Life Hack: Tips for a Better Work-Life Balance

Work_Life

 

I have good days and I have bad days. The questions for me were simple. How can I make every day, a good day? What decides the difference?

Why do we end some days feeling balanced and accomplished while other days conclude with stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction (imbalance)? How can we end every day with a balanced sense of accomplishment? It is my belief that at the root of these questions lies the increasingly popular- yet ever elusive- concept of “work-life balance”.

When I look at each component of work-life balance, it is much easier to feel a sense of accomplishment in the “work” component as this is defined and prioritized by the employer through job responsibilities, tasks and performance goals. The “life” component is where things get tricky as this unique sense of accomplishment is defined on an individual basis and must be prioritized by the individual. Through my experience, I believe that the “life” component of work-life balance creates the imbalance and subsequent feelings of stress, anxiety and dissatisfaction. This component cannot be defined or provided by an employer but must be identified and pursued on an individual basis. This blog will focus on tips to define and prioritize the “life” component of work-life balance based on my personal experience.

When I prioritize the “work” component of the work-life balance, this imbalance diminishes my sense of “life” or personal accomplishment which negatively impacts my work. Through trial and error I have recognized there are certain personal tasks/activities I must complete each day to strike the appropriate balance and end each day with a sense of accomplishment. I discovered this balance through defining what the  “life” component meant to me and prioritizing “life” in my schedule. By prioritizing “life”, I have found my work productivity to be more sustainable in the long run while creating/maintaining a sense of personal accomplishment. When I strike the appropriate balance I can perform more consistently in work and life. 

I have identified two steps that served as a framework for me in my quest to achieve an appropriate work-life balance which I believe anyone can apply.

1). Define “Life”: What are the activities/tasks I need to complete daily to achieve a personal sense of accomplishment.

2). Prioritize “Life”: Where do I fit each activity/task in my daily schedule. 

First, each individual must define the minimum tasks/activities to complete each day to feel a personal sense of accomplishment. This is where the trial and error comes into play. To identify the minimum tasks/activities you must experiment with different combinations and gauge your sense of accomplishment. In other words, define the minimum requirements. Personally, I have identified these tasks/activities through the lens of the personal goals most important to me. For example, in 2019 I want to live a healthier lifestyle and learn more about financial planning. Based on these goals, I have identified three daily tasks/activities that will best help me to reach these goals- go to the gym, complete meal prep and read a financial planning book for 30 minutes. When I complete these three tasks, I end each day with a sense of accomplishment. What are the personal goals most important to you? Next, identify tasks you can complete each day that will help you to reach these goals. If completing these tasks creates a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, you have defined what the “life” component of work-life balance means for you.

Second, now that you have defined the tasks/activities that bring you a sense of accomplishment, you will need to find time in your daily schedule to complete each task. Personally, I have found the best time to complete these tasks is in the morning before work begins. When I complete my three tasks in the morning, I start my day with a sense of accomplishment. Then, any extra physical activity or reading I am able to complete throughout the day feels like “extra” progress towards my goals and only increases my sense of accomplishment. Also, if my workday runs late, I am at ease knowing I have already satisfied my “life” component and struck a balance. We cannot always control how late we will stay at work. However, we can control how early we get up. Perhaps, in some cases, finding the appropriate work-life balance requires sacrificing sleep. Though this can be a touchy subject, from my experience, the sense of accomplishment and balance leads to more productive and sustainable work than an extra two hours of sleep ever could! Our employer schedules the time we must spend prioritizing the “work” component but it is our responsibility to schedule and therefore prioritize “life”.

To create/sustain an appropriate work-life balance, each individual must define and prioritize the “life” component. If you feel guilty, just remember- there will always be more work. Instead, by prioritizing “life”, we are able to produce better work for a more sustainable period of time. Though I will not claim to have struck the perfect work-life balance I will say that I have increased the number of days I feel accomplished both personally and professionally which has led to a more balanced existence.

Work-life balance is not a perk to be provided by an employer, rather, it is the responsibility of the individual to define and prioritize “life”. If we sit back and wait for a work-life balance to be provided to us, we will be met with stress, anxiety, dissatisfaction and ultimately, imbalance. But, if we take accountability for our work-life balance by prioritizing “life”, we can end each day with a sense of accomplishment that will lead to a more sustainable, productive and balanced existence.

 


 

A special thank you to my friend and colleague Bill Moody who reiterated the importance of gathering the minimum data elements for the requirement before preparing a solution. This logic has many applications and is much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

Hacking Success

Think of someone you look up to as a model of success. What if I told you that level of success is not as far off as it may appear…

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Butler v UConn

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I have carefully observed many successful people over the years from professional athletes to Hall of Fame coaches to surgeons, educators and business men/women at the top of their respective fields. During these observations I pride myself on remaining as unbiased as possible. To clarify, I am not trying to confirm that what I think is right. Rather, I want to know what successful people around me have already decided to be right (the answers are out there, you just have to pay attention). Through these observations, I have found there are two things needed to be successful:

1). Know the best decisions to make.

2). Make them every day.

Success is not as elusive as it can sometimes appear. Billionaire Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, references this:

“Behavior modification typically takes about 18 months of constant reinforcement.”

Define what success looks like to you. Identify the behaviors you need to change to be successful. Practice those behaviors every day for 18 months. If you are impatient or anxious and 18 months is too long of a commitment, focus on winning each day. Win each day until a day becomes a week. Win each week until a week becomes a month. Win each month until a month becomes a year. At some point, you will begin to notice improvement. This improvement will energize you and re-motivate you to continue making progress. All of a sudden, 18 months will pass and you will have reached the next level.

The more you practice a behavior (reinforce), the easier it becomes until it is a habit. By identifying and practicing behaviors that will make you successful, success (as you defined it) will become a habit. This is the ultimate goal. Success is now as routine as making coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth.

If you are 25 you can establish successful habits by 27. If you are 45 you can establish successful habits by 47. If you are 65 you can establish successful habits by 67- the process is irrespective of age, gender and all other identities. After the first 18 months, re-evaluate the decisions you need to make to reach a higher level. Make them. Repeat the process until you are where you want to be.

If you don’t know where to start, here is an example for success at work. Practice the behavior of completing every assignment to the point where it could never be returned to you for revision. If you are entry or mid-level- submitting documents to managers- treat every assignment as an opportunity to make an impression on the person who evaluates your performance and ultimately decides your fate. Yes, it will take more time/attention and yes, you may have to stay later initially, but with each document you submit you are reinforcing the behavior until it becomes a habit.

Anyone, no matter where they fall on the totem pole can ask the right questions, obtain necessary information and put in 100% effort. You don’t start magically completing better work once you are promoted. You reinforce the behavior of completing better work to establish a successful habit which over time can result in success (promotion).

Everyone looks up to someone as a model of success. There is only one thing that separates you from the people you look up to…

They started.

 

How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in your Job Search

Land your Dream Job from your Smart Phone

Let’s face it, whether you are fresh out of college or a young professional, the job search is not something we look forward to. After recently switching industries, I wanted to develop an efficient, measurable process to guide my job search. The following strategy was compiled through feedback I gathered from career planning experts. This strategy can be used for those seeking an entry-level position as well as anyone looking to change jobs or industries. I hope this information can serve as a roadmap to help you reach the next step in your career- whatever that may be- while developing strong networking habits and learning to advocate for yourself in a professional manner.

Employee referrals have become the most valuable tool in hiring. An employee referral is an internal recruitment method where organizations identify potential candidates through existing employees’ social networks. HR professionals rate employee referrals as the No. 1 source for quality hires. It makes sense, with so many similarly qualified applicants competing for the same position, submitting your application through an already established current employee (as opposed to a traditional online application) gives you immediate credibility that provides a competitive advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. Therefore, the goal of this post is to help you win an employee referral at the company you desire. Below is an outline of the steps.

  1. Prepare by identifying a best-fit company, conducting research and practicing your story.
  2. Network in your industry of choice and maintain a list of connections.
  3. Leverage your connections into an informational interview.
  4. Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

First, before you begin, it is important to get yourself in the right state of mind. The job search can be a daunting and discouraging process. It can be helpful to change your mindset and dig into whatever motivates and inspires you. I am a competitive person who is motivated by competition, so I have reframed my mindset accordingly. I approach every step in the process with the effort necessary to be more prepared than the rest of the applicant pool with the final goal to “win” the referral. This works for me and I would encourage you to discover what motivates you and employ whatever strategies tap into that motivation.

 1). Prepare

This is the most important stage as it sets the tone for the rest of the process. Prepare your story of why the company/industry is a good fit at this point in your career and practice speaking that story out loud. Similar to how you are looking for a best-fit company based on what you value, companies are looking for a best-fit candidate based on what they value. The more research you conduct and more thought you put into your search, the more clearly you can communicate why this particular company is the most appropriate next step for you in your career. This reflects well as your search strategy will come off as targeted instead of random.

Always keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Make sure it accurately reflects your achievements, awards and work experience as it relates to the position you are looking to obtain. Write a summary that allows others to gain a sense of where you have been, what you have done and how that relates to what you are looking for at a quick glance. You should treat your LinkedIn with as much precision and planning as you treat your Instagram or Snapchat.

Tip: Practice your answer to the interview question “tell me about yourself”. This answer should be a concise summary of your experiences/achievements as they relate to the position/industry you are seeking. The answer to this question is “your story” and you should be able to give this answer at a moment’s notice. An inability to answer this question raises immediate red flags as it shows a lack of thought/research. You can consider this answer your personal elevator pitch.

 2). Network

Network, network, network. Attend job fairs, join a professional organization, utilize your college career center- talk to any and everyone who may have connections to the industry/company you are interested in including family, friends, mentors, college alums and professors. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner as with practice, it becomes habit. Exchange contact information with people of interest that you meet. Connect on LinkedIn with those you have networked with directly after meeting them. Include a note such as “It was great to meet you at x            event, I look forward to staying in touch in the future.

To stay organized, make an Excel list of everyone you know who works in the industry or has connections to the company where you seek employment. Search the company you are interested in on LinkedIn. Browse through current employees and compile a list of 1st degree (friends) and 2nd degree connections (friends of friends) you have at that company. Add these names to the top of your list.

 3). Leverage your connections into an informational interview.

Informational interviews are conversations designed for a prospective employee (applicant) to learn more about the company/position from a current employee. Browse over your list and identify the most relevant connections you have to the company/position of interest. For example, if you are interested in marketing at Amazon, your marketing contact would be a more relevant connection than an engineer. You should explore the more relevant contact first.

Next, you will need to reach out via email (if available) or LinkedIn -whichever is more appropriate- depending on your relationship with the connection to ask for an informational interview. If the individual is local, it is appropriate to ask for an in-person informational interview where you would treat them to coffee or lunch. More commonly, a 20-30 minute phone conversation is also appropriate. Remember, though the goal is to win a referral, use the informational interview to determine if this the right company/position for you. After speaking with a current employee you may realize you do not jive with company culture!

It is not professional to directly ask for a referral, rather, you must “win” the referral through your research and thoughtful responses. The informational interview must be treated as advertised so the individual you are speaking with does not feel misled. Here are broad examples of how to ask for the informational interview with both direct connections and friends of friends.

Direct: “I am interested in working in marketing. Through my research I have identified your company as somewhere I could see myself working. Do you have any time in the coming week for a brief phone call where I can learn more about what it is like to work at your company?”

More frequently, you will be connected to your company of interest through 2nd degree connections (friends of friends). In this situation, though you are not directly connected to an employee at the company, you have a friend who is. In this case, depending on your relationship with that friend, it would be appropriate to reach out for an introduction to the employee at the company of interest.

“I noticed you are connected on LinkedIn to John Doe at Amazon. I have identified Amazon as a company I would like to work for and I am interested in learning more about John’s experiences. I was wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to John so that I could have a brief phone call to learn more about what it is like to work at Amazon.”

 4). Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

Although the purpose of the informational interview is to learn more about the company, the true value is to build a professional contact. The conversation should end in one of two ways, either a referral or an introduction for a conversation with another employee. Depending on the quality/flow of the conversation, it is up to you to determine which ask is most appropriate.

During the informational interview, ask broad questions to encourage dialogue that flows as a conversation. Some examples of good questions to get the conversation started are, “can you speak to your experience at the company”, “what do you like most about working at the company” and “what is the day-to-day work like in your position?” Make sure your questions reflect the research you have conducted. If asked, you will want to concisely state your story for context, however, it is important to listen as much as possible out of respect for the time this individual has given. If they do ask you to expand on your story, use the opportunity to impress them by preparing and practicing thoughtful answers beforehand.

At the end of the interview will be the ask. If a referral seems likely, approach the topic in this way, “after hearing your experiences, I am very interested in your company- do you have any advice on how to apply?” Hopefully, if the conversation went well, that individual will offer to refer you to a position. Another way to approach the referral would be, “do you think I would be a good fit for this position? If so, would you be willing to refer me to this position?” Most importantly, you want to maintain this individual as a professional connection. If you do not feel it is appropriate to ask for a referral, continue to build out your network by asking, “is there anyone else you think would be beneficial for me to speak with?” If they were impressed by your preparation during the conversation, they should be willing to connect you to another employee, giving you another chance to win the referral. Ultimately, it is up to you to gauge the quality of the conversation and insert a natural ask accordingly.


As uncomfortable as this process may seem, it is essential for your career to learn to advocate for yourself relentlessly. No one else will, it is your responsibility to take control. We are fortunate to live in a digital age where networking tools such as LinkedIn are right at our fingertips. This allows anyone who is willing to put in the work to gain a competitive advantage with only a smartphone. There are plenty of qualified applicants in the job market, however, few are willing to commit to the process to gain a competitive advantage. As always, those who are willing to put in the work will reap the rewards.

If you have specific questions about this strategy as it relates to your unique search, please feel free to contact me using the information below. I would be happy to help however I can.

 Email: matthew.ouimette@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewouimette/

Instagram: @mattwemet

 

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