Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

Work-Life Balance and Quality Time

A lot is being talked and written about work-life balance. Usually this means that people are overworked and not spending enough time on “life”. A lot is also being talked about Quality time. This is usually in the context of making the most of the limited time available with the family, read “life”. The usual grouse is that since there isn’t much time available because of the long hours at work, we get limited time with the life and therefore need to make whatever time available “quality” time. True. So what if we turned it around and spent Quality time at work to be able to achieve work-life balance?

Spending quality time at work ensures that we are more efficient in our work. This means planning what is to be achieved during the day (to-do lists), more efficient meetings and fewer breaks while focusing on achieving things to be done during the day. I have found myself most efficient at work when I know I need to leave office early, on time :-), usually because I have another commitment with my family or friends. On those days, I prioritize my activities, don’t attend meetings that I can avoid and focus on completing my to-do list items. 8 out 10 times I am able to get out of office to maintain my work-life balance.

Of course on most days I work late. Do I have so much work? Probably. Am I efficient on most days? Probably not. I think we tune ourselves to work in a mode that is in line with path of least resistance. Being efficient each day is hard work. We all need breaks during the day. And we all encounter activities that are important and urgent (Q1) or just plain not important (to us) and urgent (Q3). We don’t spend enough time on activities that are important and not urgent (Q2), or sharpening the saw. Heard these phrases before have you :-).

When people crib to me about how they are unable to maintain their work-life balance, I say, it is your work and your life. No one else can balance it except you. So spend Quality time at work to get more time available for life. And hey, no harm spending Quality time in everything that you do, including “life”.


Mukul said...

Remember what Lao Tzu said?

"Time is a created thing. Saying 'I don't have time', is like saying 'I don't want to'."

We always achieve what we want to.


Anonymous said...

One key thing often overlooked in the work-life balance debate is that it is your work and your life. You decide where the two balance.

No one forces you into a "dis-balance". I believe the pain occurs when people change priorities, but don't change behavior.

I know I've been guilty of this for the longest time. :-)

Anonymous said...

Time management is a very important life skill,but being busy is also not a virtue and it should not be an objective.
Sometimes we complain that we don't have a moment for ourselves and yet, when we find that time, we feel guilty and feel we should be doing something!

Apart from using time/tasks/priority management tools one should be able find the time for sharpening the saw.
Busy people have little time to consider THE BIG PICTURE, they are busy working on a little piece of a puzzle without knowing where or whether it fits.

He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

I always carry this question with me "Could I become more successful without being so busy?"

I always carry a To-Do list and Covey Quadrant having the same To-Do list.

Unknown said...

A lot of us are conditioned to complete tasks that are vital to others (read customer, team, boss). Sometimes all it takes is to put a personal agenda on the same priority and, voila, you suddenly find time to do that as well.

Sang said...

I believe that there is never a perfect balance between professional and personal life (and time).

First let me rephrase the key words here. I prefer to call it personal and professional life balance as the term 'work-life' seems to assume that work is not life. It is!! And for many of us, a significant part of our lives.

At any point of time there will always be an imbalance between the time and effort spent at work and the time and effort spent on personal activities. I believe that I need to be able to decide how much of my available time and effort I want to spend on all the things I want to achieve in life. If I let someone else decide that for me (boss, colleague, team, friends, family) then I am no longer the hero of my life but a bit player in theirs. So I define the level of imbalance I want, based on what I want to achieve -- the next promotion or spending time with a sick & recovering parent.

Time is what I have - how I use it is a choice I make!!!

Anonymous said...

An important behaviour to achieve this much talked about balance is the ability to say 'No'. This can enable you to reduce the wasteful expenditure of 'Your' valuable time by others. How many times have you seen your agenda for the day being hijacked by a just-in- time scheduled meeting where participants don't even turn up on time and then walk out to take phone calls or breaks, wasting everyone's time. Do you have the courage to comment on such behviour right then and there. How many of us really walk out of such meetings to do other more important 'work'? Making to-do lists is of no use if you are going to let your agends be hijacked by others or if you are too dependent on others for 'work'. So much of 'work' in current times is collaobrative and I am sure we have all struggled to get the right people together at the same place.

This is not to de-emphasize the importance of planning though, but only to say that while we can think that all control is in 'your' hands; is it really so?

Despite the above I have continued to follow my to-do lists for last half a decade even if it means I end up finishing only 6 out of 20 tasks for a day :)

Forgive me for the ramblings above, all I want to say is that maintaining this 'balance' is not really as easy as it is made to sound.

Manish Mohan said...

Okay, I admit that maintaining this balance is not easy. But the point is that it is still in each individual’s hands and not responsibility of someone else. Whether it is your ability to say No or your courage to tell someone not to waste your time, it is still in your hands and not someone else’s.

One of the techniques in achieving the balance is trying to organize your day by better planning. The other listed above is the ability to say “No”. Another technique is to build in some time for ad-hoc activities governed by others into your daily schedule. When planning your day, don’t plan your day packed back-to-back that even a delay in one task causes the whole day to go off schedule. Also look for patterns. Depending your role there are always patterns of planned and ad-hoc work. In my role, there are tasks that I know will happen during the start and end of the month, and closer to start and end of a quarter even more so. In a project, start of the project has a different pattern of work than say towards the closure of a project.

On days when I have to complete an important report, I find shutting down my Outlook useful. It helps me stay away from the temptation of seeing new emails that come and interrupt my chain of thought. Keeping the phone on silent at times also helps. I have also found not logging on to chat software useful. While chat is more non-intrusive than say a phone, it is still a distraction. Any way in which you can define and maintain a flow time is useful.

Of course there are still interruptions. There are still ad-hoc tasks. I still drop things when my boss or my boss’s boss requires something. I am still far from being efficient on many days. But at the core of it all, being efficient is still in my hands and not in my boss’s or my colleagues.

Anonymous said...

It is more about knowing your ToDoList/GTD, and using productivity tools more efficiently ,and still more about self-discipline which is mostly coming out of past-conditioning.

Even newer tools are disturbing work/life balance.

Interesting Report Here:-

In a study of 1,000 office workers from top managers on down, Basex, an information-technology research firm in New York City, found that interruptions now consume an average of 2.1 hours a day, or 28% of the workday. The two hours of lost productivity included not only unimportant interruptions and distractions but also the recovery time associated with getting back on task.

I have used timers/stopwatch to verify if my meetings are getting over within time, it never happened, failed everytime. I don't have an office , just a cube. But i had courage to say "no" politely and introduced meeting tokens to my visitors. something similar to http://www.flickr.com/photos/dorkmaster/1630021752/

Every tool helps to a certain level, but you have to re-invent how you discipline yourself as you start using new tools/methods.

Thomas R. Stone said...

I agree with the last comment about figuring out which tools work best for you, and then re-inventing other aspects of how you manage your to-do lists and your time in general as you introduce those new tools.

Personally, I use OneNote very heavily to help me stay organized and keep all of my to-do lists and other info organized in one place. I used it both at work and in my personal life (separate OneNote notebooks on two laptops). Many others prefer EverNote for this, also a good application. I just happened to get going with OneNote first, and each app has advantages over the other in various ways. So my suggestion to anyone is -- try them both, and see which one you prefer.

I'm still in the process of implementing GTD -- I am a convert to David Allen's approach, I just ironically need to find the *time* to implement it fully!

And lastly, I'll note a favorite quote of mine regarding "time". Its actually from Star Trek VI, from a different context than time management really, but here it is:

"Time is the fire in which we burn."

I've always liked that line. I'm not sure if the writers of the movie got it from this source or not:

"Time is the school in which we learn, Time is the fire in which we burn."
Delmore Schwartz in "For Rhoda" (1938)

Sudha Naik said...

I liked this :)

"It is your work and your life. No one else can balance it except you"

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

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