This year’s National Conference on Media Reform happened last weekend in Boston, MA. So I awoke Sunday morning in Melbourne just in time to follow the twitter stream of many of the keynote speakers. I was excited to hear about preservation of freedom of speech and free press; ensuring innovation and modernization to protect quality, fact based journalism; and the way technology is changing access to information. Some of the points about the changing role of a journalist made me really think about this change in a wider context, and how it applies to my life.
Here are a couple of the tweets that triggered my thoughts:
I’ve recently made a significant change in lifestyle in order to do two things:
1. fulfill a personal ambition to start a company and
2. spend more time with my three young children and be a bigger part of their daily life.
I’ve read countless posts about the commitment an entrepreneur makes to getting their business going. Late nights, early mornings, living and breathing the business. I know what people say about passion driving you and the business not feeling like work. I know all of that is true, because I am already feeling it deeply. But, I also realise that many people would dismiss my two goals as mutually exclusive. So I’m going to share why I think they are not, and why these three tweets I saw this weekend reinforced that for me.
First, I agree with @esills (quoting @jackiehai) – I don’t think I’ve ever had a 9-5 job. I certainly don’t have one right now. But I also don’t believe that the future is about the 9-5 job – for journalists nor for anyone in the media industry. I am assuming that is what @micahuetricht was suggesting when asking the question. Everywhere that people are awake, news is being made and entertainment is happening. All of us in the media business know that key events can happen at any time of day or night.
In his tweet, @taylordobbs articulates the change which points to my answer. The structures, traditions and ways of doing things that I was brought up with (I’m a Gen X-er) are simply not within the expectations of the generations who follow. Today’s young adults have had technology in their lives as part of their status quo. They trade off time online with time in front of the television and in most cases simply do both together.
Some things are still the same across generations. We continue as individuals to fulfill multiple roles in life: student, professional, parent, partner, child, sibling, friend, volunteer. We are still physiologically wired to require downtime, sleep, nutrition, and exercise in addition to mental stimulation. And we require the same emotional connections and support to make life complete.
What has all this taught me about achieving a work-life balance?
The challenge might not actually be strictly about balancing work and the rest of life. The challenge is actually about doing all the things that you want to do. Young people make different trade-offs because they are completely open to different ways of doing things. In many cases they are experiencing each part of life for the first time so they go with what makes sense to them rather than what someone has said is ‘supposed’ to happen. When I re-frame the problem, I find the youthful creativity to find a solution. Up until very recently, I had professional goals which required me to follow the traditional paradigm of working from morning until evening and fitting all the other elements of my life around this schedule. This really was a result of a priority I, myself, placed on those professional goals.
In my current situation, I take primary responsibility for the care of my children. I have started this blog. I am building a business. I have some responsibilities to my family overseas, to a charity for which I’m a Trustee, and to myself. None of these things would I want to give up. What I have learned, though, is that I can intertwine these obligations in a way that maximises my effective use of time. I now have a very flexible day that makes equivalent demands on the multitasking part of my brain as my corporate leadership role did. I get vastly more done than I ever did in the rigidity of a corporate environment, but also spend nearly 5 hours a day with my three kids.
- I consume my media on the go. My smartphone is my constant companion so I rarely have email hanging over my head and I’m generally up to date with major news that I care about.
- When I sit down to ‘work’ I get enough done to enable me to think through the next step while doing other things. As I’m making snack, dinner, prepping the school bags, I’m thinking about what I have to do next and more importantly, turning over those big questions of strategy and how to attack the market which don’t happen confined to a desk chair in front of a computer monitor anyway.
- I accept that my balance is going to mean work at odd times, but that also means the discipline to put it away and focus with my full attention on other things regularly. It means never skipping the workouts that provide time for rejuvenation and the reading or television which provide moments of complete relaxation.
I’ve found my mojo in a way I would not have believed possible. I learned a lot of this from the complete commitment to doing it all – fun, study, work – that I see in my many Gen Y cousins. I also remembered a lot from my Uni days where I believed everything could easily get done if there was a will. I could survive on less sleep then and benefitted from having fewer people depending on me. But those tactics that I used then out of necessity and instinct are coming in handy.
As I’ve changed my goals, I’ve learned something about productivity that should apply even to people working the 9-5 paradigm.
Because I have very specific targets for myself to keep me on track as a sole proprietor (who is very eager to get to the point of having partners and employees), I am crystal clear on my metrics for success. Any successful business, large or small, also has very clear measures of success. It must be possible to do away with all of the rules in a corporate handbook and simply ask staff to achieve the outcomes with which they are tasked. As the head of a large department, I was required to provide plenty of on the ground leadership which can’t be effectively accomplished remotely. However, I certainly could have accomplished more in my past several roles by being given the flexibility to focus on staff meeting success criteria rather than meeting the many guidelines handed down in corporate rule books. All organizations will need to become more target focused so that they can give thier employees clear objectives, but leave them with the freedom to achieve in the most effective way possible.
Let’s place our hope with the visionary leaders out there who are willing to push the boundaries a bit to help their people realize their optimal productivity. It didn’t come from dressing them in a suit in the 80s. It didn’t come from chaining them to a desk in the 00s.
What are your techniques for achieving balance for yourself or your team in this fast paced globalised world?