The quest for work-life balance too often turns into a finger-pointing exercise. “I’d have better work-life balance if it weren’t for my unreasonable boss.” “Life would feel a whole lot more balanced if my kids weren’t committed to dozens of activities.” “My clients won’t let me have even two hours of downtime.” The truth, however, is that we’re more responsible for our own work-life balance than we’d prefer to claim. And we have to set up a cadence of accountability if we want to stay on track.
In this series of articles, we’ve been exploring how the organizational effectiveness lessons of The 4 Disciplines of Execution can be applied to improve our personal effectiveness, and even to our work-life balance challenges.
- The first discipline that must be mastered is focusing on the wildly important, in which we ruthlessly filter the many demands on our attention down to one key area of life that we want to transform, and we define a WIG — a Wildly Important Goal — that will tell us when we’ve succeeded.
- Once we’ve defined that wildly important goal, we identify and act on the leading measures that tell us we’re headed in the right direction — before we get there (or don’t).
- With lag and lead measures identified, we have to create a compelling scoreboard that enables us, at a glance, to determine whether we’re winning or losing in our quest for a more balanced life.
If you’ve followed through on the first three disciplines, you should be proud. You’ve set yourself up for success and taken a far more structured and — ahem — disciplined approach to work-life balance than most of your complaining compadres.
But your work isn’t over yet. It’s with the fourth discipline that we start to make a meaningful impact on our own lives. That discipline is all about claiming ownership of our experience, taking responsibility, and holding ourselves accountable for improving our own work-life balance. Covey and company call this discipline “creating a cadence of accountability,” but we can just call it “checking in.”
Plan, Act, and Monitor for Work-Life Balance
The first two disciplines were all about planning and acting to focus on what’s important, even while you’re managing the whirlwind of daily details and distractions that require your attention. But without accountability, you’re far less likely to see any progress. That’s what disciplines 3 and 4 are all about.
With discipline 3, you set a scoreboard that was easy to update and easy to read. With discipline 4, you’re going to make sure it stays updated. And it shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes each week. All you need is a rhythm.
The Rhythm of Checking In
So you’ve figured out what’s wildly important, you’ve written a goal that clearly states what success will look like and what your deadline is, you’ve figured out daily actions you can take and track to move you toward that goal, and you’ve worked up a simple, visual, public scoreboard for tracking your progress. Now it’s time to start checking in.
In the organizational context of 4 Disciplines of Execution, the cadence of accountability requires more time and more formality so that the whole team can engage. But when it’s all for you, it’s much simpler. Here’s how you do it.
Schedule a weekly meeting with yourself — not more than 10 minutes — to do just four things:
- Write down 1-3 things you did in the previous week that impacted your lead measures.
- Write down anything you thought you were going to do but didn’t, and reflect a bit on why those things didn’t happen.
- Update both the lead and lag measures on your scoreboard.
- Write down 1-3 things you will commit to doing in the coming week to impact your lead measures.
That’s it. Simple, right? The key is consistency and, yes, discipline. Pretty much anybody can set a goal. Slightly fewer people can figure out the actions that will actually move them toward that goal. Even fewer will set up a simple, visual, public scoreboard to track their progress. And almost no one will follow through the discipline required to check in on a weekly basis to see if progress is happening. Odds are that you won’t do it.
And I don’t blame you. Accountability to other people is easy. Accountability to oneself is freaken hard. I struggle with it myself. But I also know it can be done. What most folks lack is a structure — a framework to follow — and now you have that.
Honestly, I don’t think you’ll do it, but I’d be thrilled if you proved me wrong. And I won’t be the only one. If you follow through, stick to the system, and actually achieve that Wildly Important Goal, you’ll be thrilled too, and you’ll find your next WIG that much easier to accomplish.
The Four Disciplines of Work-Life Balance
If you’ve followed the guidance in this series of articles and have actually begun tracking progress on your Wildly Important Goal, I applaud you. If you haven’t started yet, I encourage you to go back to the beginning of this series and actually do the work. It’s four simple steps:
- Focus on the wildly important. What’s the one priority you want to significantly affect in the next year? Set a wildly important goal (WIG) to express your commitment.
- Act on the lead measures. What will tell you if you’re making a difference on your wildly important goal while you’re working on it, as opposed to after it’s too late? Find the measures that are predictive of success on your WIG and that you can directly influence with your actions, and track those instead of just praying for progress on the ultimate outcome of your lag measure.
- Create a compelling scoreboard. How can you make your progress clearly visible? Make a visual representation of your lead and lag measures that is easy to update and tells you at a glance whether you’re on track to achieve your WIG or not.
- Create a cadence of accountability. How will you keep yourself honest and focused on your WIG? Establish a weekly rhythm of noting your accomplishments, committing to actions for the following week, and keeping your scoreboard up-to-date.
I’d love to hear how this approach works for you and your wildly important goals. Let me know how it goes, ok?