Work Life Balance: How Success Happens

We live in a world that is constantly telling us what to do in order to succeed.  Some of the advice is really good – but much of it is vague and just brings more noise into our already noisy life. In this post, I am going to explore 5 ways I’ve found to establish a work life balance.  Work and production are the way that we can succeed – but how we are productive is terribly important – especially for college students.  I will warn you ahead of time, some of this advice is radical – but frankly, it needs to be radical.  The voices that are vying for your attention that will take away from your success are just as radical.  If you want to be different from everyone else, you have to do things that everyone else isn’t willing to do.  Practice these 5 tips, and over the course of a few weeks, you will notice your work and life becoming increasingly focused, productive, and healthy.

“Cycle” Surfing

News sites like msn.com and yahoo.com are terrible time drainers.  I used to have a term for my habit of visiting these sites – I called it “the cycle” and here’s what it looks like.  I would log on to my computer and check msn.com.  After scrolling through all the various news stories I would check yahoo.com for other stories (1 news site just wasn’t enough).  After looking at the news, I would log onto Facebook.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that Facebook now has “Trending” stories for everyone to see.  Of course, I would have to check a few of those out.  After looking through Facebook, I would check my book sales and reviews, then my Linkedin account, and finally Twitter.  By the time I got through with all of that, I had to go back to msn.com to see if there was any new news – and thus the cycle.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but I started to feel a sense of exhaustion by the cycle.  It had something to do with all of the terrible stories that are put in front of us on these news sites, and now on Facebook.  Not only was I feeling exhausted, but if I am honest, I was feeling more anxious.  People dying of cancer, roadside bombs, terrorism, threats of superbugs – I guess I just had enough.  The only “real world” effect that those stories were having on me were the mental and emotional anxiety that I was allowing.  I knew if I wanted to be more focused and less anxious, it would need to stop.

Adblock

I found the most simple solution in Adblock (free).  It is a free add-on that you can use for Google chrome, Safari, and Firefox.  Here’s how it works: Once you download the add-on, you can program it to block one or more ads on any website.  But if that’s all you use it for, you would be missing the real power of this app.  Let me give you an example – one of the ways that negative news wiggled its way into my life was through Facebook’s Trending sidebar.  Here’s what my Facebook page used to look like:

5 Things to Stop Doing Now

Facebook puts the Trending topic in the prime real estate of it’s page to maximize the amount of attention users will give to these stories.  That’s right, statistics show that the upper right hand corner is one of the first places web surfers look when a page loads.  Facebook knows this and places top stories there to distract you!  Now, this is what my Facebook page looks like with Adblocker:

5 Things to Stop Doing Now

Gone! Now, the only thing I see are invites to events on Facebook.  I would swear to you that I’ve cut 30 minutes of wasted time out of my day by blocking Facebook Trending articles.  But sometimes that’s not enough.  In the case of news sites like msn.com, I’ve had to block the entire page – just to remove any temptation to visit them.  Here’s what msn.com looks like before Adblock:

News site msn.com

Good lord – airplanes crashing, imminent war, Jessica Simpson – make it stop!!  Here’s what happens when I go to msn.com now:

msn.com blocked

Gone! I can still use Bing to do all my searches if I want (I still prefer Google), but I don’t need to see all the stories designed to steal my time and mental peace! After a few days of blocking news stories, I found myself more attentive to my family, less distracted by the “sky is falling” news stories, and absolutely more productive.  All of the time I used to spend in the “cycle” I now use to get stuff done!

Staying Up Late

As a self-professed midnight owl, I know how radical this can sound to some of you.  I love staying up late.  I have jobs that demand attention and two kids who consume a lot of my introverted energy throughout the day.  When night falls, the kids go to bed, and the phone stops ringing – ah, sweet silence!  Why not maximize that time by staying up a few extra hours?  Here are a couple reasons.  First, the time between 8 p.m. to whenever you go to bed are usually the least productive hours of the day.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to be productive every minute of the day because that’s not healthy either.  The goal is to make the best use of the time that we have.  That means spending some of your day working and being productive, spending another part of your day in leisure (which is really healthy!) and yet another part of your day sleeping.

The facts back this up.  Americans are very sleep deprived and it’s causing exponential weight gain, stress levels to skyrocket, and downright crankiness!  Let me be clear – if you are sleep deprived (getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night) the best thing you can do for yourself is go to bed earlier.  It may eat into your leisure time, but it is a force multiplier – not only for productivity, but for your quality of life.  It’s better to get a full night’s sleep than to have more down time.

Better and more sleep has been show to increase your productivity as well.  If you want more downtime, you can be more productive during your work hours by getting more sleep.  You simply cannot afford to neglect sleep and expect to be your best each day.

Sitting Down

This isn’t anything new – for years, studies have shown a link between sitting all day and the emergence of life threatening diseases.  Most recently, the results of sitting studies are alarming.  They found that sitting all day:

  • Increases the chances of getting Deep Vein Thrombosis – or blood clots in the legs.  Interestingly, the likelihood increases if you are sitting at your computer all day.  Sitting computer work is the worst case scenario for our health.
  • People who sit all day at work tend to sit the most when they are not working.  Sitting at work means it’s likely you will sit when you get home.
  • One study found that sitting all day is just as unhealthy as smoking regularly.  I hope I don’t have to explain why that’s not good!
  • Shortens telomere length.  Telomeres are like the end caps of paired DNA strands.  The length of the telomeres in our cells have been linked to how we age and the diseases that we get.  The shorter the telomere length, the shorter your life.  Sitting has been shown to decrease the length of telomeres, thus increasing our age and susceptibility to disease.  The same study suggests that standing while we work increases telomere length.

Two months ago, I resolved to stand while working at my computer.  I mostly work from home and thus I have some advantage to anyone trapped in an office.  I went from working on the couch to working at an elevated bistro table where I can stand and work comfortably.  (Disclaimer: my stomach muscles/abs were actually sore(!!) the first couple days I worked standing up.  It’s was a testimony about how out-of-shape I had become by sitting all day).

My Standup Desk

My Standup Desk

Mark Sisson, one of my favorite health bloggers, has more on this topic.  He suggests that, if you must work sitting down – use a stool to sit – which will help keep you back and core strong.  Get outside for frequent breaks – and I might add, one advantage of living in a “connected” world is that it’s easy to get outside to make phone calls, sync your calendar, or schedule appointments.  If you know you will be returning phone calls, head outside and walk around while calling.  Not only will you get some exercise, but you will get the added bonus of getting vitamin D from the sun!

If you must sit at your desk all day, at a computer – understand the physical toll it will take on your body.  It’s important to look for solutions that will really work for you, that you will really implement in your daily life.  A good suggestion is a DeskCycle – which you can put under your desk while you are working.  The good ones are pricy – but well worth it (bypass heart surgery will cost you $117,000).  After reviewing the options, the cheap ones don’t adjust for the height of your chair or desk, which may render them useless and/or uncomfortable.  

Working Against Your Strengths

My first 3 things you should stop doing now were all concrete, actionable items.  They are things you can do now.  My last two are going to be just as important, though a bit more philosophical.  In his book, Strengthfinders 2.0, Tom Rath explains why it’s so important to know your strengths and to build around them.  He compares Rudy Ruetteiger (who was the subject of the classic college football movie Rudy) and Joe Montana.  Rath says that there are two critical features to being successful – determination and talent.  On a scale of 1 – 5, Rudy was a 5 on determination but maybe a 2 on talent.  No matter how hard Rudy worked, he was constrained by his lack of talent (body size, speed, other natural abilities).  However, Joe Montana, the famous San Francisco 49ers quarterback was a 5 on the determination scale, but also a 5 on the talent scale.  He had everything necessary to succeed at a professional level.  Rath says that many of us have a lot of determination, but the key is to find out what we are naturally gifted at – then put our determination into those areas.

For the first 10 years of my professional life, I was determined to be successful in the business world.  I worked hard each day, but promotion after promotion passed me by.  Why? Because my strengths were in education and writing – not in business.  When I started putting my efforts into my talents, things changed quickly – even to the point where I can now work from home.  If you are feeling stuck in your job – you may be working against your strengths.  Take a look at the video below and consider researching your strengths.  The strength finder book I referenced above has a comprehensive self-assessment included to narrow down your top 5 strengths.

Wasting Time

Time management is a flourishing field in the business and self-help sections of your local bookstore – and for good reason.  The absolute, best book I have ever read on understanding time management is Stephen Covey’s classic text: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I can’t recount all of the great lessons in this book, so I recommend picking it up when you have some time to read it.  But let me end by saying this.  I am now 37 years old.  Aristotle famously said that we don’t “wake up” until we turn 35.  I think that is close to true.  In the last couple years, I’ve been impressed by how fast time goes by.  We don’t have all the time in the world.  This life is like a vapor – here today and gone tomorrow.  The best, most dignifying thing we can do on this earth is to find out who we really are, work toward creating good things that truly matter, and eliminate all of the negativity that steals our time from us.  Regret is the sting of a life spent without risk.  Get out there, do what you do, and do it well!

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