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How to Find "Balance" in an Imbalanced Environment

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In today’s uncertain environment, it is certain that balance is hard to achieve. Balance is often thought of as being equal in distribution in terms of time spent in areas such as our commitments, workload, and personal well-being. Having a routine and a plan for the week is a good start, until unpredictable external forces find their way in and cause undue stress.

As part of the Fierce interview process, we ask, “how would we know if you are stressed?” The intention of this question is to get an idea of the candidate’s self-awareness and ability to manage a stressful situation with a healthy action to move them through it.

An extension to that question is, “what elements do you find stress you out”? The question comes from the lens of knowing the natural pressures that emerge in a fast-paced environment where balance and consistency in day-to-day responsibilities are almost never constant. Although the question achieves a basic understanding of self-awareness of one’s triggers, the reality is, the impact of stress and the idea of balance are difficult to assess as it doesn’t account for all the different variables in the workplace that might challenge even the most well-prepared individual.

Every Sunday afternoon I sit down with my planner and calendars—yes, plural on calendars—to prepare for the week ahead. I consider our family commitments on one, my work commitments  on the other, and then have a third that overlays them all together. I focus on building in time for meeting preparation and daily deliverables. Come Monday morning, I feel confident walking into the week ahead. But then, reality hits. As Susan Scott so poignantly coined it, “no plan survives its collision with reality.” School calls and the bus is running late, again. The contract that was guaranteed to come in today just fell through because the key decision maker in their company was just let go. And someone considered a high-potential employee just resigned to follow their passion in a completely unrelated field. All before 9am. Now my stress level has increased a bit, and the balance I thought I had orchestrated for myself in the week ahead has turned into something a lot less proportionate than I had planned.

As we grow in our lives, so do the complications of our careers and families, and the quest for balance tends to add another level of complexity, especially if we believe those around us have it and we don’t. While navigating the unpredictable external forces that come from the news, our clients, our employees, and perhaps even ourselves, it is important to stop and do our own self-assessment of what balance means to us and how we might be contributing to unnecessary stress. Look to these tips to re-center and find accountable ground to stand on:

1. Reframe balance and remove the notion that you will never achieve it.

The way we traditionally think of balance doesn’t always work in the reality of our lives. Redefine it and realize that not every piece of your pie will be equally proportionate. At different times, you will find focus needs to be greater in certain areas. If you realize that you don’t like the way your pie is sliced, the key is to take steps to put yourself into an accountable, solution-oriented mode.

2. Consider what behaviors or actions you’re demonstrating that have gotten you here. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Am I saying yes to more than I can realistically handle?
• Am I doing work others should be doing because I think I do it best or because I haven’t provided clear guidelines ?
• Am I causing myself more work because I’m not being inclusive or aware of the input needed from others to move a project forward or make a decision?
• Am I placing other people’s expectations of my time over my own?

3. Take action.

As you assess which of the above behaviors you identify with the most, determine your next best actionable step by asking yourself the following question:

Given what’s in front of me now and what I’ve identified above, what’s the most important move I can make today to break this pattern and be accountable to my own definition of balance?  

Once you’ve asked yourself this question, the action you end up taking will probably require a conversation with a colleague or other important person in your life.

Recently I noticed an uptick in approval requests coming to me about various items that all centered around one leader’s team. I took myself through the questions above and realized that I was doing work others should be doing because I hadn’t given clear enough parameters to enable him to make these calls. With his input, we sat down and looked at the type of requests that were coming my way and what he needed from me in order to feel confident he could own the decision in these particular areas. It was an evolution of a framework we use at Fierce called a decision tree, a model for delegating items in order to develop others. When done properly, it strengthens the execution and leadership muscle of those on a team—whether they are a leader or individual contributor.

It’s important to realize this isn’t a one-and-done type of exercise. Ongoing evaluation is needed to hold an accountable position to the ever-changing needs of life. By following these steps to redefine your notion of balance as the world around you shifts, remember to ask yourself what behaviors you are exhibiting that may need to change so that you can identify the next best step towards action. And ultimately, find your best version of balance that fits the reality of your life.


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