If your resolutions for 2013 include achieving a better work-life balance, your calendar holds the key to your success.
But, to pull off your goals, you’re going to need to turn the traditional way of thinking upside down.
Most people schedule their work commitments on their calendars and squeeze in family, friends and fun around it. Instead, schedule your work around your personal life, say Michelle Villalobos and Jessica Kizorek, speakers, personal branding consultants and co-creators of Make Them Beg, a professional self development program. For example, they suggest you block out gym time, reading for pleasure time, coaching your kid time and date night. Even a person with almost no flexibility in his or her work schedule can block out 15 minutes for a walk rather than eating lunch at their desks.
“You have to plan for play. Otherwise work expands and there’s no time for play,” Kizorek says. Today, it’s easy to stay a little later at the office or work through lunch because there’s always more to do. Using your calendar effectively can help you with boundaries.
Villalobos says once you put “play” into your schedule, it helps to get people who are important in your life to keep you committed. For example, she blocks out three hours twice a week on her calendar to paint. She has asked her boyfriend to help her stick to that schedule.
Realistically, there will be times when you have to reschedule a fun activity because of work demands. “At least you know what you missed so if you don’t do it, you move it to another day,” Villalobos says.
If you’re in a relationship, experts advise letting your partner participate in creating your calendar. A friend of mine sends his spouse an electronic invite to his poker night signaling that she has the night free to schedule her own fun activity.
Scheduling everything may seem rigid. “That’s the opposite,” Villalobos insists. “By putting things on your calendar, you can focus on what you need to do in the moment. It allows you to be far more present.”
With more people converting to electronic calendars or hovering between paper and online options, how we coordinate our schedules is in flux. But for balance, it’s often better to track personal and professional in one place.
Sharon Teitelbaum, a Boston-based work-life coach, says to calendar all important life events including birthdays. It may sound like common sense to calendar your son’s birthday, but people forget and schedule business travel, she has found. She also advises putting work events in your calendar as far in advance as possible and tasks that lead up to them. “You don’t want to agree to host a dinner party the weekend before a work retreat.”
For many busy people, the traditional way of scheduling needs to change from calendaring a due date to creating a timeline. If you have a big project you need to have completed by Feb. 15, Teitelbaum says break it into weekly tasks leading up to that date. “People vastly underestimate how long things take and the number of interruptions they have to contend with,” she says.
Julie Morgenstern, who created the Balanced Life Planner for Delray Beach-based specialty retailer Levenger, says that even on a daily basis people don’t plan realistically. “By bravely recognizing the limits of each day and how long each to-do on your list will take, we can see in advance what will or won’t fit into our calendar, and become more strategic,” she said.
Because our attention spans are shorter, Morgenstern says we need to schedule with that in mind and “break down our work into smaller pieces to fit the smaller windows of time within which we can focus.” For example, if you have a six-hour project, break it into a series of six one-hour steps. “It’s easier to resist distractions when you have something specific and measurable to focus on for an hour at a time.”
Computer systems developer and blogger Chris Skoyles advocates a non-traditional approach to using a calendar to improve your work-life balance — using two calendars.
While you’re using your first calendar to track your daily schedule, you use the second as a diary to keep tabs on how you’re faring in achieving your goals for the year.
If your goal is to spend an extra 200 hours with the kids or at the gym, break it down into weekly or monthly blocks to make it less formidable, he suggests on his Lifehack blog. In your second calendar, mark down how much you’ve achieved each day or each week. You can write down anything associated with your goal, such as researched diet plans or brainstormed fun kids activities. Writing down your achievements at the end of the day rather than crossing them off a to-do list as you go along has more benefits than you might think,” he notes.
Skoyles, who used this method to train for a marathon, has found goals become more attainable and you more motivated when you see ongoing progress. He suggests each week you check your progress and find room for improvement.
“If you haven’t written anything for a specific goal in a couple of days, is that a sign that maybe you need to work extra hard on that goal? Or maybe that goal wasn’t as important to you as you first thought and it’s time to reassess. If you’ve been cruising along nicely but haven’t seen much improvement, is now the time to think about taking things to the next level?”
Villalobos recently accomplished a personal goal and a step toward balance when she finished a two-day art workshop that she had wanted to take for years. It took getting control over her calendar, scheduling play time and retraining her brain. “Your calendar becomes your promise to yourself, and you need to honor that promise.”
Columnist Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit worklifebalancingact.com.