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The kindergarten approach to work-life balance

Boy stacking blocks.

Daniel Hurst/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you're setting goals and trying to develop better habits, you might want to consider the approach you learned in kindergarten. On The M.A.P Maker, coach Curt Rosengren explains how he resolved every day to exercise, meditate, drink 64 ounces of water, and eat five servings of fruits and vegetables. But while he knew his intent was strong, he worried implementation would be lousy without a system to hold him to his intent.

He created a chart with four columns, one for each of the new habits. Then he bought some sticky stars like the kind in kindergarten at a local stationary store, and put the chart in a prominent place where he would see it often. Each day he fulfilled his new habit, he got a star. When he didn't, his failure was evident in what seemed an ugly, huge expanse of white space.

"It's amazing how effective that approach has been. There was an immediate and sustained shift in behaviour. I would like to say that I responded to the reward of being able to put a star up daily for each column, but the reality is that I was more driven by not wanting to see the white space as constant reminder that I didn't do it," he notes.

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When is enough enough?

More, more, more.

That's the notion that dominates our life. But on blogger Jennifer Cohen says this impulse emanates from a feeling of scarcity that can be damaging. Instead, she urges you to ask yourself the following questions:

· What is enough for me, my work, my family, my soul?

· Where does my wanting stem from?

· If it is scarcity, can I ask myself what I might want if I knew it were enough and that I had enough right now?

· How do I define balance? How would I know I had it? How do I know when I don't?

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· How can I create a support system wide and deep enough in which I can nurture all aspects of myself and experience all I want to experience?

· If I stopped trying so hard to create balance in my life, what would be present and possible for me?

She saw a PBS television show in which a female tightrope walker said balance is non-existent – there is only being present and alert to shifting weight, adjusting for the imbalance that is always present. Dealing with work and family is like a tightrope walk, in which you must constantly adjust. But while you deal with the myriad of daily and weekly adjustments, Ms. Cohen suggests you must also think long-term. You can't have it all, now, but looking to the long term allows a more rounded and optimistic outlook.

The five life-work domains to manage

If your life seems out of balance, tightrope or not, you might regain control by considering the five domains that course through it. Career coach Joe Wilner identified those domains recently on the Little Man blog arguing failure to exercise control in any of the five areas can compromise our potential:

· Manage Time: You need to prioritize the many tasks and roles you assume in life – at work, and away from work. "Some simple ways to improve time-management are by using a checklist or calendar, and beginning to recognize our personal time-wasters, such as incessantly checking e-mail, or watching too much television," he writes.

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· Manage Energy: We all have high-energy times of the day, and Mr. Wilner says it's important to utilize our full capacity when we need it. But consultant Tony Schwartz has gone beyond that in a series of books and his Energy Project, arguing energy is the essential resource we oversee, and arguing for example that we take breaks every 90 minutes to rejuvenate.

· Manage Thinking: Start paying attention to your inner dialogue, and how it influences you. "Our thoughts are like a boat at sea, and we need to set an anchor to keep from drifting aimlessly into the mental abyss. Whenever you recognize your thought drifting away to an unhealthy topic, anchor it down and pull it back in," Mr. Wilner says.

· Manage Emotions: Don't let your emotions take control of your behaviour and actions, or you may regret the consequences.

· Manage Relationships: It's important to balance our relationships in the mix of other activities in our life. He describes relationships as the flagship of the many roles we play in our life.

Mr. Wilner suggests picking a domain you need to work on to gain better control of your life. Determine how you will learn or improve this skill – who might help you – and then set a measurable objective to work towards.

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager for The Globe and Mail's T.G.I.M. page, management book reviews on Wednesdays and an online work-life balance column on Fridays. He has also written a series of articles for The Globe called The Leadership Guru Interviews, which can be found on the Globe Careers leadership page .

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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