It’s All in the Balance

We hear more about balance than ever before. Balancing work, the hours, the demands, and the stress. Balancing life, our health, our families, and checkbooks. Most of the advice you find on balance is in advice on the things you can “do” to get it. These lists are helpful to get our balance back; however, how far have we had to go to lose our balance that now has to be redefined and found? No barometer tells us when we are getting out of balance, just a loud thump when we hit rock bottom, falling off of the path, tripping over ourselves, face down, with everyone around us telling us to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps. Rather than offering lists on how to get balance, how about pre-reads of the signs that indicate things are starting to get topsy before they are turvy?

To be able to take advice on how to be “in balance,” you have to know what makes up each side of the scale that is your balance. What amount of each thing in your life must exist in perfect balance to keep you from tumbling down? Once you can define balance, you can write your list of what out-of-balance looks like. Timing is critical in writing this list because doing it when you are out of balance is like looking for the path while lying flat on your back. 

“You can’t see the forest for the trees” – John Heywood

 Using my life as an example, I know that my non-negotiables are my family, my health (yes, I know this is second on my list, I am working on this!), my friends, my career, and all other things in the world. Putting all these on the scale is truly an exercise in the finest balance. Too much of any one thing throws me off into a spin cycle that creates a hurricane of activity around me that becomes a forcefield against any help with defenses up and openness down. (Sigh)

Despite my acknowledgment of the importance of balance, I inevitably allow my passion for the moment to take over more often than I wish to admit. If only there was a flag that would wave when everything else in my life starts to get out of balance. There isn’t a flag or a siren, and most of the time, no one is even paying attention until flags and sirens are required to get your attention! 

This will not serve as another list; no one needs yet another list. Instead, this is a cry for solidarity for us all to be our own barometer of balance. Stop every day and check yourself. Check your balance before mounting the beam and deciding what dismount to attempt!

Inspired by the “…forest for the trees…” I use it as a tale of two paths:

A Tale of Unbalance:

Here you stand in the middle of the most beautiful forest. You walk in, heading down a guided path, well-worn and manicured. Oh wait, is that a unicorn up ahead? Run, catch up to it, follow it into the trees, off the path, down to the water, hopping from one slippery rock to another, and then WHACK…you are down face-up, looking at a canopy of treetops above you. Where am I? How did I get here? Am I hurt? Can I stand on my own? (Let alone find bootstraps, who wears boots with straps anyway!!!) How do I find my way out? Do I call for help, or do I attempt to figure it out on my own? This is how it happens, proverbially, at least. 

A Tale of Balance:

Here you stand in the middle of the most beautiful forest. You walk in, heading down a guided path, well-worn and manicured by your hands, that created this balanced path throughout your life. Oh wait, is that a unicorn up ahead? Sit, be quiet, and give it the respect you deserve to meet each other right where you are on your respective paths. If you decide to follow, do so from afar, and you can never stray too far from your path. Take what you need from this moment, perspective and passion with patience. Add it to your scales of balance by first taking inventory of what you must give up to add it, doing it mindfully.

The lesson of these two paths is a lesson in mindfulness, yours. A lesson that those things that you have lined up along your path should never get in your way. They should not be obstacles. The moment these things threaten to trip you up is your sign. This is the pivotal moment you can stop and readjust before jumping over obstacles. One or two obstacles breed perseverance, but more than that threatens your balance, leaving you searching lists on the internet about how to regain your balance. Don’t lose it, and you won’t have to search for it. Treasure your balance. Respect it as clearly to have it is a prize only awarded to those willing to put themselves first on the list.

I cannot resist concluding with quotes from my favorite poem. Remember, when it comes to balance, you decide. You always decide, choices and consequences. Choose well and stay balanced. 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 Life as I live it – L.

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Eat the Frog or Take a Bite out of the Elephant?

How do you know which to do? I find myself with more To Do lists than I have time “to do”. How do you conquer it with so much “left to be done”?

As Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one …”

I have always understood this analogy as it is best to take on the largest or least attractive tasks first thing in the morning when you have the energy and are fresh. Most of the time the “frogs” that are awaiting us are in addition to the work that has to be completed to keep things afloat. By focusing while you are fresh you can more optimally eat the frog allowing you to get back to those other tasks. The easier and therefore more common thing we do is to start off the day believing that if we can get some of the less important tasks out of the way it will leave room to start the bigger project. If you have tried this you know that this is not the case and that you likely never get to the bigger project. We see this with email more than any task. Believing that you are going to do a few emails before starting the bigger project is a “trap” because email, much like a treadmill, just keeps churning. Email is also a “time-suck” because finishing a few emails turns into many emails only realizing when you look at the clock that you have been on email for much longer than intended. Turn it off, shut it down, or simply don’t start it until you are through with the priorities to avoid email becoming THE priority.

Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

I also understand this to mean that you just have to do it, whatever it is, one task at a time. Beyond “To-Do Lists” there are days I find myself taking life one minute at a time, which is another way to activate this advice. While this advice again is easy to understand it is harder to execute if you don’t have the time. Time is premium these days as we find ourselves stretched beyond what seems reasonable for one person to handle. Stop looking at the WHOLE and start with the parts. This seems counterintuitive in a world that frequently suggests that not being able “to see the forest for the trees” is a bad thing. The bigger the “frog” the less appealing it is to eat it. The bigger the “elephant” the harder it is to conceive biting it once let alone ingesting the entire thing. When you remove the “impossible” Finish Line that lies ahead you can conceive what IS possible in the tasks to get there.

So why is it simply not this easy? What stands in the way of doing?

Procrastination! How many times do we put off what we can do today to tomorrow? All the time. Procrastination can be a matter of lack of will or lack of skill. Procrastination of will is putting something off simply because you don’t want to do the task. The task has negative emotions attached to it that prevent us from wanting to do it. Procrastination of skill is putting something off because you do not have the skills to do the task. This requires more work in learning how before we can actually do the task. The skill needed is the obstacle rather than the incentive to learn something new and complete the task. Procrastination is the enemy of productivity impeding progress.

So how do you overcome?

The solution is to combine the beasts, frogs, and elephants, and consuming both only putting off procrastination itself. Do this by starting the day off with your “Key 3” priorities. What are the 3 things you want to accomplish in this day? Name them and identify them as your “Key 3” priorities by putting them at the top of your list. Now DO them! What will come between naming and doing? Your “Monkey Brain” will want to divert to less demanding tasks or more enjoyable tasks however you have set your “Key 3” and that is what you must focus on and “sit with” until complete.

This all seems so simple if only we were robots that could just type in the “Key 3” and complete. We are human and with that comes the complication of having emotions. Emotions that tell us something is too hard and can create discomfort in our mind and body. We cannot allow our emotions to determine our actions. We exercise self-control in many “common sense” areas of our life where our emotions would have us acting irrational and therefore we can certainly control those emotions over lesser things.

We know that there is great discomfort in reaching for goals that are outside of our norm. I am reminded of how it feels when you start a running program. Every time you run your mind is telling you to stop again and again and again. But you don’t, you keep running. Eventually, the body and the mind become comfortable with the activity and it becomes the new norm. When you start a diet, your body immediately fights your effort with cravings for foods you are limiting. Staying the course in avoiding those foods and cravings gets you to the goal you have set for a healthier life…but not without effort. By stating the “Key 3” and being relentless to ignore the distractions that take us away from the priorities we have set we can accomplish our goals both small and large.

Creating pleasant distractions, like music that provides a backdrop to focus, can help us stay on track. Put yourself on your calendar. Setting the time on your calendar makes you accountable to the priorities that you have set. Combine the two by inviting others to join you in completing the task can provide a pleasant distraction from the norm as well as the extra accountability to stay on task for the sake of those that you have committed time.

Last I offer the one tried and true thing that works…take a break. Yes, this is completely counterintuitive to what we have explored in eating the frog or the elephant one bite at a time but it works. When you walk away for a few minutes, an hour, or a weekend you will always find that those “Key 3” priorities come into focus. It seems counterintuitive at the time as “powering through” has its place and time however putting space between the intensity of the tasks at hand can bring more clarity and a renewed energy.

Eat your frogs, take bites out of the elephant but don’t forget to take the time to smell the roses.

Life as I live it – L.

Balanced…a lesson in boundaries and freedom of choice

I watched a TED Talk featuring Nigel Marsh on “How to make work-life balance work” and thought it was worth sharing as it inspired so many of my own thoughts and opinions on the topic.

Never has there been a time in our world where work and life have collided as millions of us are working from “home”. Gone are the days of punching in and out at the office as the office is now where we wake, where we eat our meals, where we live. It is fair to say that if you didn’t have balance before you are lacking it now…immensely.

As a leader I have preached work-life balance to my team and have worked hard to find it. I absolutely practice what I preach although not perfect I know the foundational points of the TED Talk are true and so I share them and my exponential thoughts on each with you.

  • If you don’t design your life someone else will design it for you and you may not like their idea of balance. #word
  • Never put the quality of your life into the hands of a commercial corporation. (It is not your companies responsibility to provide you balance. It is their responsibility to find the best candidate for the job to get it done efficiently.)
  • We have to be responsible for setting the boundaries we want in our life. #word
  • You have to elongate the time frame beyond a day; approach balance in a balanced way.
  • The small things matter.
  • The smallest investment in the right places can radically transform the quality of your relationships and life.

Six transformational statements, profound. This is what it is really all about. I have succeeded at some of the six and are learning how to solve where I have failed. The point is that I practice, I take a run at each of these on a daily basis.

The responsibility of having freedom is the act of choosing. Then why do we choose and then begrudge that choice? As if we can’t make yet another decision to change courses?

You decide, ultimately. If you don’t want to work in an office, don’t. If you don’t want to work weekends, don’t. If you don’t want to “drink the kool-aid”, don’t. Find what works for you. Don’t begrudge others that DO just because you don’t. You make everyone miserable when you DO what you DON’T want to…you decide for YOU.

It is YOUR life, YOUR journey, make sure you are getting more out of it then it is getting out of you. I give this career advice often. I believe that if you go about work, career or truly any task with this mindset everyone wins. If you are getting out of it what serves you best, you will serve the job better. If you are a slave to the job or task, nothing is achieved. You lose and so does the benefactor.

Last but not least is the idea of balance in your day, week, month…life. Decide what you want it to look like and then execute that vision. Understand that every day will not look the same and allow time to find the equilibrium. Sometimes in attempting to balance we realize that we have to remove from one side or another as all that we want is simply not possible. Again this is where choice is your responsibility. Right-side your ship to allow for smooth sailing.

I am reminded frequently by the wise duo that I call “The Aunts” that we all have the same 24 hours in a day; how we spend it is ours to decide. You will ALWAYS have the time however what you choose to do with it…well that is your responsibility. Own it.

Life as I balance it – L.

Seeking Normal – Day 18

Day 18 prompt:

Do you recognize “normal” in your life when it is at its peak?

At what point do you look back and realize that you long for “normal”? Sometimes it is a normal that you didn’t even realize you had until it’s gone.

My answer:

Well we are all keenly aware of what normal was as we are all affected by the lack of normal we likely took for granted previously. While we are now looking back and longing for normal I think there is a great many of us that are looking back and realizing that they do not want to go back to that normal. They are feeling better; physically or mentally, and in this new place are deciding that some of what has made this time different will now become a new normal.

I have found it surprising how much I actually miss the 1-hr commute to work everyday and being “in the office”. I now realize how much balance that offered as I was able to mentally identify work and home in their respective places. Now that my home is where everything takes place I find myself anxious as I have not easily created balance. We all know that balance is how you juggle the various roles you play and is so key to our health. My goal for this coming week is to identify an “end of the day” that I respect as much as I do the “start of the day”.

How are you changing your normal for the future? What have you recognized in this time frame that you relate to better than you did before? Is anyone making any large life changes? New job? New home? Share what is changing for the better and what you relish as your norm now that you have had the benefit of hindsight!!

Life as I live it – L.

Give it Time…literally

It will come in time, if you give it time… This is a reminder that all things worth having are worth waiting for but more importantly they are also worth time. While we are setting our intentions it is not enough to “set it and forget it”. To state the intention is the first step however we have to give the intention our time, passion and energy to work it into our lives and in time it will come naturally.

You would no sooner believe that saying you want to lose weight would be all that it would take to lose the weight. You would no sooner believe that saying you want a college degree would grant you one. Why then would you expect that setting an intention less tangible, like contentment, wisdom or respect would breed the intended result without the effort. It is always going to require time and effort and in time the effort will be less noticeable and the result will be received.

In all intentions we have to find the time to define, create and activate our intentions. Time is the price we pay to have what we intend and time is truly finite. There is no way to make more than we are given in our 24 hours a day but the decision on what you spend your time on is always yours. Are you giving time to your intention? Set it and forget it and it will be right where you left it…stalled.

In the theme of giving “it” time we have to find a place for all things and put all things in their place. Balance is the verb, juggling is a symptom of losing balance. Unless you have large amounts of time not filled with other things you will have to balance the new intention by removing those things that no longer serve you. If you are juggling, it is a losing proposition. Every juggler will eventually experience a break in the cadence where something falls. Balance don’t juggle.

There is no secret to success, this is it. Those that succeed simply make the time to accomplish their intentions through giving it time. They don’t worry how long it will take because they are moving towards that intention every day. Do or don’t, that is truly where intention lies. Do what you intend and live the life you intend; don’t and you won’t. Simple.

Life as I see it – L.

Balance…Intention Distribution

Balance…what a word…it brings about immediate response in a world that is imploding from all sides. We have more to do than ever before because there is more to do thanks to 24 hour operations, access to everything all the time and boundaries that no longer exist.

The task at hand is to take the excess and “balance” it all. The definition states, “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions” but who decides what the “correct proportions” are in work/life balance. Unlike a serving size on a package that serves to give proportion, work/life balance does not serve itself in proportions. It is highly subjective, as we define how much is too much as it goes back to this theory of tolerance and capacity. Much different than serving size, as if you eat to your tolerance or capacity your imbalance will show in your waist line.

Balance is a personal decision, and will show in more than your waist line. What does a life in balance look like? Clear skin, thin waist, contentment on the face? What does a life out of balance look like? Harried look, unhealthy with a look of torment? Interestingly either look could look the same in either situation. Sometimes the effort to keep the balance causes more stress than the lack of it all together. Fighting to find your starts/stops to each “life” (work/personal) can be exhausting. This life and all of its technology does not easily allow for starts/stops as regardless of what bucket you put it in work and personal follow around us all day.

Balance in today’s world, in my world, is more about intention. I set the intention for what I want to do on any given day. I do not set the intention in buckets of work/personal I set the intention on what I want to do that day, week, month or moment in time as a whole. This allows me to get out of life everything that I can tolerate or have the capacity for regardless of labels.

As you set the intention for the week what is the “balance” that you wish to seek? When you take the guardrails of work/personal away how does that help to balance more wholly? Simply set an intention to live within your world, all the ways that serve you best regardless of their label. Take the time to seek these answers, set the intention and live a balanced week in this new approach.

When you “weigh” it out as a “whole” LIFE versus defining the “parts” I think you will be far more balanced in your satisfaction of how you spent the ONE LIFE…work, personal, social and all other buckets that you are living wholly.


Self-Care…much ado about EVERYthing

Image result for self care

Let’s talk self-care, the very thing I know the most about and yet have to remind myself to re-balance frequently. Self-care is not selfish. Self-care belongs at the very top of your list because if you are not caring for your SELF then you cannot care for anything or anyone else.

My self-care is reading, writing and running (3 R’s) . These are the things that clear my mind, calm me down and allow me to be my best SELF. When I start to see things in my life go topsy-turvy it is typically when I don’t have time for the 3-R’s aka self-care. Missing these then causes stress in itself because I am wrapped in guilt about my inability to commit. The spiral begins down into the darkness where I am now not only tired and burnt out from whatever is taking/getting my time but now I feel guilt. Oh the webs we weave!

I was talking to a friend yesterday and she was telling me that she has been suffering from some ailments that are a result of the stress she has been under. I reminded her that while she is solving for the side effects of her stress she needs to solve for the CAUSE of the stress as ultimately that is the needed remedy. By resolving the stress or handling it better, the side effects of the stress will resolve.

This is the true definition of “balance”. It is not about dividing work and personal; it’s about a balanced approach to allow for a place for everything and then everything will fall in its place. Balance also means you check in with yourself to figure out where the weight is so you can balance the load. In the last few weeks I have had to put a lot more hours in at work than “normal” which means to balance, other things have to give way. In this case it was my 3 R’s. While I found myself feeling guilty the reality is that by giving up some of those I was able to make room for the tasks at hand. This works as a temporary strategy however where you finding the room, you are likely sacrificing those things you consider as self-care (3 R’s). When this temporary imbalance becomes permanent we start to see the effects. This is when changes must be made.

Today I am writing again, I will start a book this weekend and will get a run in come rain or shine as work cannot be the “reason” to not take care. Balance it out, find your center and live the life you are meant to live not because it is derived from the “have to’s” but from the “want to’s”. Put you first which will allow everything else to find its place.

Living through the balancing-act as I navigate it – L.