Stuart MilesAn out of alignment Work / Life balance (guess which side is generally overweighted!) is a problem many clients want my help in solving. There are two principal aspects to solving this problem: changing one’s actions and realigning one’s energy. In today’s post I will outline some of the action steps that I have recommended to clients to help redress the imbalance. I will talk about energy in the next post.

1. Delegate

For what I would categorize as my most pressured clients, and the greatest overachievers (whether CEOs, senior executives or government officials, entrepreneurs, or young “hot shots”) there is a tendency towards perfectionism and control, a feeling that “I need to be involved to make sure things are done right.” Unless someone with this tendency is actively willing to relinquish a degree of involvement in “the weeds,” there will be a repeated, and perhaps even constant, degree of overweighting towards the work side of the equation. Relinquishing involvement means delegating, and there is no more important task for overworked individuals than to learn how, and to whom, to delegate. When something needs to get done, it needs to get done….but not necessarily by YOU!

Note that feeling the need to be in control, while natural, is usually toxic on some level because there is so much that is outside of one’s control. If feeling you need to be in control is a huge issue for you should definitely consider speaking to a professional about how to relinquish some of that need.

2. Say No

Another, related problem for overachievers is that they take on too much. They believe that they will be able to do something better than others, and they have a desire to demonstrate just how capable they are. This is a temptation that needs to be resisted. Of course it’s easy for me to advise “Just say no,” but if overcommitment is a problem for you, the key to being successful at saying no is taking honest stock of yourself. To what kinds of projects, or for which particular people, do you tend to overcommit yourself? If you feel you just can’t say no, is there someone who could help you? Another valuable technique is to ask for time to consider a request before agreeing to do it. The “cooling off” period between the request and a decision can help pare down the number of commitments made. Finally, practice exactly how you can phrase the “no”; “I would love to help you out but I just don’t have the time to spare right now” is a gentle way to turn someone down.

3. Keenly observe how you spend time

Technological advances have created innumerable marvels, but they have also created distractions that can consume an immense amount of time almost unnoticed. There are obvious ones (hours spent on Facebook, watching TV, playing Words with Friends, posting hundreds of photos to Flickr, trolling EBay), and less obvious ones that seem to be productive but that really aren’t worth the investment of time (checking out LinkedIn profiles out of curiosity, frequently tuning in to CNN, obsessively checking email to avoid missing something “important,” getting overly embedded in text messaging, tweeting just to tweet). Keep a log of how you’re spending your time (literally, mark down the number of minutes you spend on each activity), ask yourself what purpose the activity is serving (“relaxing” is a catchall used too often), and I guarantee you’ll see many ways to free up time. Wouldn’t it be better to spend fifteen minutes playing catch with your kid than looking for the cheapest deal on a new camera?

4. Outsource chores and routine projects

For a relatively small monetary outlay you can hire people to do things that take up a significant amount of time. Ranging from the next door neighbor’s kid mowing your lawn to hiring a personal (possibly virtual) assistant to handle simple but time-consuming tasks: contacting Verizon. Housecleaning. Administrative tasks like bookkeeping or paying bills. The same principle applies to food preparation: paying a few extra dollars for a takeout or frozen dinner (there are actually some pretty good ones out there these days)

5. Could substance use be an issue?

Having a couple or three drinks at the end of a hectic day can certainly be soothing. So can smoking weed. But recognize the very large negative impact that these substances can have on your productivity and investigate other ways to unwind. Perhaps exercise, perhaps taking a nap, perhaps meditation. Slow, deliberate breathing is always helpful as well.

Start by taking small steps to change your normal routine (e.g. delegate a relatively inconsequential matter, turn down one request, lay off the booze one night this week) and recognize that it’s a gradual process; it’s unrealistic to expect overnight success. But with attention and effort it’s certainly very possible to begin shifting your work/life balance.