Why Work is like Pac-Man (and what to do about it)

Ever feel like you are one of those little dots that Pac-man gobbled up? Becoming consumed by work is an easy state to slip into when you are intent on providing well for your family, yourself and your community.  Because of, or in spite of, the recession, work-life balance is a concern for the vast majority (89%) of American workers surveyed by StrategyOne (2010). Of those 54% call it a “significant” problem.  Both men and women feel this push-pull between the competing priorities from work and the rest of your life. Forty-four percent (44%) of men ages 34-54 say they do not have adequate work-life balance (StrategyOne, 2010).  A June 2011 Nelson survey of women in to 21 countries representing 60 % of the world’s population and 78% of GDP, showed that 54% of woman in developed countries and 62% in emerging countries feel pressed for time.

So yes, becoming consumed by work is an easy state to slip into especially with the current economic pressures and climate. When work-life balance is upended time with family is the first thing affected (37%), followed by personal down time (22%) (StrategyOne, 2010). Being worried about the stability of your job, or when you are the boss, or when your income is directly tied to sales or commissions frankly it can seem miraculous when you are not focused on work.  Remember, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  More importantly all work means you, your staff, and colleagues do not have the necessary resources to perform at their peak, to focus, to be effective and efficient and that is not good for business at work or at home.

What we are often trying to express when we say I want more balance in my life, is I want to feel in control and be centered. When you are centered you are not wasting energy juggling 20 balls while moving. You are playing catch with fewer, more important balls, moving in time with the rhythms of your life. You also have a sense of profound satisfaction with our lives as whole, or being fulfilled.  When you are fulfilled your life is one of the deepest joy because you feel like your life is fully worth living and that you are fulfilling a greater purpose.

So how do you get there?

6 Practical Strategies To Create Balance and Foster Fulfillment

These are 6 strategies that are practical possibilities to try. Let me preface these by saying I think absolute balance is impossible, but that being centered and living in a purposeful way that support a fulfilling life is indeed possible. Once you are centered and aligned your heart and your head, you have great energy to be an excellent spouse, parent, professional, volunteer. . . you get the picture.

Practical does not mean easy. Practical means ordinary activities that involve practice or action. Don’t get overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. Simple goals suggested by the strategies below can have a significant impact, like leaving the office early one day next week.

Some of the strategies below may be things you already do, or have tried, and putting them into action with greater consistency might make all the difference in your ability to strike a better balance. Others might be brand new. Start with 1 or 2, give it a week and see what starts to change.

  1. Track your time and what you do with it for a week. See where you are spending your time in such a way you are efficient and getting a good return on your investment. See where you are not. Decide what is necessary and what satisfies you the most.
  2.  Create your list of non-negotiables for all areas of your life and then put them in your calendar. These should include elements that invest in your support systems and Nurture yourself.  Get some sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise. Make setting aside time each day for something you enjoy a non-negotiable.
  3.  Use a regular habits list.  Manage your tasks – not your time. Generally people perform at their best with no more than 3 “must dos” each day. I use s simple spreadsheet that lists regular habits on the vertical axis and one month’s of days by number (1st– 31st) on the horizontal axis. At the end of each day I check off these ones I did, and use it to help plan the next day.
  4.  Cut the things that do not satisfy you to the maximum degree that circumstances allow and delegate from there-  this means giving up some control. Embrace “The Power of a Positive No” too. It is okay to respectfully say no.
  5.  STOP multitasking on the important things. At first glance this seems like an efficient way to work. It is not.  Multitasking on complex task or things that require your full attention involve your “executive functions.” Multitasking requires “Executive function” switching (I am going to do this now  – ‘goal shifting-’ and here are the rules for this – ‘rule activation’) takes time, little fragments of seconds or longer that adds up.  It can cost up to 40% of your productive time (Meyer, Evens & Rubenstine, 2001). Focus on one thing at a time, putting your most important priorities first.
  6.  Cut yourself some slack. You cannot do it all, and do it all well.

Bonus Strategy: Take a break: Fatigue is the early sign of (dis)stress- don’t ignore it. Like our sleep rhythms we have cycles of energy and concentration, 90 minutes on average. Take a 20 minute break then going back to what you are doing or start on a new complex task.


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