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Striking a work-life balance

Posted by admin | Career/Business Development | Sunday 22 March 2009 1:02 am


The world of work has changed considerably within the past decade. More and more people are faced with the daunting challenge of juggling workplace responsibilities and domestic demands, making the challenge of work-life balance, one of the most significant struggles faced by modern man.

The American Institute of Stress claims that stress is America’s No. 1 health problem, and it was discovered that “job stress is the major culprit.” Another research-a 2006 StressPulse survey by EAP provider ComPsych found that the main causes of stress in respondents’ lives broke down as:

A] 46% attributable to workload,

B] 28% attributable to personal issues,

C] 20% attributable to “juggling work/personal lives”

D] The remaining 6% attributable to lack of job security

It is common knowledge that if people’s work and personal life are out of balance, their stress levels begin to run high, sometimes leading to health complications and workplace crisis.

The world of work has changed so much that the regular 40 hour week which used to be a maximum is now a minimum for employees who hope to move up the career ladder. As a result of piling work demand and pressures, more and more employees now see working longer ours as an  option for achieving and exceeding expectations. As a result of these changes, people get overly engrossed with work and miss out on a rewarding personal life.

On the other extreme, there are people who get so emotionally involved with the challenges of personal life like child care, marriage problems, care for aged parents, family finances, relationship problems and the like that they begin to develop psychological conditions like lack of concentration and focus that eventually take a toll on their performance at work.

Notwithstanding, finding a work-life balance in this complex and increasingly difficult condition is still very practical.

The very first step in addressing the problem is to come to the point that you are able to convince yourself that it is possible to achieve a reasonable balance irrespective of what the odds may be. Then you might want to consider the following points which would certainly be helpful in achieving a reasonable balance.

1. Define your priorities

Ask yourself, “If my life could focus on one thing and one thing only, what would that be?”  By honestly answering this question you would be able to rank everything you need to pay attention to in some order of importance. This makes it possible for you to know how you invest your time. This step is critical because it helps you identify your priorities and the truth is that if something is important to you, you don’t brush it aside with a dismissive “I don’t have time for that. You obviously make sometime for it whatever the challenges may be.

2. Define your limits

At work people should be able to know what it is you can do and cannot do beyond your stated responsibility. Interestingly, people respect your space and boundaries. So don’t feel threatened setting them. What is important is that you do what you need to do and do it well. Most times when you do your work well and get away in good time, you come through as smart and organised. Your job performance should never be judged by how many hours you put in. But make every second you put in count.

But if you wind up regularly work till late, chances are that you will be given more responsibility. A situation that could create a never-ending cycle that further exasperates the pressure in your personal and emotional life.

3. Learn to say “no”

You don’t have to agree to everything and with everyone. Sometimes you have to say NO very nicely.  You can use your priority criteria to identify requests that simply aren’t worth your time. Use a sympathetic but firm tone when trying to communicate your unavailability. If you ever get under pressure to say yes, ask for time to think about it. That would give you an opportunity to review your feelings and availability.

4. Learn to delegate

Focus only on things that are a productive use of your time based on your skill level. Using management time for things like photocopying and filing might just be a waste of valuable time. You might enlist the services of an office assistant to do this while you concentrate of your core duties. Working in this way helps you free up time and makes it possible for you to tidy up in good time and have no need of taking any work home either in your briefcase or your mind. Bottom-line is, delegate activities you can get done without the risk of things going wrong.  On the flip side, if you don’t have the authority to make certain decisions, there’s no need wasting time, talk to your supervisor or manager immediately. Let the job flow.

5. Protect your private time

Your private time deserves some respect. There are times when all you need to do is just shut down. And I really mean “shut down”. Give yourself a break. Some people have the idea that if they are not there, then the system would collapse. But I bet you if it’s a system, then it would certainly do well if you are not there. And you must understand that when you are gone someday that a replacement would always be found for you. So relax! Shutting down might also mean turning off your cell phone and other wireless means of communication establishes. Doing this helps you establish boundaries behind which you can recharge for higher productivity.

6. Focus on activities that are predictive of goal achievement, especially at work

You must realise that most times your appraisal is based on your job objectives [J.O] and not on all the running around that goes on in the work place. Understand those objectives and tick off your Job description since it would be a helpful guide. While you might be required [even by your boss] to solve all the problems that pop up in your office, you were not employed to solve every problem. You were employed for a purpose-never loose sight of that purpose. Loosing sight of this all encompassing purpose is the reason some folks get bad appraisals from their supervisors even though they work so hard and stay up late. So you must understand what it is you were employed to achieve. If in doubt, stop work and go have a chat with your boss so you can establish what it is that you need to be doing. Focussing on what needs to be done would remove the pressure of trying to achieve and exceed expectations through the “extra hours” route. Activity and productivity even though they sound alike are hardly the same. Please take note.

7. Organise yourself

Don’t try to overbook or crowbar as much as possible into every workday. Planning to do so much in one day could keep you running all the time, making you loose a handle on your time, thus promoting anxiety and stress. The key to getting yourself organised is getting to term with what it is that is most important and prioritizing ruthlessly based on that knowledge. Un-clutter your schedule and your table too! Eliminate chaos. Organise yourself in a manner that makes it possible to find things without the frustration and stress of looking for too long.

8. Set aside time for rest and relaxation

Some folks are so busy that they can’t afford time for fun. In my view that is absolute nonsense [sorry about that!]. But again, you are in charge of your own schedule — it’s up to you to make time. I don’t get it when people act like someone else owns their time. It’s in your best interest to get yourself a break.  Your productivity tends to begin to nose dive if you spend too much time at work and get no chance to recharge. A vacation might be necessary to unwind every once in a while-plan for one.

9. Endeavour to get enough sleep

Getting too little sleep creates a “sleep deficit,” which is much like being overdrawn at a bank or being in trouble waters financially. It impairs your mental functioning, diminishes your reaction time promotes lack of focus, makes you touchy and easily irritable, leads to a weakening of your immune system, increases your perception of pain and jumpstarts memory problems. You sure don’t want to add this string of problems to the already existing challenges at the personal and work front.

10. Establish some boundary between different parts of your life

For example don’t carry work home-leave work at work. Honouring different aspects of your life and considering them as independent yet inter-related parts would lead to success and fulfilment in either of the areas. Co-mingling everything could lead all kinds of trouble like tension at the home front, pressure on your mind and unnecessary psychological clutter that could give rise to a reduction in productive capacity.

How to become an expert at what you do

Posted by admin | Career/Business Development | Monday 2 March 2009 2:13 pm


An expert is someone who has special skills and/or knowledge in an area of interest. In today’s world experts are highly sort after, generously rewarded and are instrumental in making others live richer, healthier, happier and/or more rewarding lives.

How do you know an expert when you see one? Pretty simple-these are a few qualities

A]    A person who has more familiarity with a particular subject  matter, concept, profession or  Industry than most people

B]    A person who people care about their opinion and insight

C]    A person who is widely recognised as a source of wise and credible judgement

D]    A person who people most want to solve their problem because of the perception that they would rarely go wrong

E]    A person whose advice people trust and are willing to pay a premium to get.


Most people would love to be experts in their sphere of influence. But few ever get a chance at it. What you must understand is that we all have within our grasp the ability to profoundly transform our lives and become who it is we want to if only we are willing to give ourselves the permission to become all we can become.

Unfortunately some people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But this is just not the case. While there is a suggestion that some people are naturally talented, it is also important to observe that there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance or mastery without spending a lot of time perfecting it. Expertise in any field is not for the faint-hearted, lazy or impatient. It is a price for diligence, hard work and conscious practice.

So how exactly do people become experts at what they do? How are they able to master their game?

I might not have a water-tight formula to immediately offer but I do have are few ideas that would help you achieve anything that it is you want to achieve.  But for this to work, you need a good doze of determination, focus and persistence. This is especially important because in the journey to mastery and excellence frustration does show up, an obvious reason why some people never follow through.

Ready to go…? Ok, I have listed below a few critical things you need to know and/or do if you must become an expert. Notwithstanding your area of interest, Industry or passion, the same principles apply.


1.     Narrow your interest

       Decide to master a small area of the whole and stick with it. One reason I have realised why people don’t go very far is because they want to be master of all. While in the University, I heard of one of my lecturers making reference to a certain professor who was a professor of metal cutting. How narrow! But that’s how stuff works. To illustrate this, it would be foolhardy to want to be an expert in music. Heck! Where do you start with that kind of a goal? Imagine that you would need to know all about the history of music, composition and composers,  music theory, all sorts of musical instruments [contemporary and otherwise] , everything about singing, classical, reggae, calypso, opera, jazz and all sorts of music genre. Instead of going with that kind of broad goal you might want to narrow it down to just playing any of the several hundred instruments. Let’s assume you decide to become an expert at playing Piano. Can you become a piano expert? Maybe but it all depends on your definition of “expert”. Because being an expert pianist would mean mastering everything from concertos to fugues, Piano styles, Piano construction and several other areas. So you might just want to choose a specific area and become a guru in that area. If I may ask, if you have a BMW car and you knew of two service shops-one fixes all car types and the other fixes just the model of your BMW, which of the two are you most likely to think is an expert at what they do? …not expecting an answer. That’s just food for the thought.


2.     Be willing to invest time

No one ever becomes an expert without investing quality time in their subject of interest.

There is a lot of dissention about how much time it can take you to become an expert. But between 3 to 10 years is reasonable, though 5 years might be an average. This might require something of an investment of about an hour or more everyday. It is entirely up to you how much time you want to invest daily, but again you must realise that the amount of time you invest might determine how soon you reach your goal. Investing an hour everyday could add up to 365 hours a day, but two hours would come up to about 730 hours. Just imagine how far that number of hours of training & practice moves you towards your goal. But you also need to note that how far you go isn’t just about the time spent but how wisely the time is invested.  So you can see why I said you would need to be willing to invest the time. So you must be willing to investing the time you allocate wisely, by engaging in activities [training, practices, study etc] that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort.


3.    Read everything you can

      Depending on the passion you are pursuing, you might have to do a lot of reading. Must of the information you require might just be trapped in the pages of a book and you would do yourself a world of good if you can unlock them.  Some books are 30 years of some expert’s experience compressed together and bound up in leather. So why wouldn’t you just take the opportunity? This would also include signing up for newsletters, journals and magazines. And more than that-ensuring you read them.

The name Anthony Robbins is synonymous with success and peak performance. He is a world leader in leadership psychology. He is respected the world over and has had some of the most remarkable achievements for a man of his age and background. According to a biography about him, he is said to have met with, consulted, or advised international leaders including Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Princess Diana, and Mother Teresa. It’s understood that he has also consulted members of two royal families, members of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines and three U.S. Presidents, including Bill Clinton. He started as a “nobody” and ended up with divorced parents at age seven. But when he decided to seriously pursue success, he read more than 700 books in the area of personal development. His hunger for success was so intense that he literally absorbed every bit of information he could get his hands on. And that was the genesis of a man that has today become one of the most remarkable personal coaches/ life transformation experts the world has to offer.


4.     Get some structured learning

No matter how well you have done for yourself, at some point you might need some form of structured learning. It incorporates some discipline and structure to your development. So never miss an opportunity to take a course, attend a convention, or register for a seminar. All of these are part of the mix. I have known some people that have paid thousands of dollars to just attend a few hours or days of lecture when an expert in their field of interest is speaking. That’s called wise investment. Your ability to spend ridiculous sums in pursuits of your vision is proof of desire.


5.     Practice, practice, practice

      There is just no other way to develop skill than expertise. Further more, you would have heard that it is said that practice makes perfect. But your practices don’t mean a thing except you are focussing on the right things. And that’s why people pay coaches. They know what needs to be done, and they understand areas of concentration. Why some people do not get much from their practice is that they focus on the things they already know how to do. The right way to go is focussing on what you can’t do well, or even things you can’t do at all. There is credible scientific evidence to support the claim that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you plan on becoming.  Bottom line is to keep improving your current skills and extending the boundaries into newer skills-constantly stretching yourself. But you must realise that moving outside your comfort zone of achievement requires a good dose of motivation and sacrifice, but it’s a necessary discipline which must not be avoided.


6.     Get a model

      There is a saying that if you want to be successful then go find someone who has achieved the results you desperately desire  and try to copy what they do or did and you’ll achieve the same results [did I just say, “copy”? Ouch! Ok…just look for a better word to place there. At least you’ve gotten what I mean]. There’s actually no need trying to re-invent the wheel. While our circumstances might vary, principles are consistent. It goes to say that if you make do [consistently] what others have done to produces results


7.     You might want to get a coach and a mentor

There is something a coach and mentor have in common. They tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear and that why you need them. They are able to bring a different perspective usually from a higher plane of knowledge and understanding. They are able to intuitively figure out what’s missing and what needs to be avoided. Go for either, and if you can afford to go for both.


8.     Learn to deal with performance slumps

On your path to expertise, you might soon realise that you would not always see a direct correlation between your input and output [result]. Sometimes it actually feels like you are wasting your time because you would wind up with no improvement in your performance. While at other times, results just jump at your face giving you those thrilling Eureka moments.  To get far with your quest for expertise you must be emotionally prepared to handle those slump moments. You must have the wisdom to keep pushing against all odds because you are not alone in this. Many that travelled this path have had similar experiences. Have you been there before? I have.


9.     Talk to everyone

Don’t forget to ask other experts their source of information-what they read to stay abreast of issues affecting your area of interest or Industry. This is important because your value would depend on your source. Talk to as many people you can in your area-experts and common folks alike. Leave no stones unturned.  Ask a lot of questions, get feedback. Some of these people know what’s most recent. What works and what don’t; what matters and what doesn’t. They are a goldmine, never ignore them.


10.   Exploit the power of visualization and imagery

Focus on your intended outcomes. Think them through and they would help you in those slump moments. Practice seeing yourself in the future you desire. Create a detailed schematic of what you desire and then think it through or visualize it over and over again engaging all of your senses. Imagining youself in the future you desire would make light all the sacrifice you need to make to get there.


11.   Please and please…be consistent

Stay focussed. Concentrate! Nothing sabotages the pursuit of expertise as much as lack of focus. You might choose to refine your objectives but remain committed to the basics.


12.   Teach a class, write a book, offer expert opinion

No body cares who you are until they know what you can do. So look for opportunities to let people know what it is you can do.


13.   Build a network

You would need to network with people in your area of interest. Join industry groups, register with trade associations, attend social and professional functions, get to know people and do it deliberately. Never wait for people to seek you out, go for them. An extensive network of contacts would be invaluable when you get stuck. With a network of contacts there is always someone to ask a question, get materials from or run difficult projects with. Always remember that interdependence is of higher value than independence.


14.   Keep Improving

There is no such thing as having arrived. If you do not keep improving you would most certainly be left behind because the world is moving at a terrific speed-things are changing very fast. The value of current information depreciates with time, so to stay relevant you must keep abreast of facts in your area of interest- whatever it is.


There would always be someone that knows more than you do. But


But then how do you know when you become an expert?   Is there a line we suddenly cross or is there a-certain “eureka” experience we have?  Well, there is no such thing because the search for expertise is a journey and not a destination. But when you begin to come close to the experience, you will soon realise that your instincts/judgements are more correct, you begin to take on problems in a more confident manner, people begin to listen to what you say, you begin to get rewarded for putting relatively smaller effort and life just becomes different.