Work / life balance: make a list

I have struggled with the work life balance. No more so than when I was a full-time working single mother with two children under 10 who needed me. It was a matter of getting through each day with cobbled-together childcare, caffeine-fuelled work and an uneasy sense that at any moment the whole edifice might come tumbling down.

I have struggled with the work life balance. No more so than when I was a full-time working single mother with two children under 10 who needed me. It was a matter of getting through each day with cobbled-together childcare, caffeine-fuelled work and an uneasy sense that at any moment the whole edifice might come tumbling down.

I got through it by making lists. Maybe it was because they were a clear path into an uncertain future. Lists were about stuff to be done and delivered in the here and now, that put the more serious questions about what next temporarily on hold.

From that time on I have been an inveterate list maker. I love the idea that by putting pen to paper in this way, a chaotic life can somehow be brought to heel. But I’m aware that although list making brings some temporary balm to my stress levels, there is no system to it. My lists are arbitrary, unstructured, prone to go off into the realms of fantasy, eg ‘Book Holiday to Caribbean’ and there is no grand scheme. In short, there is no great list of lists.

So when I was asked to run a session for EndemolShine on Time Management I leaped at the chance. Finally, I would know The Art of Making Lists. I might find time to read, do yoga, hang out with my children, partner and friends, develop a business plan and pack in a good eight hours a day of work. I got out books on Time Management theory and sated myself in the art of making lists. I discovered that there are umpteen theories on list-writing and, what’s more, there are list gurus, people who have built an entire global empire on systematising lists.

The great daddy of lists is David Allen. I had already heard of him through a friend who had bought David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done at the airport and read it while flying over the Atlantic. By the time he reached LA he realised that he would have to rethink entirely how he ran his company, and since then business has never been better.

Off I went to EndemolShine looking forward to spending a day talking to people about lists and discovering how they made lists and organised their time.

Here then, in no particular order, is a list of what came out of the day at EndemolShine:

  • Record all your tasks and conversations during your working day for one week and mark as unproductive or productive. This will help you understand how you spend your time usefully and un-usefully. Ruthlessly cut down/banish fruitless activities.
  • Take 30 minutes at the start of each day to plan your day. Don’t just schedule activities but plan how much time to spend on them.
  • Schedule time for thinking rather than just doing. Einstein said if he had five minutes to save the world he would spend four minutes thinking about it.
  • Understand Hofstadter’s Law, which states that everything takes longer than you think even if you are aware of that. Build in time buffer zones around commitments that cannot be touched. If you get stuff done in the allocated time then your buffer zone time is a bonus.
  • Take five minutes before each communication (written or verbal) and think ‘What do I want to get from this’? Afterwards allow yourself time to reflect on whether the desired outcome was attained.
  • Beware of “pre”crastination (related to the more well known ‘procrastination’, but different). This is a condition that affects those who want a ‘clear desk’ or ‘empty in-tray’ at any costs. This means staying in the office till midnight to finish a project or spending the first two days of their holiday on email to get something sorted that they might be confronted with when they get back to their desk.
  • Put up a ‘Do Not Disturb Sign’ on your door, or the virtual equivalent on email saying that you will reply within 48 hours.
  • Respect your own time rhythms; are you a lark or an owl? Build in rituals into your day that you keep to – thinking time, email time, social media time, coffee, walk etc. Humans are creatures of rituals and we function better with them in our working and daily lives.
  • If you are a leader/manager, you have the responsibility to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Others look to you to set an example.
  • Take ten minutes every Sunday evening to make a list of strategic priorities for the week ahead.

Happy list making!