My last Competitive Edge Report article “Is the Key Still in Your Ignition?” hit a sweet cord with a number of you and sour note with others. I thought I’d continue the discussion this week by looking back as well as forward.

The impetus for the original piece, where I advocated when you take time off you really get out of contact, no working or even thinking about work, came from recent observations of clients, colleagues, and a few friends. These are very smart, success-driven, adults who have elevated working hard and staying engaged to what I think is a dangerous and unnecessary level. They are so into the habit that they almost can’t disengage. One person sleeps with his Blackberry and on his night table is his laptop (have no idea what his wife thinks of their new form of nightlight), another was sleeping on the floor of her office three nights a week (I know exactly what her husband thinks and it wasn’t good). Clients have missed or cancelled more mammograms, dentist appointments, physicals than they attended, others are walking around with unfilled prescriptions for life saving medication. There are parents who only interact with their young children on weekends and see their relatives at funerals (maybe). These individuals were the model for my last article.

Are they disorganized? No. Delegators? Not very good ones, but in defense, who is there to delegate to when the staff is at 30% of 2008 levels. Slow? Far from it. Driven? Of course. Out of balance? Doesn’t even begin to describe their lives.

I am frequently asked for tips and advice on a balanced life. I strive for it myself; sometimes I succeed, other times I fail miserably. I concluded that blended is easier for me than balanced. When I say blended, I mean I allow my personal life to come to the office and invite my work into my home life, and the mix seems to get things done without intrusion or resentment on anyone's part. Though the distinction may not be as definite as some would like, I find it increases my time at home, decreases the isolation experienced by so many of us solopreneurs, and allows me to enjoy the home I have created.

So how do you master the blended life?

Get your priorities straight. Admit to yourself that making money, being famous, doing your art, or saving the world is why you get up in the morning. You can’t achieve most of these without putting in significant time and without sacrifice; however, if it is really what you want, you find the energy and resources, and work and home only encourage participation.
Respect your values. There is nothing more debilitating than a conflict in values. Have no idea what yours are—you’re not alone. For many people their beliefs have to be violated before they appreciate how much they meant to them. If you are working in an organization, living with a person, acting in a manner that is not consistent with your core values, you will never have balance or blend. It is like rotten meat in a stew, it doesn’t matter how good the veggies are, it’s still bad for you. A value stand, especially one at work, can be a very important and difficult decision. Once made, it can be liberating.
Set boundaries and enforce them. When you want or need to say “no,” do so without guilt. Be consistent and verbal about what is acceptable, and not. Respect others and make your expectations clear.
Utilize your time well. There are 24 hours in a day and you can't finagle more. What you can influence is how you spend your time. Everyone wastes hours because they’re tired, so less effective, or not sure what to do due to lack of vision, goals, or a target; therefore, they try a little of everything. Some of us allow others to dictate our agendas and schedules and then resent them for it. The adage in selling is to make the hardest call first. Clear the difficult tasks early and the rest of the day seems easier. I’ve also found spending 15 minutes mid-day to handle personal matters makes all the difference in my blended life.
Prepare for emergencies at home and the office. Things happen. Once a year I load up on light bulbs, batteries, Pepto Bismol, razor blades, etc. I stock the pantry with food and place a box of power bars in my office, along with notes cards that sub as emergency birthday cards. I stash a $20 bill in a secret compartment in my wallet, the glove compartment, drawer of the desk. I always have cash in the house, an extra Metro card, and a half tank of gas. I update my emergency phone list, so when something does go wrong, it’s easy to reach out. Finally, I admit to myself that despite all the planning and anticipation, there are certain things I can’t control and are unavoidable. So I open a can of soup or take a teaspoon of Pepto and do the best I can.
Take charge of your finances. The balanced life also means having a balance in your checking account. Living within your means and planning for the future. The pressure to earn more and more to cover purchases is stressful at work and home. Recent economic times have forced many of us to look at our buying habits. Some people are amazed at how much disposable income went to things they never really cared for or about.
Limit your exposure to negative information. Should you be current? Of course. Do you need to know about every murder, child abuse case, and lay off? Definitely not, it takes a cumulative toll. Gossiping in the office has the same impact—allowing friends to dump on you regularly falls into that category. It’s your responsibly to self-control by being selective, limiting, or just staying out of the way. On the other hand, effort has to be expended to maintain and nurture positive and supportive contacts—friends, mentors, books, music and maybe just time alone.

Most nights, at 8 pm, I listen to Garrison Keillor for his five-minute thought of the day. It starts with “On this Day” and he proceeds to relate tidbits about Fitzgerald, Wharton, or some other writer you probably read years ago. Then he reads a short poem. He ends each night with “Stay well, do good deeds, and keep in touch.” I find these 300 seconds simultaneously revitalizing and calming. It makes for good dinner conversation. We need more of these intellectual breaks, routines that signal, “You’re home, safe, born to think, and more than your job title.”
Hire professionals. Even if we were all good at everything, which is impossible, who has the time or the energy? Create a team around you. The obvious are an accountant, doctor, maybe a lawyer, hopefully a cleaning person. Consider a virtual assistant for all those tasks you hate to do—entering data into QuickBooks anyone? Have backup caretakers for your pets, a place that will create a real meal you can pick up and serve as dinner. Make a list of the things you really dislike doing or just do not have the expertise to handle. Think of alternatives. There are many very competent people out there, especially now. Help them help you.
Give back. The blended life doesn’t always have to focus on you. That can be very relieving and rewarding. Giving to others, especially when it’s in the form of human contact, helps you see your imbalances and offers an opportunity to make it right. I am always amazed at how much I receive when I thought I was just giving.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.