MSL Work-Life: Organizing Tips

I touched a nerve with many of you when I shared my personal story of how I came to care about work-life balance. I appreciate some of the heartfelt (and heartbreaking) stories that I’ve received via email and via comment form on MSL Institute.

I’ll keep this article more practical – and share some of the ways that I have approached work-life balance with you, by addressing one of the comments I have received:

“I am exhausted and frazzled every week.”

If you came to me to work on this – we’d look at this from at least two angles.

First, how much is shear exhaustion? I don’t mean sheer, I mean shear, as in “physical wear and tear”. Travel does this to you – and we’d look at ways to better manage your physical endurance so that your body withstands the physical exhaustion.

Is this a matter of reducing noise-induced exhaustion? Buying a pair of Bose noise reduction headsets was one of THE BEST investments I’ve made. At one point when I was feeling like I was jumping out of my skin from exhaustion (agitated exhaustion?) I had the headsets on in the airport as well as on the airplane.

Is this a matter of increasing your stamina and endurance? Paying close attention to exercising, diet (especially reducing food intake while increasing water intake), and sleep…. these require discipline to manage on the road. I was reading in a magazine that some of the toughest road warriors will cut down on food during the trip and ramp up on drinking water (not alcohol).

Second, how much is organizational? I have a tendency to let entropy take over, and not reduce clutter and stick to an organizing or filing system when I have too much on my plate. Then I start forgetting important tasks, losing my place in a project, or misplacing key files.

If this sounds like what is happening to you, maybe it’s time for an “organizational” make-over, and for you to put in place a “process” or “system” when handling administrative tasks like email.

If you can, do not handle a piece of email more than twice. Do it, delete it, or delegate it.

Finally, how much is mental? Most of us do not realize that our mental energy is just like our physical energy – it is finite, and mental potency can be corroded by competing demands for attention (translation: multitasking).

I’ve personally found that if I needed to do my best work, I need to avoid checking emails, or tending to voicemail, or engaging in activities that nibble away at my mental acuity. If I do those things first and use up precious mental acuity, by the time I sit down to write something important or read something difficult, my neurons are breaking for lunch.

I have found personally that doing this has eroded my short term memory to the point where I would literally forget what I wanted to do within 2 or 3 minutes. I had to put myself on a “multitasking-diet”. This means no texting, no emailing, no IM/chatting at the same time that you are trying to learn something from a teleconference or a webinar. You’d be better off pairing a mental activity (learning) with a physical task (walking or something physically repetitive). And if you are really serious: cut down the # of computer task windows (web browsers, applications) to no more than 3 at a time and no more than 5 internet browser tabs (I’m up to 2 apps and 4 browser tabs when writing this)!