How to Find Balance When Your Life Is Overfilled with Tasks and To-Dos

Leaders help their teams to do less so they can accomplish more

I admit it, I rarely enjoy the checkout experience at the grocery store despite the fact that I’ve met some funny, kind, and engaging people while waiting in line.  It’s the bagging of my purchases that makes my blood pressure rise.  Part of me thinks that there is an unofficial contest between cashiers to see who can get the most products in the smallest number of bags.  My cashier may win, but I always seem to lose, as I struggle to move the bulging bags even a few feet.

Yesterday, I brought six bags with me, more than enough to keep them a reasonable weight and make them easy for me to carry.  Still, despite my hope that more bags would mean even distribution, I struggled to move the bag filled with milk, juice, fruit, yogurt, bread, kid’s snacks and cereal from the counter into my cart.  Ultimately, with a thud, I made the move while squashing the bread, bruising the fruit and actually puncturing two yogurts along the way. At the end of the transaction, she returned my two remaining empty bags to me with a receipt and a smile.

That’s when it hit me:  The woman filling my bag wasn’t worried about the weight; she saw a small pocket of space and was determined to fill it.  She was not satisfied unless she was maximizing every possible inch available.  It didn’t matter if I could lift it, what mattered is that she got it all in. 

Holy Moley!  We do that too!  We strive to fill every minute of every hour with doing leaving little room for anything else.

We’re all too willing to forgo balance and believe that if our bags are lightweight, it makes us light weights.  I’m here to tell you, that’s not true.  Work-life balance is not about the scales, it’s created by our self-aware decisions about where we put our time and effort.

Work life balance isn't really about scales and 50 - 50

Ask yourself, how heavy are you packing your personal bags and what’s the risk?  What are you giving up as the load gets heavier and heavier?

Do you need to join over packers anonymous? (Most of us probably do)  Do any of these fill-it-to-the-limit styles ring true for you?

Work life balance continuum personal and leadership styles

Individuals:

In a valiant effort to “do it all” and the belief that there will be time to sleep in retirement, what are you missing out on today?

Leaders:

Leaders also over pack not only their own bags, but also those of their team, especially high performers.  Ask yourself: How can you show your value beyond pushing production levels to the limit?  Are your expectations of yourself and others realistic?  How do you know if you’ve put too much in the bag beyond waiting for it break?

Let’s head back to the checkout line… What are my options at the store and how do they apply to your life and leadership?

Struggle, Whine and Complain

Bad choice, right?  When I’ve said (louder than a mumble) how heavy the bag is as I’m dragging it to my cart, it does not make the next bag magically lighter, it just serves to annoy the cashier.  Feeling like you are drowning in to-do’s?  Trust me, whining is rarely the path to success.

Speak Up

I’ll smile and laugh about how weak I am while I remark that the bag is too heavy and it’s OK to leave some space.  The surest way to increase our effectiveness is to leave room for more, yet resist the temptation to fill it.  The unexpected derails us when we’re already at 100%.  If you’re already there, speak up before you go past the point of no return.

Reorganize the Bags Myself

Sometimes I’ll suck it up, walk away from the checkout and just reshuffle and reorganize the bags myself.  When I take things out of the bag, I’m empowering myself to make the decisions and not accept how they’re handed to me.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but we can all take things out to lift more. Leaders can delegate and individuals can ask for help to lighten their load instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

Buy Less at One Time

At the store, you can go once a week and load up or a couple of times to get necessities and meals. The same concept holds true for your to-do list. When you stop treating your to-do list like a catch-all, suddenly you’re focusing on the right stuff at the right time and getting it done. A lighter load leaves room to enjoy connection, relationships and have fun with the work instead of a constant “heads down, crank it out” mentality.

REMEMBER: It doesn’t matter if you can squeeze it all in if you can’t lift the bag.  The secret to success (and work-life balance) is to pack in less so you can accomplish more and enjoy the journey along the way too.

Are you on overload?  Is your work “bag” so full that you have no extra capacity for your life?  How do you find balance?

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