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Balance: Make Choices, Manage Expectations

As an entrepreneur and mother of two, I’ve occasionally complained that my life is out of balance; that I’m either doing so much family stuff that my business isn’t getting the attention it needs, or vice-versa and business is overshadowing family.

After 15 years of this—and of hearing it from others in the community—I wonder if we are speaking less about “balance” and more about aligning our choices and expectations with our core values.

After all, we make decisions about how we spend our time every day; we make choices as to how much we expect to accomplish; we decide what is and is not important. We do this so often that we don’t actually realize we are doing it.

Recently I was working on writing project that didn’t have a timeline, wasn’t client-related, and wasn’t high on my priority list. It was 6:00 in the evening well after my traditional workday was done. Yet, when my daughter came to ask me to spend some time with her, I responded with “Honey, I need to get this done.” That wasn’t really the case: it couldwait. However, the words were flowing (a rare thing) and I felt like I was going to be able to check something off my to-do list (even though it wasn’t even on my to-do list to start with (hmm, shiny object anyone?)).

Thirty-seconds after responding to her, I paused, examined my answer, and realized that while I consistently told her that family was my #1 priority, I wasn’t living that value. I was choosing a low priority job over spending time with her. I quickly saved my document, closed my computer, went upstairs and challenged her to a game of Memory (as an aside, she kicked my butt). We had a great time and I lived my values that night. It felt wonderful. Both of us were grateful for our shared time.

And that is just one situation in which I’ve failed to immediately honour my values, and had to re-focus on what is important.

Another example is my ever-looming to-do list (you may have one too).

Every day I outline what needs to get done personally and professionally – taking trips to the soccer field, cooking dinner, attending an online meeting, writing a blog post, following up with networking contacts, sending thank you cards, responding to emails, developing new program outline, calling the doctor … you know the list.

Rarely do I get through the list on any given day. As a result, I often feel unaccomplished—like I’ve failed and I didn’t use my time effectively.

However, when I step back from my list, look at my work schedule (and that of my family), I begin to see that it is not physically possible to fit it all in. There are not enough hours in the day, minutes in the hour, or seconds in the minutes. The list is simply not realistic.

Often tasks that look simple on paper (send a “great to meet you” note), seem easy and like they will only take 10 minutes. In reality, it involves finding the right card online, getting the correct mailing address, and crafting the right personalized message. Too often the 10-minute, easy-to-check-off item, is actually a 30-minute project.

Reflecting on this, I’d like to propose that finding balance is also about managing expectations: about defining project time frames more realistically; and not trying to pack too much into our day. Maybe when we make our to-do list, we should ask ourselves a series of questions for each action item.

  • What is actually involved in accomplishing this task? How long does each step take?

  • How will this action move me toward my overall vision for my personal and professional life? Does it matter in the big scheme of things?

  • If I say “yes” to this activity, what am I saying “no” to? Is that the right choice for today?

Maybe it is time to work smarter: to group similar tasks, streamline processes, evaluate urgency/importance, and closely examine the overall impact of every item on our to-do list—and to drop those items that are not of the highest value.

Circling back to values and alignment, every day we make choices around how we spend our time. Each decision we make needs to reflect our unique blend of values. Our decisions need to successfully weave our personal and professional goals together in such a way that we:

  • feel good

  • are personally and professionally satisfied,

  • and can honestly say: “my choices and expectations today reflected what’s most important to me.”

How good would that feel?

What aspects of making choices and managing expectations in your daily life are the hardest to navigate for you? Why do you think this is the case?

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