Tag Archives: work-life balance

Goodbye 2017, thank you for the lessons…

For a New Year’s resolution to stick, I have found:

  1. it needs to be meaningful (you have to visualise it clearly and really care about the outcome);
  2. you have to be able to take small realistic steps every day (so you feel like you’re making progress);
  3. you have to enjoy the process and frame it positively (the brain avoids negative/painful things);
  4. you need a back-up plan to get on track again every time you slip (because you will slip); and
  5. you need to share it with others around you to motivate you and keep you accountable.

I have really benefited from making a public New Year’s Resolution each year since 2013. I also have valued the clarity of having decided what the single most important thing is the start of the year. One improvement I’d like to make to this is to review what is the single most important thing I want get done each day, including weekends and holidays, not just centered around work goals.

The past 5 years has been the most incredible period of growth, learning and change for me. Whilst I haven’t always achieved my goals each year, I find the process of reflection invaluable. I am still working on all the resolutions from the past 5 years, whilst building on them as I go along (discovery (2013), focus (2014), sacrifice (2015), vulnerability (2016) and balance (2017)). I’ve enjoyed going back and reading my thoughts from the previous year/years to be able to see where I have moved forward and where I’m still struggling.

2017 in review

At the start of 2017 I said that “my overarching focus was 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”.

Having had an incredibly fulfilling and challenging year at work, I wanted to invest wholeheartedly in other important areas of my life (that were at risk of being neglected) including: Marriage, Children, Health, Family, Friendships, Charity, Learning and Spirituality.

I had defined what success would look like “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…”.

When I honestly ask myself how I’ve done against this definition of success, I have to admit defeat.

I cannot look back and say I invested in each area of life in 2017. Work was my overarching focus, effort and attention.

It’s ok. I don’t need to dress it up, or make excuses.

It wasn’t just me but a lot of my senior team also struggled with balance this year.

So, what can I learn from this failure?

I work with really smart and interesting people, together we are doing meaningful work, we have taken on some huge projects/changes, we have been learning exponentially and I get huge satisfaction from my role. It’s not hard to see why it has been so hard to walk away, to switch off and to have enough energy and enthusiasm for other areas of life.

Together, we have had an incredible year of achievement. 2017 saw a lot of firsts/big changes. We:

  1. ran our first Returnship program and hired 4 awesome senior women into our firm.
  2. designed a framework to assess new products, services and business lines, used it to approve a new pipeline of ideas.
  3. developed a 5 year business plan and outlined the KPIs for the whole firm to align their objectives to.
  4. kicked off a process to seek a long term strategic investor for the business.
  5. designed an amazing new office space and moved into 1 Angel Court.
  6. developed and launched a new brand and website.
  7. strengthened all our corporate functions, with awesome new hires that have enriched our culture.
  8. started experimenting with self-management, empowering employees to take ownership for making the firm better.
  9. prepared for and conducted our first hearing with the Competition Markets Authority.
  10. invested significantly in our technology and innovation.
  11. A few other exciting things that I can’t disclose yet!

I couldn’t understand how I finished the year feeling deflated, given how much we had achieved collectively. My colleagues were also concerned about why I was feeling this way – it was no reflection on them. I am very grateful for the amazing team of people around me, with both character and capability, which is rare to find and to be cherished.

It was only upon reflection that I realised that my disappointment was in myself, that despite all our successes, I had failed against my own goals and promises to myself and my family this year.

I knew going into the year that it was going to be a busy year ahead, but I was wary of the oft’ used narrative – “It’s just this week, this month, this project, this year… then I’ll get my life into balance…” – especially when we start new jobs, roles and projects. I’ve seen so many of my colleagues and friends struggle with this too.

Despite knowing what to do, I simply hadn’t done enough of it! I knew that “we are tempted to invest our resources in things that offer more immediate rewards and feedback like work, and that 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”.

Evidently it is not enough to know this, or to write it down, without cultivating the habits and making the difficult tradeoffs.

Brightspots

Whilst there were too many days when I worked for too many hours, and I was too often engrossed or exhausted to offer much creativity to other spheres of life, there were some real glimmers of hope. I find it useful to look at some of the brightspots and study them so that I can try and replicate those in 2018:

  • I had gone into 2017, knowing that I needed to carve out enough headspace, time and attention to make sure I could organise a 40th birthday celebration for my wife, the love of my life, something she’d never forget. Knowing this and scheduling it in advance meant that I was able to do this properly. This is important lesson for the future.
  • On the days when my wife/kids called me at 6pm to come home for dinner, more often than not, it was a great trigger to walk out and go home (even if there was work to finish off later at night).
  • Setting aside a day for thinking time (say each Friday, or every other week), even if it wasn’t always possible, gave me the chance to get tasks completed, think deeply, or prepare for the following week so I wouldn’t have to work over into the weekend.
  • Blocking time at the start of the day – a couple of times a week – for the gym, exercise or just thinking was really useful, otherwise I’d have meetings start from 7.15am. Managing my calendar in advance and every night, is key to communicating to my colleagues when I am and am not available.
  • Keeping a journal, the Self-Journal in particular (which I first discovered in Jan 2016), was really helpful. I wished I’d kept the discipline of it all year. It forces me to be grateful each day, to think about what the most important thing I am trying to get done, what I have learnt from the day, amongst other things.
  • Pre-booking scheduled holidays, provided quality time to read, reflect and recharge. I needed to book these regularly throughout next year.

There were some surprises that completely threw me, like my Dad’s diagnosis and subsequent operation. I was really grateful to be able to take time out from work, at short notice, to be with him for his appointments and to be by his side through this difficult process. I feel blessed that he recovered fully and our relationship is better than ever. When life throws curve balls at you, no matter how busy you are, you can and must make time.

One of the biggest changes of the year was that I fell ill and have since become intolerant to lactose, gluten and caffeine. Whilst this might not sound like a big deal, I am a real foodie, I love cheese, bread, flat whites, cakes, etc. Whilst this started off as an obstacle and curse, it has since turned into a blessing. It’s challenged some of my deepest held habits and addictions, and has shown me just how adaptable we are as human beings.

Making sense of it all

Now the four burners theory states (https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory) that:

“…life is filled with tradeoffs. If you want to excel in your work and in your marriage, then your friends and your health may have to suffer. If you want to be healthy and succeed as a parent, then you might be forced to dial back your career ambitions. If you divide your time equally among all four burners, you may have to accept that you will never reach your full potential in any given area.”

I’m not sure I fully agree with this view. However, it suggests that we have to live life in chapters, or seasons. For long periods of our life we have to focus on one or at the most two areas of life, if we really want to be successful in them. The challenge I have with this is seeing too many people sacrifice health, family, friendships, and other things for too long, burning those bridges and never really knowing how to go back. I also don’t believe that just giving more time to something makes you more successful at it.

I want to do this job, this role and pursue this mission for the long run, so I am determined to find a way of doing it sustainably for myself and those around me.

I still believe that making “deliberate choices each day, planning, scheduling, blocking out time, setting boundaries, managing distractions, compartmentalising, reviewing priorities daily/weekly, having an honest dialogue and creating a support network” should allow us to excel in each area of life. Maybe some days or weeks we focus on one area of another, but daily journaling, regular reflection and people to hold us accountable should stop us from getting carried away.

Looking forward to 2018

2018 is a big year: This year l turn 40. My wife and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage. My eldest daughter becomes a teenager (between our 3 kids, we have a decade of teenager hell or heaven to look forward to depending on our mindset, how we prepare for it and approach it).

These are really significant milestones in life that I don’t want to pass me by, in the dizzying blur of work (as meaningful and satisfying as it is).

I want to begin the year with scheduled time to reflect, think, look back, plan forward, deepen relationships, be grateful and celebrate. I want to make sure my colleagues can do the same.

2018 has to be the year of recognising my strengths and weaknesses, asking for help, inviting others in, making my principles explicit and developing many other leaders around me.

My first step is going to be to write down and share my guiding principles (feeling inspired from reading Ray Dalio’s Principles).

Thank you to everyone who has supported me, pushed me and been patient with me this year – especially my wife, family, friends and colleagues.

Wishing you and yours the very best for 2018.

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.