How Busy Executives Manage to Live a Balanced Life

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Growing a company can be an all-encompassing experience. It is an endeavor to which C-suiters abandon themselves and go all-in. It’s challenging not to be myopically focused when you are actively engaged in growing a business, but depending on your situation—whether or not you have a family, for example—you may feel called to make a conscious choice to bring your work and personal life into more balance.

The best advice on how to get clear about how to balance your life once you’ve arrived in the C-suite comes from former Yahoo CEO Melissa Mayer. She states, “I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful.”

Mayer’s advice is an excellent starting point for fine-tuning your inner guidance system so that you can better determine what really matters most.

The decision does not have to be rigid but can shift over time as your life evolves; e.g. you marry, add to your family, or assume responsibility for an aging parent.

For example, if the most important thing to you is having dinner with your family and you continually miss out, stress and resentment will build and may cause you to be unfocused and less effective in your work.

Developing an inner-guidance gives you valuable information about the best ways to strike a balance between the time that you devote to growing your company and the time that you spend with family and friends, as well as at rest or play. Let the establishment of this kind of personalized guidance system be your first step in forging the kind of life that makes you feel truly alive.

What’s at Stake When We Give it All to Our Careers

TZG Financial CEO Mike Zaino remembers the misery and conflict he felt in the early days of growing his business, when he worked 80 to 90 hours per week and felt a lack of connection with his wife and first-born child.

The impending arrival of his second child inspired him to finally create more space in his life for family. Today, he has a “date night” with his daughters and spends every Friday night with his wife. He even makes time for card games with friends and feels that his productivity has increased as a result of these adjustments. He explains:

“By concentrating intentional effort on all aspects of my life, it has made me become better at each one. I’m a better father, husband, servant to my clients, and friend to my friends. I now understand who I am and why I do what I do. And that’s what keeps me going.”

By getting clear about what was most important to him personally, Zaino paved the way to receive one of the most striking benefits of creating more balance between work and personal life; the ability to be present, no matter what task or job is at hand. Having the ability to be more fully present whether you are working, spending time with your kids, or walking your dog allows you to do all of those things more intentionally, more expediently, more consciously—in other words, with more life force and joy.

When you make time for family dinners and institute a ban on ‘screen time’ during sacred moments, you are able to be fully focused on your loved ones. Conversely, once you go back to checking emails or tackling work tasks after dinner, you are able to be present for that as well. In the words of Bo Lais, founder of Lula:

“I noticed that if I don’t take the time and be intentional with my family, I feel distracted at work. If I don’t focus while I am at work, then I am distracted when I am with my family. A healthy personal life can help recharge and motivate an entrepreneur.”

CEOs from Sheryl Sandberg, who leaves work at 5:30 every day, to Mark Zuckerberg, who took a total of two months paternity leave after the birth of his second child, all have personal rules in place to guide them in creating a sense of balance in their lives.

While it may be crucial for CEOs with family obligations to carve out time for non-work priorities, the argument could be made that even if you can keep your foot on the gas pedal at all times, maybe you shouldn’t. Consider this statement by Jennifer Deal, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership and Affiliated Research Scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at University of Southern California (USC), about research from Tork:

“The Tork research shows that employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be satisfied with their job, and say they are as effective and efficient as they would like to be. This is consistent with other research, which shows that taking breaks from work is important for recovery – and adequate recovery is critical for top performance.

Taking the time to recharge improves performance for everyone, CEOs included.

Some Practical Tips for Balancing Work and Life

There is no way to achieve total perfection in balancing work and personal life but having a plan in place can get you much closer to a lifestyle that works for you and your family.

Have a Trusted Mentor to Help You Grow Your Business: Having an advisor to guide you in setting priorities for growing your company can be an invaluable support. The counsel of a seasoned entrepreneur who can help you develop a roadmap for your business frees you to be more present in your life. When you have such a plan solidly in place, it becomes easier to let go of work concerns during downtime and engage more fully in your personal life.

Bill Keen, CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, worked with a mentor at CEO coaching consultancy CEO Coaching international to help him get his company’s plan for growth on track. The fresh perspective and honest feedback of an outside advisor kept him focused and organized, helping him to hit goals more quickly and efficiently. He states:

“…by having to report to somebody that you respect, and that will tell you the truth, honestly and openly, and not being offended by what they’re telling you, it literally can reduce progress from decades into days”

The key to making this strategy work is, once you have your plan in place, put it out of your mind and sit down to dinner with your family, work out, read your kid a bedtime story—do whatever you have before you—until it is time to focus on business again.

Enhance Your Work-Life Integration: Many busy C-suiters are embracing a shift towards work-life integration as opposed to work-life balance. This means more flexibility about location—for example, working from home if you need to—and also less emphasis on when you are putting in your hours. For example, Sheryl Sandberg likes to get started on emails at about 6 a.m., get to work by 7 a.m., and leave work by 5:30 p.m. Then, after her children are in bed, she’ll log more hours. While she’s still putting in a lot of hours, they are non-consecutive and better tailored to her life and personal schedule.

While integrating work and life to the point where you’re answering emails while watching your child’s baseball game may not seem like an ideal solution, if your company is going through a period of rapid growth, it’s a compromise you may want to consider.

When it comes to making decisions about work-life integration, it’s a good idea to consult that inner-guidance system to see where you personally need to draw the line. If you suspect you’ll feel resentment over missing out on something with friends or family, ask yourself if there is some way you can reorganize your time so that your schedule better aligns with your priorities.

Sarah Friar, CFO of Square, is a mother who steadfastly rejects guilt in integrating her life and work. If you have to leave work early to run an errand, do it without guilt. Conversely, if you do need to answer that email while attending your child’s ball game, you make that compromise without zero self-censure.

Delegate Responsibilities: Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi gives her personal assistant detailed guidelines to follow and the authority to give her children consent for certain activities when they call the office to ask for permission. She has learned it is essential to not assume control over every aspect of her life.

Many of us have extreme aversions to delegation, but it’s a good reminder that in today’s world we have plenty of services that can take care of everything from dog walking to organizing social media. You can free up time by taking full advantage of other experts and hired help, accepting that one man or woman can’t effectively do it all.  

Let Your Intuition Be Your Guide

Whatever strategies you decide to employ to achieve more balance in your life, the most important thing to remember in all decisions you make is to consult your gut. Once you get clear and honest about what truly matters to you, you will be able to make better decisions regarding how to achieve equilibrium in your life. You no doubt trust your instincts implicitly with business; if you want to be more joyful and in-flow, apply this innate wisdom to all aspects of your life.

Intuit CEO Brad Smith makes what’s most important crystal clear when he talks about “rubber” and “crystal” moments. Rubber moments are moments you won’t forever remember that you missed. Rubber moments might include one dinner with family, while with crystal moments you get no do-overs. A crystal moment would be something like your sister’s wedding or the birth of a child. Smith advises that busy execs follow this motto:

“Never drop a crystal moment.”

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