by Makeness Contributor David Delp
Make no mistake: Balance is necessary for a successful business and a fulfilling life— especially when you play so many roles to stay connected to so many interests, people, and priorities.
We all know what it’s like to be tipped off balance, overwhelmed with too many decisions, run ragged, pushed around by other people’s demands, and unable to get on track. At the mere mention of balance we slip into a trance, gazing into that blank space over there. Our heartbeat slows, tears well up, and someone’s long arms gently wrap around us. We’re sure we can hear the airy choirboys singing.
Balance. B-a-a-a-a-lance! Balance!
Just to be clear, balance is something you will never achieve. Your business is not a stack of rocks. Your life is not one long yoga tree pose. Your needs, priorities, and those whacky organisms called other people are always in flux. Plus, there are meteorites.
So if balance is unattainable, then why the hell try?
Consider this definition of balance:
Balance is your ability to respond to change with fluidity and clarity.
This ideal creates an open road on your search for balance. Without a final destination you can give up the idea that you aren’t there yet. You already know how it feels to be responsive and to make decisions with clarity, at least some of the time, so it’s a matter of learning how to find your way down that road.
With this ideal of balance as our lodestar, the question remains:
When we play so many roles, how do we lean into balance by design?
It’s not easy, but the following process will get you the skills you need. Any of these steps by themselves will help, and all together they make a clear map to more balance. Ready?
Step 1. Know Your Roles.
This is the most important process to understanding what’s important to you and finding balance. When you understand deeply what your different roles are, you can make clearer decisions.
List all the roles you play in life, including work (capitalize them like job titles). For each role answer these questions:
What am I doing when I’m at my best in this role?
Which people most influence my behavior?
In this role what’s one thing I know I want to do before I die?
Our roles can be in conflict sometimes and make decision-making difficult, but when you clarify your roles, you’ll understand both the conflicts and the synergy. Decisions get easier.
I’m a Father and I’m also a Friend. I don’t mix the two. It’s tempting to want to be my daughter’s buddy, but that would get in the way of being a really good father.
It works the same with product development and marketing. Think of these two roles as the Finisher and the Connector, respectively. The product developer focuses on finishing the product. At the end of the week the Finisher has something to show for it. The goals for the Connector on the other hand, are all about making quality connections between people and the products.
While there is overlap between these roles, balance comes more easily when you understand the focus of each role.
Step 2. Stop Doing Too Much!
We know balance means making decisions about what not to do, so get serious about it. Here’s how to start stopping.
For each role you play, make a list of all the stuff you’d love to do, you feel you have to do, and you might want to do. This is your Don’t List. That’s right. Don’t do any of this stuff— yet— maybe ever.
Step 3. Stop Sucking.
Face it, you suck at a lot of stuff, but here’s the good news. Most successful people, most balanced people, suck at more stuff that you suck at. Their secret is they don’t suck at the important stuff.
That Don’t List is probably full of stuff you want to stop sucking at, but really, the only things you need to stop sucking at are the things that truly get in your way all the time. And, here’s the clincher, you just need to be barely good enough.
Are you bouncing checks?
Showing up late for important people?
Eating a box of Oreos every other day?
Buck up and stop sucking at those things and get just barely good enough so that you can stop sweating them.
Step 4. Stop Sweating.
This is key to balance. When we try to be better than not sucking at too many things, we end up feeling like we suck at everything, and that just sucks.
Look at the roles you play. Which are the roles you are willing to stop sweating. Which are the roles you can put into autopilot or hire someone else to do or simply ignore?
Half of being responsive and balanced is about not worrying. Unless you totally suck at something you know you have to do, then stop sweating it.
Step 5. Have an imperfect dream and reach for it.
At this point, please ask, “So Delp, if I’ve stopped doing everything, then what the fuck do I do?”
I’m glad you asked.
Remember in step one you defined your roles and asked for each one, “What do I know I want to do before I die?” That’s what you do.
These are your dreams, and if they don’t exactly ring as perfect dreams, then just pick one that you know will lead somewhere interesting, and get cracking on it. Your goal is to make it real, because if you aren’t doing the stuff you know you want to do, then why be alive?
And here’s the rub: You don’t have to get there, you just need to get very, very good at going there.
Step 6. Take small steps every week.
Not sucking aside, here is how you need to kick ass.
Plan your week. From all those Don’t Lists pick only 4 of 5 things to focus on this week using these criteria:
Doing it gets me involved with my dreams.
Doing it gives me a good shot at having a great week.
Then by all means do them, and don’t sweat the rest.
At the end of the week figure out what worked, plan next week, do it, and reflect again, every week.
It’s that simple. I call it the practice of Designing a Balanced Life.
Life moves and we move with it.
Balance is an ideal we never fully achieve. Responsiveness is a skill we never fully acquire because, as we develop our ability to engage with the ever-changing world, we become deeper humans, more compassionate, more flexible, more focused on what matters most to us. We experience more and more what it means to lose ourselves doing what we care about most.
And isn’t that what we really want?
A Designer by trade, an Artist at heart, and a Playwright by sheer will, David Delp is also a Father, Friend, Lover, Homemaker, Neighborhood Organizer, Gardener, Breadwinner, Musician, Ham, and Hack. He teaches people how to get their shit together and do something that matters through his courses and articles at Pilot Fire. Image © 2012 David Delp