strategic consultant to:  

~ serial CEOs & CTOs in software, Internet, technology & digital media
~ experienced consultants in all fields to maximize their practices

Keeping your life in balance is more important during a downturn than during your busiest working years. So many pressures are working against you when you have no work or less work: pressures about identity, meaningfulness, finances, security and your future. If you let the work or the search for work consume you, along with the emotions and dread, you will forget the joys of life you have created that are supported by the work itself.

Balance looks different for everyone. Some folks want intensive work on a fixed schedule, followed by no interference from their work-life at all. Others want their mornings at the gym or at yoga, and no start-time or time-clock to punch, and then will work late into the evening. Still others like a life where they can adjust their days to their work demand, and don’t mind a mix of client- or job-interruption each day, even on the weekends.

One colleague, having left a directorship of a not for profit, was offered consulting work within the same organization. I asked her how it was to work for the organization in which she had built several of their business units and been the boss. “I like it,” she said. “When the workday is over at 5:00 p.m., it’s over and I don’t think about it until the next morning. I get to do other things with my mind and my time. I’ve never had that before.”

A consultant said to me, about recessions, “Finding work is much more work than doing work.” And he was good at finding work. “Having the client and delivering your services is much more rewarding as well – you get that feedback that you are offering value. Full time marketing and pitching and negotiating, even when you are good at it – it never lets up. You can’t settle down and get something done.”

So, what does balance look like and how do you get it?

  1. Figure out what pattern of work and non-work time is best for you to feel whole.
  2. Get control of your schedule and your time, if you can. It is more important to feel you have some control over your time than to get more of it.
  3. Make trades, if possible, with your organization or your clients, to get the work covered and your schedule to suit you. You can’t get what you don’t ask for.
  4. Get rational about your promises to deliver goods or services. Add some buffer into your projects for the unexpected. The supply chain may falter, or you may have an off-day creating that project or delivering that service. Make some space for yourself and the real world in your commitments.
  5. Set boundaries on your personal time. These boundaries are to protect your pro-active, positive time with your self and your loved ones.
  6. List all your favorite things that bring you happiness – especially the simple ones. The ball game with your buds. Competitive physical challenges. Learning new ideas. Poker. Long talks with a close friend. Horror movies. And set up your life to do at least one of these each day.
  7. Do not justify your personal time, or explain it to your colleagues or your clients. They don’t need to judge what you need the time for – a sick parent, a child’s dance recital, or your bubble bath.
  8. Unplug your devices – phone, email, PDA. You don’t have to be “always on.” You can be “off.” What a concept. The work, the gossip, the news – it is there 24/7. Let it be always on, and you tune in when you are finished reading that new mystery.
  9. Don’t turn on your computer. Yes, I know, your friends are there, your social networks are humming, your Lists are there… but you know what happens, right? You turn it on to check the weather or look up a phone number or a TV listing, and 3 hours later you are still there – answering one more email, updating one more file, fixing one more glitch. And your day is gone into that machine that is your work life, and your body only knows it has spent 3 hours in the machine (like it does every day at work), and not outside in the sunshine, or curled up in your chair watching your favorite movie, or walking on the beach with your true love.
  10. Get physical – whether you love it or not. Some folks wait all week for the time when they can run or bike for miles on the beach, or get sweaty at dance class or the gym. Others want a big chair and a good book. No matter – you must keep physically active for your sense of balance. If you are a book person, go out anyway. Take a book on tape on your MP3 player if you like, but get moving. Find an activity you can love (tennis? dance? beach walking? weight lifting?) Doesn’t matter, just do it every day. Yes, every day – do something. Your brain as well as your body will thank you for it.
  11. Slow down. Take little breaks from the work and the worry to remember the larger picture of life. Remember when you fell in love with your partner, or when you child was born. Remember places and times when life was spontaneous and easy and pleasures were on hand. These are not gone, just because we are pressured by an economic downturn, the search for work, the worry about finances. The joys are there too, if you remember to find them, protect them, and give in to them.

To change your mind from dread to joy is the easiest and the most difficult thing of all. But all it takes is to change it from the dark side to the bright side. Try it.