Is there such a thing as a balanced leader? As pressures, challenges and distractions mount at work, it can be difficult to find a spare hour — much less a sense of balance. CCL’s Joan Gurvis says that learning to focus goes a long way toward finding balance.
“For many of us, the inclination is to continue to do more things, more quickly,” says Gurvis, coauthor of Finding Your Balance. “We may feel the stakes are higher for our organizations or that our jobs are more tenuous. We push ourselves, our co-workers and our employees to keep up the intense pace.”
“As leaders, it is our job to be sure these efforts are well-focused,” Gurvis continues. “By putting your energy where it counts the most, you are able to improve your effectiveness and foster a sense of balance for yourself and for your organization.”
To improve your ability to focus on what matters most, Gurvis offers several tips:
- Push for clarity. Stop assuming that everything is equally important. Consider your values and priorities in both your work and your personal life. What do you value most? What are your leadership values? What is the big picture? What strategies or efforts will have the most impact? What can be postponed or discarded?
- Be explicit about business priorities. As a leader, your ability to focus will bring clarity to chaos. If you are not focused on key priorities, others won’t be either. Communicate the priorities and support them. Help employees reevaluate where they put their time and talent and, as a group, ensure that most of the workday is spent on high-priority needs.
- Practice “channel changing” rather than multi-tasking. To limit distractions and fragmented thinking, learn to mentally change channels. Instead of doing several things at once, give each person, activity or challenge your full attention and commitment, then change over to another “channel,” again giving it full attention. Working in focused chunks of time is more effective and generally more satisfying. This is especially important if your non-work time is getting squeezed. If you have one hour with your kids before bedtime or one night a week for time with friends, commit to it, leave work behind and then move on.
- Let the small things go. What little things are distracting you or eating into your productive time? What low-priority tasks are taking high-priority effort? What can you eliminate, delegate, divide or ignore? Eliminate or shorten routine meetings, discontinue outdated practices and, as they say, don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Give yourself and others a break. If you’re working late, checking messages at all hours, or putting in long weeks, you may think that your efficiency is being maximized by your intense work efforts. But studies by CCL and others are showing that more time on the job does not equal better performance. Learn when to stop, ease back or even shift focus. And take those vacation days.
- Invest in your health. Diet, exercise and sleep contribute to performance and effectiveness. Healthful habits are shown to be even more important for relieving stress and preventing illness.
- Recalibrate, don’t react. Today’s priorities may change next week or next month. What feels like balance now may be overwhelming later. Accept that work and personal demands, desires and expectations will change over time, but don’t get pulled off course by every new issue, drama or interruption that comes your way.
Finding greater focus is not a magical cure for the daily pressures of balancing work obligations along with other commitments and interests, but it can make a huge difference for you, your employees and your business.