Why you have work-life balance wrong?

The first time I decided to take an active interest in work-life balance was when I found out that the Japanese have a word for Death by overwork: Karoshi. Prior to that, the idea that someone could become so invested in their work to the point of neglecting other aspects of life until it literally kills them had never occurred to me. Over the years, I have come to realise that most people reach the point of overwork through good intentions.

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What’s your team metric?

What do you work on first thing in the morning? What are your team working on this week? How long did it take you to answer? How many items did you list? In Good to Great, Jim Collins writes “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” Yet these days it’s quite common to hear Managers talking about team priorities (in plural with emphasis) rather than admitting they have lost sight of the goalpost.

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Building healthy habits

When you woke up this morning, you put one foot down before the other. It’s very likely you have a preferred foot. Do you get out of bed left foot first or right foot? Like many people you probably don’t think about it. Just like how you don’t think about which direction you brush your teeth or which side of the bed to sleep in at night.

Many of the things we do each day run on autopilot. Our habits eventually become so ingrained that we don’t even realise we are doing them. Life just seems so much easier that way. Productive people take advantage of this to build habits that sustain their goals. Bestselling fiction writers are people who have the habit of writing a few hundred words each day. Virtuoso musicians are people who have the habit of practising for two hours each day. Five hundred words do not make a decent novel but multiply those words by the number of days in a year and you have a trilogy. Similarly, two hours on the violin won’t make you a professional but do that over ten years and there is no piece you can’t tackle.

Good habits are easy to form if you are aware of a few things:

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Supportive Team Management – Dealing with Stress

A lot of workers are complaining about stress at work. I’m not completely sure why. It could be a result of smaller teams having to deal with more complex projects. This often means an individual has to manage responsibilities that aren’t always in their area of expertise or require learning new skills. Naturally, this can be a source of anxiety which contributes to feelings of stress.

Can’t keep up
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Write it down

My boss once told me “The faintest pencil is stronger than the sharpest memory.” The human brain is a very powerful supercomputer. Not once does it stop working throughout your life. Every second, the brain processes a lot of information and controls many things you are not even aware of such as heart rate. Latest estimates suggest the brain has up to 2.5 petabytes (Google it) of storage space. Despite possessing this unfathomable amount of memory, the brain is not good at keeping ideas.

I’d trust one over my brain every day
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Downsize. Delegate. Delete.

I have observed that when people are informed they are not productive, the natural tendency is for them to take on more tasks almost as if they felt by showing they could complete a lot more tasks, they will be seen as productive team members. In a way, they are right. Productive people do complete tasks. However, they do NOT try to do everything. It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes the best way to become more productive is to do less. An Accountant doesn’t try to design the company website by themselves. They know that is not the most productive use of their time and skills.

Less is more
Wouldn’t you agree?
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Emails: A productivity Death trap

First do what is important, then everything else. This could be a maxim for personal productivity. People who prioritise tasks and focus on those that yield the most results (which by definition, are important) are said to be productive. A question for you: Is responding to emails immediately an important task? According to a Mckinsey report, the average professional spends 28% of their work day reading and responding to emails. If you work 8 hours a day, that’s 2 hours dedicated to your inbox. Is that the best use of your time?

Email envelopes
There’s such a thing as too many emails
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Do productive people behave differently?

Some people have a natural flair for task management and organisation. Others had the good luck of starting their careers in organisations where supportive bosses showed them how to become more productive. Regardless, how you started your personal productivity journey, it is interesting to know that while productive people come from all walks of life and have different personalities, they all tend to have behaviours that make them more productive than others. Productive people tend to:

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Building productivity in organisations

Most articles written on productivity tend to focus on personal productivity. Emphasis is often laid on the use of to-do lists, Eisenhower matrix and deep work to manage tasks, focus and attention respectively. These are the starting points for productivity. If you can’t master them, you won’t go far. A limitation of this approach to productivity is it focuses so much on the person and leaves out the larger environment. Unless you work as a one-man freelancer, very few people have the luxury to set their own schedules as they wish. You may have written your to-do list the night before and blocked out time to work on an important task this morning. However, if the Head of your Department drops by and assigns you a task, that task automatically jumps to the top of your priority matrix.

Boss using a
I need this today
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Treat the root cause, not the symptom

When we fall sick, we go to a hospital. Doctors ask questions to understand how we feel and based on our symptoms, they make a judgment and recommend a course of treatment. Doctors never try to treat symptoms though. Instead, they treat the root cause: the disease. If you complain of a persistent headache, the doctor doesn’t give you a painkiller and send you on your way. This is because they understand there are many things that can give you a headache. They try to find out what that thing is so they can cure you.

Tree with deep roots
The true problem might lie deeper than you’re looking
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