Chapter Excerpt – Julie Cohen: 7 Keys to Worklife Balance

Key 1

Develop Priorities

Have you ever wished you could add another several hours to your day so you could finally catch up on paperwork or take that class for professional development or fit in time to work out? Or, maybe, just maybe, meet a friend for lunch, or read a book for pleasure? Do you ever feel like you are chasing time and you can never keep up?

In this chapter, you will explore an important key to your preferred work–life balance: developing priorities. In particular, the chapter will focus on helping you learn how to expertly prioritize the roles, responsibilities, activities, and engagements that fill your time so that you spend more minutes and hours in the day focusing on what is most important to you and less time spinning your wheels on things that are either unimportant to you or do not move you closer to your desired work–life balance.

Can you use the guidance in this chapter to turn a twenty-four-hour day into a twenty-seven-hour one? Will the chapter teach you how to “do it all?” Unfortunately, these are promises that no one can make, as appealing as they might sound. What I hope the chapter will do is help you to explore, practice, and become well skilled at developing (and maintaining!) your priorities.

As you become more and more adept at prioritizing, you will not actually be adding more minutes and hours to your life, but you will be learning how to use those minutes and hours in a way that leaves you feeling satisfied as you end each day. As the chapter is about to reveal, work–life balance is not about learning how to do it all; instead, it is about learning how to focus on doing what is most important to you.

Developing Awareness of the Key

A Closer Look at the Concept

What is prioritization, anyway? It is not a new concept, of course, but it is a very helpful one so let’s review its meaning here. A priority is a goal, task, or action that takes precedence—that is of significant importance—compared to other goals, tasks, or actions. A related concept, prioritization is the act of setting your priorities—deliberately deciding which goals, tasks, and actions are most significant to you and creating a plan to gives those areas the most attention in your day.

Priorities are critical to work–life balance because you really cannot “do it all!” As much as you and I might wish we could, the reality is that we only have twenty-four hours in a day, and ideally seven or more of those are dedicated to sleep. I take the time to make this point not to depress you (!) but because an important aspect of achieving work–life balance is actually about realizing that you cannot do it all. Once you come to terms with this reality, you will be freed up to make deliberate choices about how you would actually like to spend your time.

In sum, your time and energy are valuable resources! To move toward your preferred work–life balance, the choices that you make on how to use these valuable resources need to be selected and chosen deliberately, on the basis of what is most important to you, to your work, and to your life.

Identifying the Barrier: Problems With Prioritization

If you are feeling stuck on your journey toward work–life balance, it is possible that the barrier you are facing on your path is problems with prioritization. People tend to face this particular barrier to work–life balance when they…

1.    do not know their priorities
2.    do not know how to implement their priorities, and/or
3.    do not know how to resolve the issues preventing them from addressing their priorities.

Do any of these issues resonate as relevant to your own path? Let’s take a glimpse into someone who faces problems with prioritization to see what this barrier looks like in the real world.

Margaret is a director in a busy public relations firm. She supervises a staff of six people and is responsible for many high profile and lucrative clients. Her work ethic includes being very accessible to her clients, which often means responding to their needs very quickly—and at all times of the day (and sometimes at night and on weekends). She also believes in mentoring her staff in order to develop them and grow the business. Again, this requires significant availability and responsiveness at all times of day. Margaret enjoys her work, but she feels like it is encroaching on her personal life. She desires more quality time with her two children and husband and would love to find time for regular exercise and some nonwork enjoyment, but she has not figured out how to make these activities priorities in her life. At the end of most work days, she rarely has enough energy for anything but a late dinner and sleep, and, as a result, she feels dissatisfied with how she has spent the last part of her day.

Margaret often ended each day feeling drained and dissatisfied with her personal life. Why? Because Margaret struggled with the skill of prioritization.

For example, although Margaret wanted to fit exercise in somewhere during the work week, she had not taken the time to set exercise as a priority in her life or to schedule exercise into her day. Similarly, she had not yet practiced the skills of keeping lower priority items from getting in the way of her exercise plans. As a result, other activities in her day always ended up taking precedence over exercise, and Margaret never had the time or energy to get to the gym or go for a walk. The only way that Margaret would ever be able to fit exercise into her day would be if she chose to make exercise a priority.

Now that you have seen an example of someone who has hit the barrier of problems with prioritization, think for a minute about your own life. Have you deliberately selected your work and personal priorities, or do you allow the natural course of your day and the people with whom you interact to dictate your priorities? If you are aware of your priorities, do you manage to maintain them most days or weeks, or are they continually falling by the wayside? Depending on your answers to these questions, you may discover that the skill of prioritization is very useful and relevant to your own journey toward work–life balance.

If you face the barrier of problems with prioritization and are ready to overcome this barrier, you will want to practice the following three behaviors:

1.    developing your priorities
2.    implementing your priorities
3.    resolving the issues stopping you from maintaining your priorities.

These three behaviors are used on a regular basis by people skilled at prioritization.

The next section of the chapter will provide insight into how you can go about practicing these three behaviors to ultimately enhance your desired work–life balance.

Putting the Key Into Practice

As stated previously, people who are good at prioritization typically know what their priorities are, know how to implement their priorities, and know how to resolve the issues stopping them from maintaining their priorities. But let’s get even more tactical about how one can go about achieving these three things, so you can roll up your sleeves and start making desired adjustments to your work–life balance.

People good at prioritizing…

1.    know what their priorities are ? because they take the time to develop a personal and professional vision
2.    implement their priorities ? by using a planning process
3.    resolve issues impeding them from maintaining their priorities ? by managing low-priority creep.

If you are starting to realize (or be reminded!) that work–life balance could become more manageable for you if you sharpen your prioritization skills, then the rest of the chapter will provide you with practical guidance on how to use this powerful key.

Developing Your Personal and Professional Vision

Let’s start with the first of the three points just mentioned—creating a vision. To define your priorities, you need to know what you want to accomplish in your work and in the bigger picture of your life. I call this your vision. Without a vision, you may make haphazard choices based on many factors that may not include what is most important to you. With a vision—an image or outline of your most important personal, professional, and work–life balance goals—you can make sound decisions when faced with competing demands on your time, energy, and focus.

In short, a clear vision allows for easier decision-making regarding how you spend your valuable resource of time.

When faced with the task of creating a vision, many people become overwhelmed with what they perceive as the lofty nature of the concept. If that is how you are feeling, then let me give you permission right now that your vision does not have to be lofty at all, just something that feels right and gets you excited. While some people’s vision may be to end world poverty or to stop global warming, your personal or professional vision might also be very simple and very local. “Get promoted to director” or “be actively engaged in my daughter’s school while running my business” are perfect visions, too. Since this book is about your personal image of your ideal, balanced life, you get to define your vision any way that you want.

As you develop your vision, consider both areas of your life—personal and professional. You may find that one area needs more work or draws your attention more than another, and that is fine, too. I am simply inviting you to create a holistic vision since it is often hard to focus on either the personal or professional area in a vacuum—one almost always affects the other.

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