During my career, I always have felt that being able to keep my balance was one of my competitive advantages. While my peers were burning out, somehow, I was able to stay fresh, energized, creative, and positive. I have always said that what kept me going was a love of the work. But secretly, what kept me going was to know when enough was enough, finding small ways to rejuvenate myself and always keeping things in perspective. It’s a fact that actuaries have the longest life expectancy of any job. It’s a 9-5 job, looking for complete certainty, follow the process, and go home. But, even with a shorter life, I’d still rather be a marketer.
Dealing with pressure
Marketing jobs are very hard. The pressure is immense. The pressures of deadlines, career advancement, politics, budgets, making the year, uncertainty, conflicts with others all add up. The pace of the jobs can wear you down. While your calendar is jam-packed with meetings, everything is due yesterday. While you know the big planning dates, because you’re doing approvals on the packaging or fi.xing your forecast, those dates somehow creep up faster than you want some years. While the variety in the job is stimulating, it too takes its toll. It’s hard being a jack of all. A,s you move up, you’re not allowed to really have weaknesses–you need to be strategic yet creative, organized yet flexible, decisive yet open, able to give feedback and yet receive it. It’s all about continuous improvement just to keep up in the job. If you’re a working mom or dad, then you are likely running around every weeknight and weekend. You might be rushing to the day-care but you’re also signing back on after the kids are in bed.
As we get to the holiday period, this week is likely the quietest week in your office. Half the staff has bolted for the holidays. Aside from you getting your last-minute accrual in to finance, completing all the HR things you forgot to do from October and doing as much work as you can just to catch up so you can get a few days off, this is a great time to start to think about work-life balance.
Ask yourself these two questions:
- This year, on a scale of 10, how good is your work-life balance?
- In 5 years, on a scale of 10, what would your goal for what you would like your work-life balance to be?
If the answers are different, then you have a problem. Do you really think your answer will be any different or will you just have a new set of challenges in 5 years? Well, this week is a great chance to have that life-changing “ah-ha” moment where you take a look and adjust. Make a new year’s resolution that you want to live a more balanced life in 2013.
Think of your career as a long-distance race, not a series of sprints.
Maybe it’s time to think about work-life balance. Instead of feeling guilty about it, look at this as a competitive advantage that can make you even better.
Here are my work-life balance tips I have used for years to keep my balance:
- Never work on weekends. If you are going to stay energized and creative in your role then you need that 48-hour break to stay fresh. I’d prefer to work Thursday night till 10 pm to get what I needed to get done. This will help you live a more balanced life.
- When you look at your weekly calendar at the start of each week or each day, challenge yourself to get a major task done in the morning and then get a major task done in the afternoon. That means you do COMPLETE at least two things from your project list each day. At the end of each week, you will have COMPLETED 10 major tasks–far better off then if you hadn’t. The alternative is getting to the end of the week, driving home and saying “damn it, I forgot to get that report out”. This is a simple system that knocks things off your to-do list and you’ll be shocked at how good it makes you feel. If you think this is too simple, my challenge to you is did you get 10 major things done list week?
- Also in your calendar, create 5 fictional meetings that you can use for thinking time. Thinking, whether strategic or creative, is a part of the job. But you can’t do it with wall-to-wall meetings from 8 till 5 pm. Many leaders who like to be active, forget about thinking. They become known as “do-ers” not “thinkers”. People will look to them to get things done. They’ll call them “good soldiers”. And yet, they get stuck somewhere on the org chart because they forget to think. This will give you ownership of your calendar that ensures you do at least 5 hours of thinking time.
- Take up walking–at least 30-60 minutes a day. While it burns off some calories, it’s a great way to stay balanced. It’s the best thinking time you can do. Driving is also a good time but doesn’t burn off any calories. I would bet half of my ideas came from walking time. If you have “No Time”, then get off the subway 5 stops earlier. Go for a walk at lunch with a buddy. Or better yet, have a walking Meeting at some point in the day. Steve Jobs used to do walking meetings all the time. I love these and when i do workshops for teams, I always put in a 15-minute walking exercise. This allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of things and open your mind a bit.
- When you come off a big busy crunch period, it is time to spoil yourself. Use the next 3 days as slacker days. And in those 3 days, do something, go somewhere and eat something that’s a favorite. Spas, massages, hamburgers across town, old movies, reading a book, taking a long hot bath. Your call. But while the last few weeks or months have been a sacrifice now it’s time for a bit of “me time”. This rewards you for the sacrifice you just made over the past few weeks/months. It will get you back in the game ready for the next sacrifice because you know you’ll reward yourself after.
- When you go on vacation and shut it down, you have to shut it down completely. Get rid of the phone, the laptop. Stop checking voice mail. If your mind is on fun and work at the same time, you won’t be much fun. If you have a great vacation then you’ll be even better when you get back to the office, ready to go.
- Get yourself better organized. If you feel in control of everything, then you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to achieve balance. If you are constantly chasing your tail, you’ll burn out. I’m always organized–which I always say allows me to know where I can off-course because I know the entry point for getting back on track. This will help you to live a bit simpler and find the balance easier.
- Isolate the planning period to ONE MONTH. These companies that do planning for 9 of the 12 months…. seriously? When are you supposed to do your job? Planning should be 3-4 weeks maximum. If you do a 1-2 strategic workshop with the 10 people on your brand, you can easily get your plan to the 70% stage and use the rest of the time to improve and tighten it up. But if you’re always planning then when are you doing the work. Doing up fancy charts does not make you a better strategic thinker. It makes you worse. Stop it.
- Write a plan you can do easily. I always try to get my clients to focus on 3 strategies with 3 tactics per strategy. That gives you 9 major things you have to do in the coming year. Think about how good of a job you would do on those 9. Compare that to a plan with 7 strategies and 7 tactics per strategy. 9 vs 49. You do the math and see who will be a better marketer, who will look like they are doing the job with complete ease. I once asked one of my directors to show me his project list and he said he had 87 major projects due this quarter and the list was always changing because we keep coming up with better ways. His team all wanted to quit and he burned out months later.
- Don’t create work for others and they likely won’t create work back for you. I remember as I was a new director, I used to send out notes that created work for my team. Do this….look up this….complete this for me. Then I started to notice they’d have questions for me, or send me back the answers and ask for my feedback. I started to notice the loop: The more work I create for others the more work that I create for myself. So stop it!!! I did.
- Have a “work out” session with your team. Map out all the ideas and prioritize them on big vs small and easy vs difficult. Try to do all the big and easy ideas and avoid small and difficult ones. These time wasters just don’t matter and they are a drain on resources.
- Keep perspective. It’s just Marketing. Yes, these jobs are amazing. They are fun. It’s what we do. But it is just a marketing job! We aren’t saving lives, fixing world peace or world hunger. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun with it. If Marketing isn’t fun, then you are doing it wrong.
Take a breather to really change the way you live your life. Find your balance. Force yourself to rejuvenate. Do something for your health.
Stop thinking that work-life balance is a weakness. Think of it as a competitive advantage.