I looked at the executive’s desk and noticed something weird.
A small framed picture sat alone on her desk with a sign in it that said “Eat Lunch.”
“Why do you have a sign that says ‘Eat Lunch’?” I asked.
“Because I never eat lunch,” she replied.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Too busy. My job is all-consuming. If I am ever able to eat lunch, I’ll know that I got my life back. In the meantime, I just eat one of these snack bars between meetings,” she said as she showed me a pathetic half-eaten tan bar in a wrapper. She shrugged with a gesture that said, “What else am I supposed to do?”
This scene horrified me. When this happened, I was just starting out in my career, two decades ago. I felt sad that a perfectly capable business leader seemed so powerless in the fight to reclaim her life back from her job.
Work is not supposed to be like that.
It is not supposed to suck the life out of you.
I have, as a hobby, made a point of collecting tactics that successful leaders use to seize their lives back from their careers.
Here are the best 3 ways to get your life back. And sorry, to really get your life back, you have to do all three.
Set Personal Goals.
Like what? Like how many nights per week do you want to eat dinner with your family? Several of my colleagues set and track their “family dinner” metric goals. It works. A CEO of a $20b company set a goal of being home from 6pm-8pm (to spend time with his teenager) at least 4 nights a week, and often beat that goal. An extremely busy tech entrepreneur set a goal of having a proper “cell phones off” two-week vacation every summer. A Fortune 500 middle manager told his son he would be at every one of his baseball games his senior year. And he was. An Executive Assistant in our New York office always wanted to coach her daughter’s soccer team, so she finally set the goal and did it.
Schedule Personal Time.
An hour ago, I called one of my colleagues. Rather than hear “hello,” when he answered, I heard, “I put the diaper bag on the stroller!” I told him, jokingly that I didn’t have the diaper bag. “Oh, sorry, how’s it going?” he turned his attention to me. My colleague was at the zoo. Midday on a Thursday. With his wife and two kids. Was I mad that he was not working? No way! I was proud of him. We have a “freedom and flexibility” culture at ghSMART. My colleague is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. And yet, he schedules personal time. He told me, “I scheduled a zoo trip with my family this morning. Kids go back to school tomorrow. And I have a meeting with our favorite hedge fund client down the street this afternoon, so that’s why I picked the Lincoln Park Zoo vs. Brookfield Zoo!” If somebody is trying to schedule your time over one of your personal commitments, tell them you are not available. It’s none of their business why you are not available. And of course bend over backwards to be responsive to your colleagues and customers. But, it’s not “either-or.” You can be successful and have a life.
Delete, Delegate, Delay, then as a Last Resort, Do.
OK, folks, I saved the best tactic for last. I’ve never heard someone describe this method for prioritizing in this sequence. But I’ve seen examples of countless successful leaders who practice elements of this approach.
- When there is a task that is begging you to do it, your first instinct should be to delete it. Just don’t do it. Sorry task! You don’t own me.
- If you feel the task is a high enough priority that it has to get done, your second instinct should be to delegate it to a capable person who can do it. Don’t have capable people whom you can delegate to?
- If the task is important enough that it has to get done, and if there is nobody to delegate it to, then consider delaying doing it yourself until a time that works for your calendar.
- If that is not practical, then your last resort is to do that task, now.
So many people I see get this sequence backwards. Their first instinct is to do whatever the urgent, flashing, text-chiming, in-box pop-up task demands. But that’s a lousy way to deliver value at work. And it’s no way to live your life.
If you set personal goals, schedule personal time, and practice the Delete-Delegate-Delay-Do framework, you will find you can achieve career success and get your life back. And if you think these tactics are useful, please download our other free leadership tools at SMARTtools for Leaders™.
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