also demands more from us than time available. The combination of the two often causes people to worry about home when at work and work when at home. Consequently, we end up not being fully engaged at either place and both end up suffering. To help move toward a healthy work-life balance, below are ten productivity and time management tactics.

1. Company Benefits. Use your benefits. A well planned vacation will help you to reduce stress and renew mentally. An occasional personal day can also be helpful. I like working on Fridays because people are in good moods and looking forward to the weekend. I often use mid-week personal days to help me break up busy work periods. Pick what day works best for you and use your benefits.

2. Create Boundaries. If you do not control your time, someone else will. People who stop by to chat, gossip or vent decrease productivity. If they take 20-minutes, that time must be made up. If you regularly get “drop-ins,” politely tell them that you are in the middle of something or up against a deadline. Ask them to schedule time with you. Most of the time they will not do it because it is not important enough.

3. Delegate Work. Successful people reach a point where they cannot be more effective, so they must get things done through others. Delegation multiples effectiveness. Determine what you need to do and what can be done by others (e.g., partners). If something can be done 80% as well by someone else, delegate it. Be conscious when receiving delegated work. It is easier to turn no into yes than yes into no.

4. Eliminate Distractions. Life creates constant distractions. Distractions are the path of least resistance and reduce productivity. Condition yourself to sustain focus on your top priorities. Focus is the ability to avoid distractions and concentrate on your most valuable and profitable (MVP) activities. These activities bridge the gap between where you are and what you need to get done.

5. Make Tradeoffs. There is a “price” associated with everything outside of your MVP activities. If something is outside of them (e.g., internal meetings), determine if the price to be paid is greater than the benefit to be received. If the price is greater, consider not participating. Some things we have to do and some things we have a choice to do. If you have a choice, do a cost-benefit analysis.

6. Model Behavior. Leading by example has a powerful impact on the people we influence. People do what people see. As leaders, it is up to us to set a positive standard of behavior, which includes work-life balance The first person you need to change is yourself. You must work first, hardest and longest to change your behavior. If you want a healthy work-life balance, you must model one.

7. MVP Activities. Your most valuable and profitable (MVP) activities are part of and support your top priorities. They are the top activities you do every day that drive the most value and profit per erg of energy. MVP activities drive effectiveness. While efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things. Leadership is a results contest. To drive results, do more of the right things.

8. Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle states that the top 20% of your priorities will produce 80% of your results. The top 20% of your priorities are your first things. Always do your first things first. Priorities in the other 80% are your second things. If you do your second things first you decrease your effectiveness and create situations where more time is required at the office.

9. Parkinson Law. The Parkinson Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For example, if you have one thorough email to write to a customer, it will take all day to do it. If, however, you have ten thorough emails to write to customers, you will get them all done in one day. Implement hard deadlines for yourself to increase your effectiveness; otherwise, your productivity will decrease.

10. Prioritize Activities. Assign values to both your 20% priorities and 80% priorities. Assignments include: 1) high importance, high urgency (do first); 2) high importance, low urgency (do daily and set deadlines); 3) low importance, high urgency (delegate or do quickly); and 4) low importance, low urgency (delegate, do in small segments or let drop off). If your priorities are right, your results will be right.

Success is defined as achieving objectives established in advance and on purpose. A healthy work-life balance involves being highly effective at the office by consistently doing the right things every day. Being effective at work requires strong prioritization – that is, determining the must-dos, nice-to-dos and do-not-dos and getting them done on time. Successful people know what to do every day. Success is not determined by how many hours you spend at the office, but how you spend the hours. Results are what matter, activities do not. Work smarter, not harder. The ultimate goal is to not worry about home when you are at work and to not worry about work when you are at home.

ADD ON (05-29-10): I heard an analogy today that reinforced the importance of achieving a healthy work-life balance. The analogy states that life involves constantly juggling five balls in the air. Each ball stands for a key area of life. The areas include career, family, health, relationships and spirit. The ball for career is made of rubber. If you drop it, it will bounce back up to you. The other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of them, they will be damaged or shattered. They will never be the same. Do not wait until one of the glass balls is dropped before you examine your life. Strive for balance and make sure you have the right priorities.

ADD ON (06-02-10): I read a parable by Jeffrey Davis entitled, “A Thousand Marbles.” The parable states that the average person lives 75 years. There are 3,900 Saturdays in the average person’s life. Multiple your age by 52 to determine the number of Saturdays that you have left. Once you have determined the number, fill a jar with that amount of marbles. Every Saturday, remove one of the marbles to help keep you focused. Davis writes, “[t]here is nothing like watching your time here on this earth run out to help get your priorities straight.” If you run out of marbles, appreciate the extra time that you have been given.

All contents copyright © 2010, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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