In today’s fragile economy, how can you make time for the things that matter most without risking your job or alienating the people important to you?
My two-word answer: “Tweak it.”
By “Tweak it,” I mean you should deliberately harness the kind of small, everyday actions that we often overlook or dismiss as unimportant. In other words, it’s time to sweat the small stuff. The goal is a "work and life fit," not necessarily “balance.” (I’ve devoted my work/life consulting practice to this idea, and just wrote Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. I also have a website with practical “Tweak It” tips.)
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The Big Benefits if You ‘Tweak It’
By capturing the power of intentional choices regarding your career, relationships, caregiving duties, personal finances and home, you’re more likely to:
- Keep your job and love your life.
- Build a foundation of well-being and order.
- Master technology to achieve your goals.
The Importance of Setting Boundaries
Recent research confirms what I’ve discovered over the five years I’ve been teaching people how to "tweak it:" If you make choices with a complete picture of what’s happening on and off the job, reflect regularly on what you want personally and professionally and take consistent, small actions, you’ll be rewarded with a heightened sense of well-being and order.
Studying how 60 Episcopal priests managed the inevitable conflicts that arose between their work and lives, Professors Glen E. Kriener, Elaine C. Hollensbe and Mathew L. Sheep wrote in the Academy of Management Journal that the most successful ones came up with what were essentially Tweak It methods and “enacted a variety of boundary work tactics.”
How the Work and Life Fit ‘Naturals’ Do It
A little Tweak It background: As the clocks and walls that used to neatly divide our job and our personal life began evaporating over the past few years, I started searching for new ways to advise companies and individuals on how they could better manage all of their daily responsibilities.
I found that about 10 to 15 percent of the people I encountered were work/life fit “naturals,” the rare men and women who figured out intuitively how to make all the puzzle pieces of their lives snap together with ease.
Their secret to success was that they regularly followed simple steps the rest of us don’t know or choose to ignore. Here’s one: “Whenever I have a client lunch, I leave my phone in my office so I can concentrate on being fully present with the person I’m meeting with.”
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The 3 Steps to ‘Tweak It’
Here's how to create your own weekly Tweak It regimen:
Step 1: Getting started Lay the foundation by bringing your work and personal calendars and your priority lists into one combined system, what I call a Tweak It snapshot. Then, pick a simple calendar and priority list system to track and monitor the activities and priorities that make up this snapshot.
Next, define what success would mean — how changing your ways would look — so you can track your progress.
Then choose a few “standard tweaks,” the small actions that you want to take every week to match your priorities. For example I try to move my body, write in my journal and meditate four times a week. I also plan my family’s meals for the week ahead every Sunday. These are my standard weekly tweaks.
Step 2: Pick your unique “Tweaks of the Week” Each week, for about 30 minutes, look at your Tweak It snapshot. When you see a gap between what you want to be doing and what’s scheduled at work and home, choose specific small actions or “unique tweaks” to accomplish over the next seven days. Then put these tweaks into your calendar and priority list.
The areas you choose to focus on each week will change depending on the parts of your career or personal life that need attention at the time.
For example, in Tweak It, I wrote about Denise, who picked unique tweaks that helped her find ways to manage the care of her father, whose Alzheimer’s disease had just been diagnosed, while continuing to work, see her partner and research a second-act career.
She set clear boundaries for her office hours as a community college administrator then tweaked her schedule to make time for her dad, her partner and to plot her future.
To help you come up with “tweaks of the week,” my website has advice from more than 50 experts offering ideas to set you on the path toward work and life success.
Step 3: Review and revise Periodically, stop and reflect on your weekly Tweak It program and your Tweak It snapshot from the previous week. Do you need to redefine the actions that would make it more successful? Is it time to update your standard tweaks? What areas of your life need more focus and new unique tweaks?
Take Small, Not Big, Steps
The popular advice about managing work and life often encourages radical solutions, like working four hours a week or quitting your job to strike out on your own. But those types of changes aren’t realistic for most of us.
To fly your work/life flag, try taking small, manageable steps. Just Tweak It.