Tips for a Successful Career & Life Balance

Helga Weber

They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s definitely how it can feel when you find your dream job. However, as invested as you will want to be, you still can’t forget about the other aspects of your life. You have friends, family, health, sleep and more to keep at optimum levels during your off hours. Success isn’t easy but making sure to not ignore everything outside of work will help you work even harder. Here are tips to help you reach that career and life balance.

Get started, get momentum

When you do something (anything!), you put yourself in a position where good things can happen. You can learn something, you can secure the first small steps towards your big goal. When you only dream, plan, contemplate, nothing happens. Get started — no matter how small, the first step leads to the next. Momentum is a powerful force and it is in no way linear, so be prepared for progress that starts slow and speeds up.

Get your timing right

The world is full of people that work their butts off pushing an untimely idea through an uphill battle — most often because it’s a cool project that the market just isn’t ready for yet. When we want success without sacrifice, we need to be smart about the mission we embark on. Pick something there’s a real need for. If you are working for a company that hasn’t got it right, then either influence things to get them on track or move along to something that’s a better fit for the world we live in.

Put people first

When you’re very busy, it can be tempting to cut down on face time with your colleagues, in particular your subordinates. Resist the temptation. Your team is not a burden on your shoulders — they are the helping hand you need. Or at least they can be, if you remember to put people first and invest in the relationships that are crucial to your success.

Interact with the energy of others

Capacities like energy, motivation and drive cannot be seen in isolation. When we pay attention, we can feel how we have more energy after meeting some people, while others may drain us. To be as efficient as you possibly can, make sure to spend time with those that inspire you. Interact with their energy, and build upon it.

Master the art of listening

In the always-buzzing business environment, it’s easy to forget that listening is often more important than adding to the noise. We only gain new insights when we listen. When we talk, we’re mostly just saying out loud what we already know. Who do you like the most, those that really listen to you, or those who are always eager to share their own stories and opinions? The interesting thing is that we can influence a lot more by asking the right questions than by talking and falling on (more or less) deaf ears.

Make yourself lean

At the workplace there will most often be at least some focus on keeping processes lean and efficient. However, in our private life we often run in circles, or add too many irrelevant claims to our agenda. Figure out what is truly important to you. Either because you are enjoying it a lot, or because it is taking you towards an important goal of yours. Then look at how you spend your time. If you are like most people, there will be lots of activities and tasks that you actually don’t need to be doing. Free up some time to do what really matters to you.

Don’t try too hard

It’s generally a good thing to be a go-getter and have a “can do” attitude. However, it’s also important to realize that some things are outside our control. Don’t freak out, it won’t help. Just do your best, and have faith that what needs to happen will happen. Trying too hard will only hurt our relationships, drain our energy, and be a waste of time. Knowing when to push and when to let go of control is a key to having a great life quality.

Follow your energy

It’s easy to assume that those who always work according to a well thought out plan are generally more productive than those of us who are less disciplined. While it’s extremely important for both success and balance to know what you are working towards (and why), it’s equally important to allow some room for improvisation. Make a habit out of asking yourself, “What will I be great at doing right now?” By following your energy, you will get into a flow a lot more often, and that’s a wonderful state where you are significantly more efficient dragging yourself through your planned work.

Build your brain

A lot of us have realized that we need to do some regular psychical exercise in order to maintain the body that carries us around. Fewer have recognized that our brain also needs a daily work out. We are, of course, using our brain a lot throughout the day — maybe even too much. What we need is something different from office tasks, having to remember domestic duties, or even reading those heavy industry reports in the evening. We need to exercise the underlying dynamics in the brain; perspective, creativity, empathy. The best way to do that is meditation. Just 12 minutes a day – when done every day — will have a profound impact.

Reinvent the meeting

Meetings are a common reason for why people are so busy. Yes, meetings can indeed be very time consuming (and boring!). Somehow we seem to all have agreed that whenever we need to meet it has to take place with a table between us, sitting solidly on our behinds. It doesn’t have to be this way. Try having your next meeting while running, walking, or just sitting in the park – it can really do wonders for your life quality! Also, for many types of meetings, this approach will be much more efficient. This goes for almost all meetings with few participants, and where either creativity or connectivity is required.

Make a “today’” list

The to-do list is one of the most commonly used tools for planning our workday. Of course it’s a good idea to keep track of stuff you need to do, but don’t overdo it. Working on compiling your to-do list is not real work. Also it can easily create feelings of stress to look at a long list of everything that needs to be done during the coming weeks and months. Instead put your emphasis on your “today list.” A list of those maximum three things that is top priority for you to get done today. Get them done early on, and remember to feel great about it.

Know something else

Being flock creatures by nature, most of us humans compete to know the most about those topics that everyone is talking about. The big news of the day. That’s a very inefficient strategy. We don’t gain any advantage by knowing the same as everybody else. Instead go out and hunt for some rare insights — become that person who knows more than anyone else about a narrow topic. That’s worth something, and soon you will be witnessing yourself capitalizing on your specialist reputation.

Focus on the wildly important

No matter what our job is, chances are there is always a ton of things to be done. Most of us strive to get it all done, and in the process we might lose sight of what really matters. A few things are wildly important. They have the potential to define whether we reach our goals or fall short. It’s those things we should be putting our emphasis on, while relaxing a bit on the long list of “nice to do” tasks. Always know what your wildly important tasks are, and don’t allow yourself to be pulled away from them too often.

Know when to pull the plug

Something that is really bad for our balance is to be fighting an uphill battle with a project that has no legs of its own. Don’t be the stubborn guy who refuses to face the harsh realities. On one hand, persistency is often what makes all the difference between success and failure, but you should be smart about whether to pull the plug. Ask people you trust for their sincere advice. Listen to them. Analyze the situation as objectively as you possible can, and then follow your intuition.

Gain your extra month

In many developed countries it is completely normal that people with jobs on average spend a full hour commuting back and forth to work every day. In a year, that commute becomes the equivalent of a full month of work! It’s worth asking, “Is there really is an alternative?” Maybe we can move closer to our work, work a day a week from home, or bike to work to convert some wasted time with some useful exercise.

Use your periscope

Like a submarine has a periscope for navigating it surroundings, so do we. We often get lost in the details, the endless list of tasks and meetings etc., and we lose our perspective. That’s when we need to stick up our periscope to see the bigger picture. Take a weekend off. Go watch that theater play you have wanted to for so long. Play a game of afternoon soccer with your friends. When you get back to your challenges at work, everything will seem much simpler than it did when you felt overwhelmed.

Identify your time-wasters

We all have them. Whether it’s checking social media or sending meaningless texts, the first step is to identify the unnecessary things that are sucking your valuable time. The second step is to quantify how much time you spend on each activity per day. By consciously assigning them a value, it will trigger a red flag when you catch yourself slipping into old habits. Next, decide which items should either be limited with a given set of time to be enjoyed, or be eliminated altogether.

Push for purpose

When we feel we are contributing to a greater purpose we are 10 times as efficient. We bounce out of bed in the morning, talk excitedly to people in the elevator about our next project, and move forward with our entire being. When we don’t truly care about our work, the result is…well, quite different. Start with a mission you believe in and the rest will be much easier.

Do the worst first

When left for too long, our minds can build up a simple task into a monster. The longer we procrastinate the more it saps valuable energy that we could be using for something else. By leaving a task on the shelf and worrying about it we waste far more energy than if we had simply completed it in the first place. Start with that item on your list that has been nagging you for weeks. When it’s complete, you’ll feel that a weight has been lifted.

Don’t be afraid of missing out/enjoy the here and now

Just as balance requires us to focus on the most meaningful areas of our work life, balance also means applying that strategy to our social life. Spend time on relationships that are genuine, giving back and sharing with great friends instead of packing your schedule with every party on the map. Enjoy the here and now. Take your head up from that smart phone and have a real conversation with the person sitting next to you.

Re-think self discipline

We often view self-discipline as forcing ourselves to work on tasks that we are told that we need to. Why not try a more efficient approach and maximize time spent on what you love? That is the path to a more productive and meaningful life.

Keep it simple

Enough said.

Improve your outside/inside ratio

As we increase our work hours, our time spent enjoying the great outdoors often suffers. Increasing our time and access to fresh air can do wonders for ourselves by re-setting our circadian rhythm, and benefiting our health and happiness. The good news is you don’t need to hike in the Alps to reap the rewards. Try exercising outside in the morning. Go for a walk at lunch. In fact, step out side right now and take a deep breath of fresh air. You won’t regret it.

Protect your personal time (8-8-8)

Everyone gets 24 hours in a day — Oprah, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and you. Eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work and eight hours just for you. People are constantly making claims on your eight hours, bombarding you with e-mails, phone calls and tasks that can easily eat up your time. It is up to you to optimize and protect your eight hours. Becoming a good guardian of your personal time is both liberating, and one of the keys to a balanced life.

Spot opportunity in danger

Life doesn’t always go as planned. When things misfire, people often become paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. Sometimes getting so stressed out they never fully recover. Instead, try reconditioning yourself to look for the opportunities in challenging situations. Once you start looking, you will find that, when approached from the right angle, in every challenge awaits an opportunity waiting to be seized. What is the biggest challenge you currently face? How can you flip it on its head?

To get all 50 tips to help you find that perfect career and life balance, head over to Ask Men.

(image via Helga Weber on flickr)