5 Insanely Simple Work-Life Balance Shortcuts From People Who "Have It All"

As the clocks and walls that used to divide work from the other parts of life began to disappear, I started to search for new, modern ways to make what matters happen both on and off the job.

For almost two decades, I’ve worked in the trenches with hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of individuals. I’ve helped make workplaces more flexible and given people the tools and skills to manage the fit between their work, career, and personal lives. And, in the process, I’ve discovered a group I call the work+life fit “naturals.”

The “naturals” are the people whom you would describe as “having it all.” I estimate they represent about 10-15% of the people I encounter. They seem to fit work and other parts of their lives together with ease while the rest of us struggle.

There are two ways I spot a work+life fit natural.

Whenever I engage with a new company, I ask to be introduced to “two or three people who seem to manage everything they need to get done without breaking a sweat.” The client will say something like, “Oh, you should meet John. He has three kids. His wife works. He’s a triathlete and runs a not-for-profit on the side. Honestly, I don’t think he’s human.” Then I meet John. Usually, he’s less super-human than his colleagues perceive him to be from the outside, but he does consistently make what matters happen as often as possible.

I also pay attention to the people who come up to me after a speech or workshop. Naturals approach cautiously and ask, “I’m sorry, please don’t be offended, but I am confused by why this is so hard for people. Isn’t it pretty straightforward?” To them, it’s as if I’d given detailed instructions on how to get out of bed and brush their teeth in the morning. After I probe further, it’s clear that they’ve intuitively figured out how get their jobs done, and still have a life, while their colleagues in similar positions flounder.

What are the secrets of these work+life fit naturals? How do they “have it all?” What I discovered is that most of them follow these insanely simple steps:

The naturals realize it’s their responsibility to make what matters to them happen, day-to-day, in the face of competing demands. They know that no one is going to tell them when to finish a work project, get to the gym, learn new job skills, get their car serviced, or take their son to the movies.

They don’t run separate work and personal calendars or priority lists. They keep everything in one place; therefore, they make day-to-day decisions based on a complete picture of their commitments on and off the job. If they receive a meeting request at work, the natural will think twice before saying “yes.” Is it urgent? What else do I have planned? If there’s a conflict, can I suggest another time, or do I have to miss lunch with my friend? Sometimes the answer will be to agree to the meeting and miss the lunch. Other times, an alternate time and day will work for everyone. The point is that their decisions are intentional.

The naturals consistently and frequently check in and reflect. What’s happening at work and in the other parts of my life? What do I want more of? What do I want less of? What do I want to continue? They realize that the actions that keep them healthy, their career network and job skills up to date, their personal relationships strong, and their personal finances in shape won’t happen by default and are always changing.

When they see a gap between what’s happening on and off the job, and what they want, the naturals take small, manageable steps in the areas of their life they’ve identified as important. For instance, they might add a time slot on their calendar to:

  • Call the insurance agent to make sure their coverage is adequate and current.
  • Schedule a day off with their partner to catch up.
  • Gather their siblings who live in different cities on a Google Hangout to make sure everyone understands their parents’ caregiving wishes.
They don’t expect perfection. Naturals focus on and celebrate what does get done, even if it’s only part of what they had planned. It’s better than nothing and over time creates a solid foundation of well-being and order we all crave.

When I first started to share these insanely simple secrets a few years ago, people would push back and say, “I already do that.” I knew they didn’t but I needed proof to convince them to embrace this practice of small changes with big impact.

I decided to have people who attended one of my events complete a basic, four question pre-session questionnaire. Over the course of a few months, more than 240 answered the questions and this is what I discovered:

75% agreed that “on average, I actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”

40% agreed that “I always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work to-dos and goals in one place.”

26% agreed that “On average, I set time aside daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”

Only 15% said, “When I see a mismatch between what I want in my work+life fit and what’s happening I make adjustments, always.”

In other words, yes, the respondents thought they managed their responsibilities on and off the job deliberately and with intention. But most made their everyday choices using an incomplete picture of what they had to accomplish at work and in their personal lives. Even fewer regularly reflected on what they wanted, and almost no one always took the small steps to close the between what they want and what’s happening on and off the job.

The good news is that we all can become work+life fit naturals. Their secrets are translated into a practical, commonsense weekly practice found in my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, and on the mobile-friendly site tweakitogether.com.

What practical suggestions do you have for finding a better fit for work and the rest of your life? Tell us about it in the comments.

Want to determine if you're you a work+life fit natural? Take this simple, four-question quiz and find out.

--Cali Williams Yost has been pioneering ways to manage work and life in the new economy for nearly two decades. As a consultant, speaker, and CEO and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit--and one of Mashable’s Top 14 Career Experts on Twitter--she shows organizations and individuals how to partner for award-winning flexible work success. She is the author of the recently released Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, (Center Street/Hachette, January 2013). Connect with Cali on her Work+Life Fit blog and onTwitter @caliyost.

[Image: Flickr user Joe Plocki]

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10 Comments

  • Chaton Turner

    I totally agree. You have to be intentional about where you choose to work, If you remember that it is a choice, it is easier to re-evaluate that decision when it is no longer working.  There's no prize for sticking it out and no gold watch either. Work is just a part of life. One needs to remember that, if one wants any hope at achieving a balanced life.

  • Yesgrrrl

    I went to a large open round table last week and learned that most people in our organization are extremely overworked (no re-hires after layoffs or retirements, so everyone is now covering tasks that used to be covered by 2-3+ people). I think these are all GREAT suggestions and I intend to start "self-reviewing" more frequently, even once a week from now on. But I used to feel like I could handle it all, and I just can't anymore. I think many are in the same boat and we need to face facts and stop beating ourselves up -- just admit that things are not the same as before, the working class is taking the brunt of this economic reshuffling, and we can only do what we can do. I for one choose my personal goals over the goals of the organization, in order to maintain my overall sanity.

  • Cyndy Searfoss

    I'd add to this that the people who are most successful with the life/work balance are also the ones who accept the fact that there will be days when it all falls part. It's just that they don't. They solve the problem(s) and move on. 

  • gametes

    Was reading, thinking it over, then this random plug for some unrelated gimmicky iPhone to-do list with half the capabilities and twice the marketing of any of its competitors popped up as "Fast Company's recommendation".  Rest of article soured, as this shows the author is not a critical thinker.

  • Claire Steichen

    Thanks Cali.  I totally agree on breaking it down into small steps.  Just yesterday I met a woman who was asking me about work and life.  She said that her aging parents were in Asia, and she wanted a life where she could go see them on a regular basis.  I said, "It sounds like you want to see your parents."  She answered that she did, and her eyes began to well up.  I said, "Ask for a week's vacation and go see them."

    Sometimes we are so stuck on the idea of getting a sustainable, long-term fit in place, that we don't see that just a little bit can go a really long way.