How to Slay the Saboteurs of a Balanced Life

This is a guest post by Scott Zimmerman.  Scott is the President of TeleVox Software and a regularly published thought leader on Engagement Communications.  During his time as President, TeleVox has achieved double-digit revenue growth, has netted nearly 6,000 new customers, and has experienced greater than 100% growth in operating margins.  You can follow Scott on Twitter.  If you want to guest post on this blog please contact me.

It comes as no surprise that the demands on our time and attention are infinite, yet the time in our life is finite.  Time really is our most precious resource.  So if we are to experience all the joy and fulfillment we seek during the limited time we have, we might benefit from routinely asking “how well does the last week of my life align to what I tell people is important to me?”

We are living in reaction, overwhelmed, running on empty, addicted to overdrive.
Often, our answer is we are not aligned nor satisfied. We are living in reaction, overwhelmed, running on empty, addicted to overdrive.  When this happens, consider some practical ideas for taking back control. After all, it’s your life.

  • Get clear.   Think about each of the roles you play.  Make a list of the critical items that will create the greatest results and fulfillment in the coming week.  Plan how long you need to spend on each item and then literally block the time for execution into your calendar.  For each day, schedule no more than 3-5 vital actions with the most important tasks at the start of your day.  Allow absolutely no interruptions during these time blocks, including having your admin protect you from the interruptions of others.  You have planned your work, now work your plan.  The only person that can sabotage you is yourself.
  • Saboteur #1:  Interruptions – Schedule them.  Establish open office hours in your calendar every day and communicate to everyone the time, letting them know they can schedule or just drop by during those hours.  If the people in your business are honest with themselves, nearly everything can wait.  And if you don’t respect your own time, no one else will.  The fact is that the urgent gets in the way of the important every day in all of our businesses.  It’s time to reclaim the “proactive” actions that help will propel our business forward.
  • Saboteur #2:  Email.  Stop periodically checking email as it wastes time and the quality of your attention.  Schedule dedicated 15-30 min. slots 2-3 times per day to “process” your inbox to zero.  Processing is more than checking, but less than responding (every email doesn’t need a response).  You are seeking to touch every email just one time – period!  Immediately Respond, Delegate, File (you won’t refer to 80% of it again), Defer to dedicated calendar slot if the current email requires work before responding, and then move on.  Be decisive.  Your inbox is for unread email.  When you get out of email, you will be able to focus on what’s important.
  • Saboteur #3:  Meetings.  Peter Drucker famously shared with us that “One either meets or one works.  One cannot do both at the same time.”  If we examine our schedules closely, we need fewer meetings, shorter meetings.  Meeting not only keep us from the real work that moves our organizations forward, but become breeding grounds for indecisiveness, additional planning and delayed decisions, keeping us from the real work in our businesses.  Structure your personal meetings to make decisions and execute on previous ones, but also set expectations with others who schedule meetings for you to attend that you expect complete professional preparation, such that attendees can quickly make a decision or resolve conflict in the meeting, moving your organization forward.
  • Build in breaks.  Jim Loehr popularized the notion that high performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy, not time.  It is not realistic to treat our days/weeks like a marathon.  The longer we work, the more continuously we work, the later at night we work, the less efficient and more mistake-prone we become.  We must give up the notion that downtime is wasted time and establish boundaries in our calendars.  It is important to establish healthy rituals like scheduling “work sprints” in place of back-to-back meetings.  When they can’t be avoided, ensure you are expending mental energy for no more than 45-50 min. increments of every hour.  This creates a space for decompression where the mind can relax, reflect and reset before the next meeting.  When you get this right, watch how much sharper you become and say goodbye to that foggy, dull brain feeling that happens when we do too much in our days.
  • Be a strategic leader.  Make no mistake that the role we fulfill in our organizations is unique and that if we don’t create the time to do it, most likely no one else will.  Understanding the environment, establishing priorities, setting goals, aligning resources, supporting change, connecting candidly with employees, improving organizational communication and driving growth are the strategic priorities we all know are important and yet are often undermined by the urgent and tactical.  It is critical to be honest with ourselves about what we can delegate and what we can uniquely do.  It is important to learn to say “no” more regularly.  It’s also important to consolidate all the time freed up by the ideas above to create big blocks of time in your calendar to work on the strategic items in your business.
There is arguably no better place in your life to exert your personal self discipline than in leading a balanced life.
Remember, it’s not about being perfect with these ideas, but there is arguably no better place in your life to exert your personal self discipline than in leading a balanced life. All of us get out of balance, but as you keep revisiting these fundamentals, you are building a muscle that will allow your days to feel more invigorated, joyful, and in control, and find your evenings and weekends more relaxed and peaceful.  This means more time for quality relationships and experiences, and that’s what being balanced and grounded feels like.