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Making Your Work Life More Manageable

All_work For many of us (myself included), managing your career is partially about finding that elusive balance between your personal and professional pursuits and goals.  Rosetta Thurman has a wonderful post up about how she's using The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters to get more work/life balance.  In this post I'm going to share some of what Rosetta's been doing, along with some additional advice and thinking on how to get your life under control.

What Really Matters to You?
Getting your life down to the most important elements begins with being clear about what matters to you. This means you need to ask yourself several key questions:

  • What are your most important values? These are things like "Family" or "Achievement" or "Independence." If you aren't sure what values are most important to you, take this values quiz, which also helps you prioritize your values.
  • What activities do you need to engage in to live out those values? How would you structure your life to be in alignment with the things that are most important to you?
  • What activities bring you the most joy and fulfillment?
  • What are your greatest strengths? Particularly when we're talking about careers, it's important to focus on doing work that builds on our strengths, not work that plays to our weaknesses. If you don't know your strengths, try the VIA Signature Strengths Finder developed by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania. Then think about whether or not the work you're doing is playing to those strengths.
  • What activities and people drain you? How can you minimize these or--better yet--remove them from your life altogether?

In last month's career retreat, these were some of the issues we explored, but this is certainly something you can do on your own. Make sure you take the time to really think through these questions. If you're a blogger, these make great blog fodder. You can also write about them in a journal or even record your thoughts to listen to later.

Re-Structure Your Job
Based on what you discover about yourself, now it's time to sit down with your boss and have a chat. Here's what Rosetta did:

I decided to eliminate all the work I do that drains my energy by the end of the day. For me, that meant sitting down with my boss and having a real frank conversation about restructuring my role to focus on my strengths and getting rid of the tasks that frustrate me because I basically hate them and pretty much suck at. It was a hard conversation for me because I was fully prepared to walk away from this job if I continued to perform the work of 5 positions for one salary. But you know what? It worked. My boss got the drift and we're now working together to transition my duties to others where it makes the most sense. And already I feel so much lighter and ready to take advantage of the room I'm making for what really matters in my life.

Of course, not all bosses will immediately warm to your new plan, but having the conversation and talking about how it will benefit your organization is a good start. It's always in an organization's best interest for someone to be doing work that capitalizes on what they do best and about which they are passionate.

Slowly you can start to transition out of these things that just aren't working so that you can really focus on the things that are. And if that transition is impossible, consider whether or not it might be time to break up with your boss.

Set Boundaries
Another reason that work can start to overwhelm us is that we aren't setting and enforcing the right boundaries.  This is a real issue for me, since I work from a home office where it's very easy to heed the call of my desk at all hours of the day or night, but honestly, it's an issue for most people I think.

Anne Zelenka of Web Worker Daily has a great post on boundary setting at work that can help. It includes these tips:

  • Choose flow-inducing hobbies that really engage you and draw your mind away from work.
  • Set goals for your personal and professional life.
  • Schedule dates with other people for non work-related activities.
  • Use tech boundaries to separate your work from the rest of your life.
  • Decide your "no"s in advance.

Setting boundaries between work and professional life is a critical skill to learn. It takes practice, though, and constant vigilance I've found.

Go on an Information Diet
Oh the irony of me suggesting this as I look at the hundreds of feeds in my feed reader, but I know that reducing the flow of information coming into me to a manageable level is critical to keep from being overwhelmed. Some of the key strategies:Desk

For Email:

  • Check email only a few times a day. 

For Feed Reading:

  • Periodically prune your feeds, trying to keep them to the 20 or so most important ones.
  • Use the rule that for every new feed you add, you have to take one away.
  • Give new feeds a tryout. For the first week or so, keep them in a "try-out folder" to see how useful they are to you. If they aren't, then junk them.

Getting a regular flow of new information is an important part of learning. At the same time, we need it to be a flow that allows us time to absorb and reflect, not just wash over us like a tsunami of data. Learning how to manage our information flow is another key strategy for making life more manageable.

How Do You Make Work Manageable?
These are some of the strategies I use to try to keep my work life focused and "not so big." I have greater success with some over others, of course, but I keep working on implementing and trying new ideas to help keep my work life from overwhelming me.

What do you do to make your work life manageable? What are your tips, tools and strategies?

Photos via cinefel and arialamanda

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