Balancing Work and Life: When 9 to 5 Doesn’t Exist


Focus on your spiritual health to improve performance, relationships, and your sense of balance and well-being.

You might think a successful career would be a good predictor of whole-life fulfillment. After all, many effective professionals display uncommon vision, devotion and intelligence — traits that would seem to translate to vibrant relationships both on and off the job.

Yet it doesn’t always work that way. Careers can be all consuming and counterproductive to relational and psychological health, especially in the age of constant connectedness. The worst part is plugging in 12 or more hours a day may not result in better work performance, as the siren call of email and social media can keep you in a perpetual state of unfocused distraction.

Work/Life Balance in a Tethered World

"Being a professional today is an extraordinarily complex undertaking," says Janice Marturano, executive director of the Institute of Mindful Leadership. "Being a professional today is an extraordinarily complex undertaking in part because of the many distractions and priorities that surround us all day long. As a result, we struggle to be present enough to make conscious choices. All the competing pulls on our attention can make it challenging to be our best selves at the very moments when we need to make our best decisions."

Thanks in part to the smartphone, a fallacy of modern life suggests that you can be everywhere at once. Instead, you might too often find that you aren’t really present anywhere — always plugged in, never truly connected.

The solution requires more than a careful calendar, or even the occasional digital power-down. By training your mind to focus and prioritize, you can better direct your time each day and make better use of each moment. "We can assert control over our distraction-filled environments through mindful leadership training," Marturano says. "The result is more of everything that really matters to us: improved performance, better relationships, innovative solutions and an enhanced sense of balance and well-being."

Three Steps to Work/Life Balance

Marturano, a former General Mills vice president and author of Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, recommends three steps to get there.

1. Meditate for 10 minutes twice a day. This isn’t a religious practice; it’s more like athletic training. If you’re so used to constant distraction, your brain will eventually follow suit. By shutting out distractions and focusing on sensory detail for a few minutes each day, you gradually train your brain to fight back. "Just like your body has the ability to become stronger and more resilient with training, you can also strengthen the innate capacity of your mind to sustain focus and attention, and create the spaciousness needed for innovation and creativity," says Marturano.

2. Incorporate purposeful pauses a few times a day. If you’re brushing your teeth, for example, blot out whatever you’re thinking about — your to-do list, replayed conversations or evening plans — and focus on the sensation of the bristles against your gums and tongue. By learning to pause those narratives, you'll learn to stay focused on who and what you want to be focused on, rather than being pulled toward the "shiny objects" that distract you. "Instead of getting pulled wherever your thoughts take you, you're going to notice each individual thought that's there and make a considered decision about which one to attend to," Marturano says.

Improved focus transcends a variety of other benefits. Not only will you become more efficient, leaving more time for relationships, but you'll also become a more careful listener. You'll be less likely to tune out people or jump to early conclusions about what they’re saying — silently finishing their sentences for them. You'll better prioritize and discern the tasks and relationships that are most important, as opposed to the latest or loudest competing influence.

3. Turn your focus to creative problem solving. As your focus improves, Marturano says, you'll gain valuable headspace that will allow for greater clarity, creativity and compassion. You'll learn to approach tasks with an unhurried thoughtfulness that often leads to careful, effective solutions. "We're all looking for innovative, win-win-win solutions," says Marturano. "Those things come out of having space."