It’s 2017 – surely we can do better than Work-Life Balance?

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I know… February is a bit late to be publishing a New Years blog… (more on this later). It’s only now that I feel ready to plan for 2017.

It has become a habit at the start of each New Year, to outline a single overarching focus for the year. Some people choose 3 words, some a phrase, and some have lots of resolutions and some have none at all. I find there is something powerful in knowing what is your single most important objective for the year – I like the #powerofone. It pushes me to ask myself how I’m doing each day, week, month and quarter and recalibrate as I go along. It ensures I don’t hide, avoid, forget or go off track for too long.

I have been sharing my New Year’s intent for 4 years now, which whilst scary, has made me more accountable and has brought me valuable dialogue, support and assistance.

2013 was the year of ‘discovery’ – I was starting a new chapter in my career, developing new skills, facing fears and being bold (Become the hero of your own story!). My big lesson was to focus by saying ‘no’.

2014 was the year of ‘devotion’ (What will you devote yourself to this year?) – My focus was on figuring out what I was going to devote my time, enthusiasm and energy to? It was the year I found my tribe at Redington.

2015 started as a year of ‘sacrifice’, surrender and pilgrimage for my wife and I. Over the year it developed in directions that we could not have even imagined. I learnt more, wrote more and did more than I ever thought possible (15 top tips for a successful 2015).

Last year, 2016, I wanted to learn how to be ‘vulnerable’. I wanted to share my thinking, my processes and my mistakes. I knew that sharing mistakes would be more valuable for me and for others, but found it difficult to do. 2016 was the year to “to lead, to serve and above all to make it personal” (2016 – time to get personal).

So, how was it? 

2016 was an incredible year. I became CEO of Redington – “the best job in the City”.  I got a lot of opportunities to lead, to serve and to make it personal (my new year’s wish 12 months ago). I’m still loving the job, the team and our game worth playing – win, lose or draw – to make 100m people financially secure.

I wrote a few blogs during the year in an effort to be more open and vulnerable – 1st day, 1st week, 100 days, 7 months, etc. Sharing my mistakes was a lot harder than I expected, but far more valuable all around.  I’d like to continue working at this.

In the spirit of being ‘vulnerable’, rather than listing achievements, here are my 10 biggest mistakes of 2016:

  1. I didn’t ask for help enough. I didn’t seek advice from those that have done it before. I was too proud and wanted to prove myself in the new role.
  2. We did a lot of stuff but I didn’t explain why I was doing what I was doing often enough. Change is hard and I didn’t signpost, flag and contextualise enough.
  3. I didn’t pay enough attention to people’s challenges, competing priorities and tensions.
  4. I didn’t praise enough.
  5. I didn’t highlight successes enough.
  6. I didn’t thank people enough.
  7. I took criticism/challenge more personally than I’d like to.
  8. I didn’t invite enough challenge, even though I knew you have to create a safe space where people can question you.
  9. Too often I allowed myself to become a victim to my calendar, rather than stepping back periodically and taking control.
  10. Above all, I didn’t make enough time for my wife, children, my health, my wider family, and friends. I made some sacrifices this year that are not sustainable.

So what’s my goal for 2017?

We used a ‘wheel of life’ to review 2016 as a family and set our new year resolutions based on this. It highlighted all the areas that I have neglected…

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Over the next year, I would really like to invest wholeheartedly in each important area of my life: Marriage, Children, Health, Family, Friendships, Charity, Fun, Spirituality and Learning.

This is starting to sound like the elusive ‘work-life balance‘ goal – I don’t really like that term (not that work-life integration, juggle, fit, effectiveness, or management are much better). In fact, I dislike the term so much that its taken me 6 weeks to complete and publish this new year’s blog.

Deconstructing work-life balance

Here are my favourite 2 insights on the subject, getting to the heart of the issue:

In Clayton Christensen’s book, How will you measure your life?, he explains – Why do we take our relationships with friends and family for granted, even though we know that they are the greatest source of happiness in life? The first reason is we are tempted to invest our resources in things that offer more immediate rewards and feedback like work. Secondly, family and friends rarely shout the loudest for our attention. It will always be tempting to defer health, family and friendships, because you are busy with your career right now, but you have to invest in these long before you need them.

Seth Godin also talks about this in his blog on Singer’s Paradox.

I think they have hit the nail on the head. We need to override our own mind/instincts to be able to give our time & attention to the things that aren’t urgent, don’t shout the loudest, that don’t give immediate results, rewards or feedback. No wonder ‘work-life balance’ is so difficult.

It is no different than saving, instead of spending; or going to the gym, instead of sitting on the sofa; or eating healthy food, instead of eating junk… health, saving, family, etc. all sit in this ‘important but not urgent’ group. Redington advises large institutions (and school children) to prioritise the important over the urgent, to begin with the end in mind, to put risk management in place when you least need it, to use conservative assumptions, to save little and often, etc. I need to apply this essential wisdom to my own life.

So my overarching focus for 2017, is going to be to experiment with daily hacks, habits, systems, routines and overrides that will help me give time and attention to my family, my health and all the things at work and outside of work that are most important in the long term.

In 2017:  The Year of Balance 2.0 – I am signing up for a daily battle, a weekly struggle and an ongoing war against my own mind, against the urgent, the loud and the easy. This is about making deliberate choices, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions, compartmentalising, reviewing regularly, having honest dialogue and creating a support network.

At the end of the year, I want to be able to look back and know that I tried to invest passionately in each important area of my life. Whenever I fail to get it right, as no doubt I frequently will, I need to analyse, review, iterate, adapt and try again… wish me luck!

Please share your lessons, hacks and tips too.

3 thoughts on “It’s 2017 – surely we can do better than Work-Life Balance?”

  1. Excellent blog.

    I am going to bring some of your goals like health and using my time more efficiently .

    Keep up the good work
    And
    Good luck with your goals.

  2. Mitesh, a great piece as always. I find your writing humbling, vulnerable and that you’re always striving to be better. I have one “hack” and one article with a different perspective for you.

    I’ve also developed something similar to your wheel and I’ve found it helpful to organize my to-do list in the same manner so that I’m conscious of how I’m choosing to spend my time by each bucket. Also, at the end of each night or the end of each week, I summarize what I accomplished in each bucket and I ask myself “is it enough?”.

    The article below asserts that you should consider measuring work life balance in years and not days. I think there’s some merit, especially in new / transition periods in our lives. But I think Annie Dillard’s quote can be used as counter-argument “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives”.

    https://journal.thriveglobal.com/work-life-balance-is-about-years-not-days-13e7306b1de5#.1pue0gglp

  3. Great blog post Mitesh! Here are 3 things that have helped a couple of my clients. 1. When you are about to say yes to something, or stay later at the office, or skip your workout, stop and think about what you are saying no to in that moment. Is it date night with your wife and friends? Your long term health? Sleep? Every yes has a no in terms of our time and we all get the same 24 hours/day. 2. Regarding your mistakes list from 2016 I want to highlight numbers 4-6. These are all related and they take up a third of your list. This is an area that can strain your organizational culture and it needs to be moved into the important category. But you are not solely responsible for it – use your team to figure out how you can all make this a priority. One thing I recommend is to block time (in whatever amount and schedule works for you) to “walk the halls”. Set aside 30 minutes, pick a floor and go poke your head in with your employees with no work agenda. Say hi, ask how they are doing, ask about that photo on their desk, thank them. There will never be enough time for this but be as intentional as you can. 3. My final thought is that there will always be work that needs attention. The list will never be checked off. The inbox will never be empty. Get comfortable walking away and knowing that tomorrow is another day. Those boundaries you wrote about are super important and 95% of the time we have the eraser and are the ones moving them.

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