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.

 

Dreams 2.0

 

“Find what you were made for.”

This is the slogan for To Write Love on Her Arms National Suicide Prevention Week 2017 campaign. For myself, this week provides additional meaning as it coincides with the birthday of my close friend who took his life in 2014, a sacrifice that has forever inspired me to find my happiness.


Two years ago I packed my life into my Altima and drove cross-country from Connecticut in pursuit of a California dream. When I arrived at the University of California, Riverside, everything and I mean everything was different. For starters, Connecticut has four very colorful seasons, cold winters and humid summers. Riverside is in the desert -it’s quite hot- and only varies between different shades of brown. Another striking difference- the demographics of Southern California compared to Connecticut. To illustrate, UC Riverside is known for its commitment to underrepresented, first-generation students, leading to a student body that is among the most diverse in the country. In my position on campus as an admissions counselor, many of my colleagues and students I worked with also identified as underrepresented, first-generation students. Through our interactions I became more familiar with their challenges, challenges much different from those at the University of Connecticut.

  • The transfer student who spent five years at community college paying class-by-class for the chance at a four year degree.
  • The commuter student battling the worst traffic in the country twice a day because living at home is the only way college would be realistic.
  • The daughter whose father took night classes while she was little to better help with her homework so she may graduate. A story you may already be familiar with.

“Happiness can only be found by identifying and striving to achieve meaningful purpose for one’s existence.”

-Jerry Hirsch (Lodestar Foundation), Barron’s list of high-impact givers.

Most impressive was that regardless of the individual circumstance or obstacle, these students were very happy. In most cases, I probably had more- money, experience, possessions- but they seemed to have the one thing I wanted, consistent happiness. As the months passed it became clear to me that the “what” – or adversity/obstacle – did not matter. The common theme I found with UCR students was the “why”- or purpose – and that made all the difference. Over the years I have worked with and observed all types of students from all types of backgrounds with all types of purposes. Though they are fighting an uphill battle, the students completing a degree with the motivation of creating a better life for their family are rich in purpose, and therefore, rich in happiness (generally speaking).

The unwavering commitment to education despite an uphill climb against the system invoked overwhelming feelings of guilt for a lack of effort into my own education, specifically the sacrifices I took for granted. Aside from education, at the crux of the issue was a recognition of a lack of accountability when I was at home- quick to place blame (usually on my family) instead of taking responsibility for my actions. This was certainly not part of the California dream I had envisioned, but the unexpected result from these realizations was that I stopped taking my life for granted. I stopped expecting a certain life to just happen to me and instead actively started creating the life I wanted for myself through a commitment to maintaining positive habits and accepting daily, incremental change as part of a long term goal. That goal? Treat others the way I would like to be treated. When I was finally honest with myself and identified my faults, change then became a commitment to correcting those faults hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Once I took the first step, my guilt transformed to motivation and happiness began to replace emptiness.

Nate

RIP Nate

Recently I was able to attract a nice girl into my life as a direct result of my commitment to change. She has introduced a simplicity that I seem to have lost touch with through years of solo journeying- a simplicity that revolves around family, a simplicity that I would like to return to. I have not been the best son, the best brother or the best friend, but I would like to change that and I finally know where to start.

“Find what you were made for.”

My purpose when I moved to California was strictly adventure. This purpose had little meaning as my worldview at that point was formed exclusively from experiences growing up on the East Coast- valuable experiences but only one side of the story. However, after two years on the other side, my interactions and experiences in California merged with those from Connecticut and blended into an updated worldview that is more reflective of who I am and what I am looking for, a worldview I will continue to refine.

After a summer of deliberation, I decided to resign from UCR and return home to spend September with my family. I want a re-engagement in what matters most- relationships with family and friends- and I will work at it hour-by-hour, day-by-day until I am satisfied. Thus far I have been able to see my dad’s side of the family at a reunion on the Cape, bring flowers to my grandparents grave and make dinner for my parents. Simplicity. Life is too short to waste time and there is no better time to begin.

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Looking forward, I have long understood an underlying purpose of mine is to make others’ lives easier- whether it be through large scale innovation or individual interactions, that story is yet to unfold. What I do know is when I am able to live out that purpose in some way, shape or form, that is when I am most happy. I have a rejuvenated appreciation for the sacrifice and work ethic it will take to reach my goals. I am ready to put in the work and I know how to get the job done. The process translates. Effort, concentration and persistence combined with purpose will lead to success. I am committed to the process, no matter how long it may take.

I don’t know where this journey will end up, but I do know it was meant to start at home.

In the meantime, if anyone has any leads, suggestions or recommendations, either short or long-term, I would be more than happy to hear them. I am planning a return to Southern California in October to pursue experiences in the Los Angeles area that will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.

Matthew.Ouimette@gmail.com

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

If the key to happiness is living a meaningful purpose, I will continue to re-purpose until I find what I am made for. For those out there who feel stuck in any aspect of life, I believe in you to always find the courage to do the same.

 

 

Why New Year’s resolutions are more important than you think

I have been keeping a journal since my dad gave me one for Christmas in 2009. I write down pretty much everything- places I go, people I meet, random thoughts, jokes and even New Year’s resolutions. Growing up, I never took resolutions seriously. Most years I would simply jot down a few hurried thoughts minutes before the clock struck midnight like I’m sure many out there can relate to. Let’s face it, there’s just not enough time in our busy schedules- especially around the holidays- to write thoughtful New Year’s resolutions.

A few years ago when I was desperate for a change, I tried something different. I made time. I began a tradition of finding a quiet place on New Year’s Eve to write my resolutions. I wanted these resolutions to be different, I wanted these resolutions to accurately portray my ambitions for the close of the following year. So, before I even lift a pen I sit and read through everything I have experienced since I was a sophomore in college. I find it helpful to refresh myself on where I have been before deciding where I want to go next.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I noted this quote on five separate occasions over the last six years. Coincidentally, I have been thinking a lot lately about this quote and how it pertains to not only my life but life in general. Recently I have come to conclude that there may not be a destination after all- that maybe the joy of life is found in the continuous journey with no end required. I know personally that much of my joy in life comes from adventure. The people I meet, places I visit and lessons I learn from travel have taught me much more about myself than any textbook ever could. I am a big believer in the necessity of the process. However, as I reviewed prior years resolutions, I couldn’t help but notice the top recurring item was a destination.

  1. Move to California
  2. Go to the gym daily
  3. Write More

This recognition forced me to ponder the relationship between journey and destination. I have reached my destination, I am in California- I live here. But, as I began to write my 2016 resolutions I realized there were many more destinations I wanted to reach. I have been on the journey for so long- 39 months to be exact– I seem to have forgotten the importance of the destination. If life is a journey and not a destination, what purpose does the destination serve? I have reached the destination through a testing journey so what can explain my desire for more? I took a look back at my own journey to find the answers.

Two additional resolutions I emphasized over the years were going to the gym daily and writing every night- two of my stress relievers. In order to live the life I was striving for, I needed to incorporate these activities into my daily routine without sacrificing my drive to reach California. It was a pretty easy start, everything I had done up to that point hadn’t worked so I already accepted change was necessary. Unbeknownst to me, my biggest hindrance was learning to manage time effectively. In other words, how can I balance my goals into a full-time work schedule and typically active weekends. We are always battling time and I’ll be the first to admit, there is never enough of it, but as I learned, there are ways to maximize it.

My moment of clarity occurred when I committed to shifting my priorities. This included making sacrifices in areas I previously never thought possible- sleep and the weekend. As painful as it was to leave the house at 5:30 AM into negative temperatures, I went to the gym before work. A week later I found that I was much more focused and less stressed in the office knowing one goal was already completed. In turn, this allowed for a much more productive work day. Returning home from work, I found I had more energy to write and work on job applications. Another unanticipated result of my early mornings was I went to bed earlier. This eliminated those countless late night hours spent perusing social media. I also cut out many of my weekend antics which granted two more days of the week previously spent viciously hungover and melted into the couch. Once this new lifestyle became habitual and I started seeing results, I couldn’t stop. I had finally learned how to maximize my time.

Months later, when positions weren’t opening, I became proactive for the first time in my life. I arranged informational interviews at 8 schools spanning California. I knew I was ready. I knew it was time. Almost immediately, like a reward for my efforts, I received a call for an interview with my current employer. It just so happened to be during the 3 days I was in LA, during the random week I chose to visit and the rest is history. My journey was not a physical trip to some foreign land where everything finally made sense, but an internal journey. A journey to change my lifestyle, my habits and the status quo.

As I look back on my process and the changes made I realize they were all to reach a clear destination: California. Then, it hit me. Setting a clear destination is imperative to the progress of the journey. If you don’t know where you want to be, how will you know what changes you need to make? Though admittedly frustrating at times, my journey was defined by the goal of getting a job in California. Once I understood this as my purpose, everything else fell into place. Although I may not stay in California my whole life, I not only made it, I gained the knowledge to make it even further.

California

Now that I have reached my destination, how can I explain my desire for more?

The relationship between journey and destination is not mutually exclusive, but progressive. One is not more important than the other, they are both equally essential for personal growth. You don’t reach the destination and stop, rather, the skills learned on your initial journey enable you to reach even further destinations. Through my journey I learned how to manage my time, make sacrifices and most importantly, commit to a long term plan and execute. California is not my end destination but instead a stop along the way to a whole new realm of destinations I never thought possible. In that sense, as I sit on my couch on New Year’s Day, I am content in knowing I am not melted but continuing to live my changes.

At this time last year I was as firmly rooted in Connecticut as I’ve ever been. Today I sit 3,000 miles away from all I know, as free as I ever will be.

Next year, when you are inevitably rushing around on New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to take a few moments out of your day and write thoughtful resolutions. As long as you are headed where you want to be, you will never fail on your journey.

Cheers to 2016 and cheers to the journey, may it never end.