Editor’s Note:  This is a guest post by J.D. Meier, author of Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life.

Life’s not static.  That little idea right there is part of what makes finding work life balance such a challenge.  To find your balance, it’s less like striking the perfect pose, and more like being an acrobat through life.  In other words, finding your work life balance is an ongoing thing, and having a few key skills can help you better deal with whatever life happens to throw your way.   The key to growing the right skills, often starts by asking the right questions.

To really appreciate something, sometimes you need to know the opposite.  I work at Microsoft.  It can feel like a wild ride of madness and mayhem, with more work than any single human can do in a day.  And the job is never done.  As a passionate corporate warrior, I embraced the ride for many years, and threw many hours at my job.  It was nothing for me to throw 80 or 100 hours.  I was known as a work horse.  That was not balance.

The 40 Hour Effective Work Week

Somewhere around 2003, my manager at the time, said I needed to change my game.  He challenged me to get the same output, but in 40 hours.  He said I was not setting a good example, and that getting the work done can’t be based on me throwing hours at it.  To add to the challenge, he wanted me to bring out the best in others, and crank up the overall output for the team.  It was a tall order, but my manager was known for pushing the envelope, as well as being an insightful mentor.

At this stage, I asked my manager how I was supposed to achieve the impossible.  He said very simply: “Work smarter, not harder.”

Work Smarter, Not Harder

While I liked the idea, and it seemed like sound advice, I thought I already was working smart.  How could I work “smarter?”  Luckily, constraints are a breeding ground for creative ideas, and it’s been said that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  My manager had already given me my new “time budget.”  Now, how would I spend my new time budget of 40 hours for my best results?

That was the key.  It’s not about “spending time.”  It’s about “flowing value.”

Parkinson’s Law says that “time expands to fill its container.”  I had learned a bad habit over the years of throwing time at problems.  Without the luxury of throwing time at things, I had to start asking new questions…

Questions that Unleash Work Life Balance

Here are a few questions that helped me, chop my work week down to size, while actually flowing more value from myself and others:

1.  What are the most valuable things to work on?

2.  Are there ways to change the process to reduce friction and create glide paths?

3.  Can we tackle big things with little goals to flow more value along the way?

4.  How can I spend more time in my strengths, and less time in my weaknesses?

5.  How can I help others to spend more time in their strengths, and less time in their weaknesses?

… and the best part of it was, that by having everybody spend more time in their strengths, work became a form of self-expression.  Everyone was more engaged in what they do, mastering their craft, while growing their skills, and doing more of what they love.

Sometimes less really is more.

image courtesy of mike.ga