Some time ago, I was invited to speak at a dental meeting. The organizers thought that I should talk about life-work balance. Frankly, I was surprised. I felt that I was the least qualified person to speak about life-work balance because there are so many things going on in my life, and I often feel like things aren’t entirely under control or in balance. I’m a practicing dentist and an owner of a multi-specialty group practice. I am also a co-founder and a COO of a dental software company. I am married, and I am a mom to two amazing children who both challenge me and make me proud every single day. And, I am a speaker, a writer and a podcaster.
Yes, I’ve elected to do all these things voluntarily, just like I chose to become the head of the library committee in my son’s school and a room parent in my daughter’s class. I am busy, busy, busy. I have so many balls in the air at all times that it often feels like one of the balls is going to get dropped.
Of course, no matter how hard I try, I occasionally drop a ball or two.
Like, that one time when I forgot to pick up my son from school, a few times when I missed their games or recitals, and so many times when I forgot to order lunches or buy school project supplies. So, in case you are wondering why you didn’t get the mother-of-the-year award last year, it’s because I had it locked up.
OK, the truth is that I’ve struggled on my quest to attain that elusive life-work balance until I realized that lifework balance doesn’t exist. It’s a myth. Nothing in the universe is ever in balance. Sometimes our work needs us more, and other times our family needs us more. Occasionally, our health and wellbeing become a priority. Real balance doesn’t exist. Living a good life does not mean balancing life and work. It means being fulfilled and successful in both.
Nowadays, being busy is the norm.
When friends ask us how we are doing, we often instinctively respond with: “I am busy.” I recently caught myself saying that right after coming back from a 30-day vacation on Maui. You see, we like being busy because being busy means that we are on our way. We are making things happen. Things are getting done.
However, does being busy give us the fulfillment that we desire? Does it create better connections with our friends and family? Does it make us happier? More productive? Does it even make us more money? Are we busy with things that will move our lives forward, or are we just busy shuffling things?
Being busy makes us look good, and it’s easy – you just say “Yes” to everything that comes your way. On the other hand, being fulfilled takes work. Being fulfilled and living your best life requires intention and planning.
So, where do we start?
An excellent place to start is to create a vivid and detailed vision of a life worth living. If we don’t intentionally design our lives, someone else will design them for us, and we might not like their idea of a perfect life. Imagine getting into a time machine and traveling three years out. What does your ideal life and work look like in three years? Who are the people in your life? How do you take care of yourself and your health? Once you envision your perfect life and work, you can reverse-engineer from there by figuring out what needs to happen to get to where you want to be from where you are today.
While you work on creating a vision for the life you want to live, let’s remember a few simple truths:
Our time is finite.
So, when you say “Yes” to something, you are saying “No” to something else. Are the things you are saying “Yes” to more important than the things you say “No” to because you feel you don’t have the time? Learn to say “No.”
Productivity is not about doing more;
it’s about working better – figure out what projects and what work will bring the most value to your life, and focus on these things. Do things that you enjoy doing and those that will deliver the most value. Automate, delegate or eliminate the rest.
When we say that we don’t have time for something, we are saying that this thing is not a priority for us.
We are saying that we are choosing to spend our time on things that are more comfortable, more familiar, maybe easier. So, what do you not have time for that you think is important? Exercising, walking your kids to school, working on creating systems in your practice? If this is important to you, put it on your schedule.
Multitasking does not exist.
Our brains are not built for multitasking. When we are multitasking, we think that we are making good use of time, but we are not. Instead of working on multiple tasks at once, our brain switches quickly between different activities. It wears us out and causes mental fatigue. We feel like we’ve been busy, but we haven’t accomplished very much. It causes our bodies to release cortisol – the hormone that makes us stressed out and fat. It diminishes our memory, reduces our ability to concentrate, and it causes us to make careless mistakes. Instead of trying to multitask, learn to single-task. Turn off all distractions, and focus on one job at a time.
Small things matter.
When it comes to time, it’s not the quantity but the quality that matters. Be fully present when you spend time with your family. Folding laundry next to your kids is not the same as getting down on the floor with them to play. We’ve all had those wonderful times with our kids and families and friends that we don’t recall because our brain does not store this information properly when we were distracted or tried to multitask. With the smallest investment of time in the right places, you can radically improve the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life.
Good things don’t happen to people who play it safe.
We often struggle with the way things are because we are afraid to do things differently. How often do you feel stuck in paralysis by analysis, scared to make the decision or make a move because you don’t feel like you have enough information? How often do we struggle with a slow, incompetent or downright nasty employee because we are afraid to make a change? We worry that it will be difficult to train a new person or that the new employee will be even worse, so we do nothing. How often do we deal with unappreciative patients? How long do we stay in unproductive associateships? Taking risks and making changes can be scary. We cannot anticipate everything that will happen. We’ll never have all the answers. Accept the uncertainty, take a risk, make a change.
Most of us work way too much doing the work we don’t like so that we can buy the stuff we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.
So, don’t be afraid to take the time away from the office. I promise you your work will still be there when you get back. It’s been scientifically proven that people who are happy and fulfilled in their personal lives are more satisfied and more productive at the office. As Rabbi Harry Kushner famously said: “Nobody ever on their deathbed said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’”