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Have you ever had something that you really wanted to do but you couldn’t imagine how to find the time to do it? Whether it’s taking on a big project or challenge at work, volunteering in the community, or developing an exercise routine, it can look impossible to add a new thing to an already full schedule. We wish we had more hours in the day or more days in the week. We schedule ourselves to the minute and often lose energy just trying to find more time.
What about finding more balance between work and life? Thinking about work / life balance leads me to the place where I can only see the scarcity of time. Putting work on one side of the scale and life on the other lumps too many important things (projects, mentoring, career development, family, community, health) into two time-starved categories. I find that I still don’t have enough time. When I try to put my time into work / life compartments, I miss opportunities to find harmony between the things I do, like applying lessons learned from one arena to another or combining activities like having a “walking” work meeting.
The idea of harmony, however, paints a whole picture that works together, not something that can be lost with one careless step. The Oxford English Dictionary defines harmony as a “Combination or adaptation of parts, elements, or related things, so as to form a consistent and orderly whole; agreement, accord, congruity.”
Years ago when I was leading a team in a large organization, I was intrigued by what motivated individuals and teams to act in certain ways and why my experience ranged from a mountaintop high to a slog through a swamp. I yearned to go back to school to study organizational psychology, but I couldn’t figure out how to balance this with all my other responsibilities. Time passed and through an amazing convergence of events, I decided that I couldn’t NOT go back to school. Once I got past my own obstacle and committed to making a change, I shifted my focus from contemplating my dream to making it happen. The best day was of course finding out I was accepted into the program.
Making room for important things
The subsequent challenge was finding time to work, study, stay fit, and spend time with loved ones. I scrutinized my time to see where I was spending time that didn’t align with my top priorities and stopped doing some things, at least for a period of time. I carefully set expectations about my lack of availability. I found new ways to combine activities. My husband and I would read and exercise together, thus combining time together with other studying and fitness activities. As my school workload increased, and the harmony became more discordant, I adjusted my schedule by finding a rare part—time opportunity which gave me one more precious day for homework. I even tracked my time in a spreadsheet to ensure that I was devoting time to the most important things. Two years of creatively finding ways to continue to eat, sleep, exercise, work, study, and connect with loved ones eventually enabled me to graduate.
When I reflect on that time and ask if my life felt balanced, I would have to say that it wasn’t. When tests came up or papers were due, or something urgent required attention, the scales tilted sharply to allow for the focus I needed to get the job done. Yet I was completely engaged, no time felt wasted, and I gained new insights into organizational behavior that had previously mystified me. Being able to study and work gave me a front row seat into how theories played out in the world of work. The combination was powerful. Being fully engaged in the things that are important to me is a critical indicator of my own sense of harmony.
After that experience, I continue to pay close attention to the harmony of my life to see if I’m spending time on things I really care about, and how the pieces fit together. Here are a few questions to reflect on when it’s time to face the music:
If you had to evaluate your life harmony, what would you learn? What would you change? Life’s music is constantly changing, but you are the conductor holding the baton.