Work Life Balance

By | Culture, Free Career Advice, Workplace | No Comments

Is there a term uttered through the halls and across cube walls of offices more frequently than “work life balance?” Since the term was coined in the late 1970s, it has become an increasingly hotter topic and an industry of its own.  A quick search on Amazon turns up 5,625 results – just in the “books” category. Try Googling the term, and you’ll get a staggering 5,050,000 results. There’s even a nice, long article about it on Wikipedia.

So what to do? You can try addressing it with the help of books, DVDs, blogs, self-help videos, career counseling, day planners & software, picketing outside your employer’s offices, or hypnosis.  OK, so maybe the last two are a bit extreme, but there are legitimate ways to address developing a better balance in your own life.

Often times, people try to tackle the problem by first fixing their time management issues.  This is what has driven the success of things like the national bestseller “Getting Things Done” and FranklinCovey stores.  In fact, just yesterday I received an email from a friend touting “an incredible tool that makes Outlook much easier to use” when trying to get organize your life.  (By the way, the tool is called Xobni – inbox spelled backwards.  You might want to check it out.

Although time management can be useful – obviously productivity and efficiency are important – this can cause you to miss the bigger picture.

Galyna’s and Lacey’s TMD session on this topic a few weeks ago got me thinking and reminded me of several concepts that I’ve found helpful over the past 10 years or so of my career.  Keep in mind, I say these things have been “helpful,” but don’t mistake this with meaning that I’ve solved the problem.  It’s an ongoing struggle.

Of all the reading I’ve done, the work of Stephen Covey has had the longest-lasting impact on my thinking around this.  His most popular book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, includes some fundamental concepts that I believe you must tackle before you can get your life “balanced.”

Although it may sound and feel a bit corny, spending some time thinking about and crafting a personal mission statement and explicitly identifying your “roles” can be very helpful and act as a guide.  In fact, it can go a long way in reducing the strain and stress in your life.

You can do this by asking yourself some “big questions” such as:

  • What’s most important?
  • What gives my life meaning?
  • What do I want to be and to do in my life?
  • What are the most important relationships in my life?
  • What are the contributions I’d like to make?
  • What principles do I hold as critical and non-negotiable?
  • How do I want my family, co-workers, etc. to think of me?

Answers to these questions will help identify both your mission and roles.

I won’t bother you with attempting to articulate my personal mission statement, but let’s talk a bit about roles.

For example, my roles include husband, father, CEO at DAXKO, friend, Christian, TechBirmingham board member, runner, etc. (there are dozens more…)

Obviously, of these roles, there are a wide range of levels of importance to me.  For example, I’m not going to put the same effort and focus on my “runner” role as I do on  my “father” role.  But that doesn’t mean I should completely ignore it either.

I think one of the biggest mistakes someone can make related to finding balance is to believe all the roles they want to have or are expected to have can be separated and compartmentalized.  I’m a “worker” between 8am – 5pm, a “spouse” between 5:30pm – 8:00pm, a “friend” on Saturdays, a “church member” on Sundays from 9am- noon, etc.  Life’s simply not that clean.  Trying to keep it all separate just causes stress.

To quote Ghandhi, “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department.  Life is one invisible whole.”

The more passionate and engaged you are in some of these roles, the harder it will become to compartmentalize them.  They will simply become intertwined throughout your life.  I find this to be very true in a number of roles in my life – including my work here.

“Balance isn’t either/or; it’s and.” ~ Stephen Covey

Since I can’t do these concepts justice in this brief blog posting, I suggest buying or borrowing a copy of 7 Habits – I think we may even have an audio copy of it and/or his follow-up book, First Things First, in the Learning Center.

Good luck in figuring out this balance in your life.  It’s not easy, but It is a challenge worth taking on.

Selective Plagiarism

By | Building a Company, Culture, Free Career Advice | 2 Comments

“Selective plagiarism” — do you understand what it means?

It means taking ideas from others, then tweaking and twisting them to fit our needs. And by “others,” I mean more than just those at other software companies. You may be amazed at what we can learn and put into practice from the retail industry, design firms, architects, stodgy Fortune 500 companies, even the airline industry.

Don’t confuse this “borrowing of ideas” with a lack of innovation. Selective plagiarism is clearly part of the innovation process. Many “innovative” companies can fall victim to a “not invented here” syndrome feeling that only their original ideas and thoughts should be considered. This is a recipe for staying small and failing often.

“Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”  ~ Theodore Levitt, former editor of the Harvard Business Review

Another common misperception is that selective plagiarism is for the small, not-well-funded companies that have no other options. That is simply not true. Some of the world’s largest, most successful and innovative companies depend on learning from others. For example…

  • Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, would go into competitors’ stores with a small notebook and pen in hand to document what he saw – both good and bad. He’d then take this on-the-ground intelligence to build a better retail operation of his own – in fact, not just better, but the world’s largest.

“[Sam Walton was] notorious for looking at what everybody else does, taking the best of it, and then making it better.”  ~ Sol Price, founder of Price Club (a Wal-Mart competitor)

  • Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, wrote in his latest book, Winning “…companies that win do two things: they imitate and improve.”
  • Commerce Bank, with assets in excess of $50 billion and touted as “America’s most convenient bank,” has long looked at others outside its industry such as Target, Gap, and Home Depot to create “wow” customer experiences.
  • Procter & Gamble, an $83 billion company, directly copies the way in which IDEO conducts brainstorms. Even more importantly, P&G’s CEO, A.G. Lafley, has established a mandate that half of new product and technology innovations come from outside the company – a goal they have already exceeded!

So along these lines, what could we be doing to learn from those outside the walls of our companies? What could we do to create deeper connections with customers? To develop new product innovations? To strengthen our internal culture? To implement new and effective processes?

When you meet other professionals and hear an interesting comment or idea, are you taking the time to ask the follow-up “why” and “how” questions?

Of course, these conversations won’t always lead to the golden nugget your mining for, but keep pushing. It will be well worth the effort – and not just to your company, but also to you in your own professional development.

Further, the nuggets you do uncover are rarely something you’ll want to blindly duplicate in whole. Instead, you must use your understanding of your unique situation to customize the ideas to meet our needs and those of our customers. You’ll get better at this through practice and experience.

Reading compelling business books is a good place to start, but it is no substitute for hearing from others face-to-face. Invite a peer to lunch. Attend a local user group or luncheon. Join a professional organization. Subscribe to a blog of interest. For that matter, author your own blog.

Believe it or not, you all have time to do this, and it will be well worth it. You just have to make it a priority.

So get out there and start plagiarizing…