For better work-life balance, focus on lead measures

The Second Discipline of Work-Life Balance

Posted on Posted in Words on Personal Effectiveness, Words on Work-Life Balance
For better work-life balance, focus on lead measures
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If you’re trying to integrate your work with a meaningful, fun, and fulfilling life, you know that managing your time is one of the keys to success. But if you’re like most of us, you’re not actually managing your time well. This series of articles gives you a system to fix that, so you can focus on what’s most important.

In this series, we’re using Covey, McChesney and Huling’s Four Disciplines of Execution, a system designed for improving organizational effectiveness, as a framework for creating greater work-life balance and personal effectiveness. In the first article, we explored how to escape the gnats of urgency so that we can conquer the dragons of importance. This first key tool is critical to success, so if you missed that article, be sure to go back and absorb it.

Then, in the second article, we dove right into the four disciplines of work-life balance, digging into the first one: Focus on the wildly importantAfter reading that article, you should have written a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) — something that helped you clarify the thing you’ll be focusing on for the next year or so. It might be a project you want to complete, something you want to accomplish at work, a vacation you want to take with the family — whatever. I’m not here to tell you what’s most important to you, but I am here to tell you that if you haven’t gotten clear on what it is, you’re far less likely to experience anything like what people call “balance.” If you haven’t written your WIG yet, please take five minutes to do that. Go ahead — I’ll wait.

The Four Disciplines of Work-Life Balance

Before we dive into the second discipline of work-life balance, it’s probably a good idea to ground ourselves in Covey, McChesney and Huling’s framework again. The four disciplines they identified in their research are as follows:

  1. Focus on the wildly important.
  2. Act on the lead measures.
  3. Create a compelling scoreboard.
  4. Create a cadence of accountability.

This is an extraordinarily powerful framework for organizational effectiveness, but as it turns out, it can also work for individuals. Now that you’ve figured out your WIG — your Wildly Important Goal — it’s time to act on the lead measures. What the heck does that mean?

Are You Leading or Lagging?

Before we march boldly into Discipline Two, we need to understand an important distinction — between leading and lagging indicators.

If your WIG is something like, “Plan 2017 summer vacation by November 30, 2016,” or, “Increase amount of time spent with family from 8 hours a week to 12 hours a week by December 13, 2016,” congratulations! You’ve clearly articulated the finish line of what’s most important to you, using the formula we discussed in the last article:

Imperative verb (what you’ll do) + direct object (the thing you’ll change) + X (how things are now) + “to” + Y (how things will be) + “by” + date (when you plan to get there)

What’s great about that is that you’ll know exactly when you’ve accomplished the thing. Your indicator of success is unambiguous.

But there’s a problem. See, your indicator of success will only be visible once you’ve already achieved the goal. It’s just like a finish line in a race; you won’t know you’ve reached it until you’ve reached it.  For that reason, it’s called a lagging measure (or a lagging indicator or whatever), i.e., it’s appearance lags behind reality. And to truly build momentum, track progress, and make sure that you’re set up ahead of time, you need those mile markers that pop up along the race course to tell you how far you’ve come and how far you have left to go. This is a job for leading measures.

Leading measures are indicators that enable you to track your progress toward your WIG along the way.  They are your mile markers. To be effective and valid, a leading indicator has to have two key attributes

  1. The measure must be truly predictive of WIG success, and
  2. The measure must be something YOU can influence

To make this more clear, let’s dig into an example.

Lead Measures That Matter

Let’s say your WIG is something really simple and easy to understand — like losing weight. You’ve probably articulated it as, “Reduce weight from 210 pounds to 195 pounds by October 31, 2016.” Inherent in your WIG is your lagging measure: pounds lost. You’ll be watching that measure like a hawk to see if you’re making progress. That’s a good thing, but it’s not sufficient for achieving what’s most important to you.

Trying to manage what’s important with lag measures is like driving your car by looking in the rearview mirror to see where you’ve been. It just won’t work. If you focus only on that ultimate outcome measure, the only real strategy you’ll have for achieving it is hope.

Instead, you need lead measures that will help you keep your eyes on the road and making those tiny adjustments you make, almost without thinking, to keep your car from going in the ditch.

In the case of weight loss, what leading measures would be PREDICTIVE of the outcome and tied to something YOU can influence? Exercise is an obvious one that comes to mind, so maybe you track “workouts per week” as a lead measure. Or if you know that you tend to gain weight from eating out, maybe you’ll choose “meals cooked and eaten at home per week.”

Your lead measures should keep you focused on your WIG on a DAILY basis — and they must be predictive and under your control. They must help you keep your eyes firmly fixed on what’s important so that you’re not undermined by what’s merely urgent. Now let’s look at them in the context of improving work-life balance by helping you accomplish what’s most important to you.

Lead Measures for Work-Life Balance

Let’s say your WIG is, “Increase amount of time spent with family from 8 hours a week to 12 hours a week by December 13, 2016.” You might be thinking, “Well, when I get to the end of every week, I can just tally up the hours I spent with the family and, if it wasn’t enough, I’ll just try harder the following week.” This is rearview mirror driving. It’s important to keep score (and we’ll talk more about that in the next article in the series), but you need something predictive and that you can influence.

Instead of looking at the lagging measure, find the lead measures that are predictive and that you can influence — that will keep you focused DAILY on what’s most important. Pick some daily activities — like putting the kids to bed, making it home in time for dinner with family, attending tee-ball games — to commit to and to hold yourself accountable for (we’ll talk more about accountability in a later installment too). These are the measures that will keep you focused on what’s most important to you.

Your Homework

If you’ve been keeping up with this series up to this point, don’t stop now. Things are just starting to get good. After the last article in the series, you articulated your wildly important goal (WIG). Now that you’re into the second discipline, it’s time to figure out 1-3 lead measures that you can focus on. What are the daily activities or behaviors that are predictive of your success and that you can influence? Think about it. Write them down. And come back for the next article in this series, when we’ll talk about keeping score.