Years ago, author and consultant Cali Williams Yost used to try to talk to executives about ‘work-life balance.’ That all changed when one senior leader pulled her aside. “He said, ‘I’m going to take pity on you and tell you what’s going on. Every time I hear ‘work-life balance,’ I hear ‘work less,’ and we have so much going on here, I can’t support that.” The lights went on. “All of a sudden,” Yost recounts, “I heard myself say, ‘It’s not work-life balance, it’s work-life fit – giving them flexibility.’ It was like magic, because the judgment went away that there was a right answer, so people could think about possibilities.”
Sixteen years later, her new book Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day, reveals the strategies she uses to help her clients achieve a better work-life fit. “At first, I thought people needed help with big changes,” she says, “but I kept hearing, ‘I’d love to work from home two days a week, but I can’t even get a haircut,’ or ‘I’d love to shift my hours, but I can’t even go on a date.’ I heard this over and over, and I realized: people don’t have a foundation of everyday well-being in order, so how can they handle big changes?”
Tweak It is her effort to help executives carve out time for what’s most important in their lives. “Twenty years ago, the clocks on the wall told us when work ended and the rest of life began,” she says. “Now, there are no boundaries, so people can’t figure out when to finish a project vs. when to go to the gym, or when to follow up with a prospect vs. when to send a birthday card to their mother. Knowing how to manage your day-to-day work-life fit is a modern skill set we need to succeed, but almost nobody has it.”
The first step, Yost says, is determining the elements that matter to you but are currently getting short shrift. It’ll be different for every person: some might have children they want to spend more time with; others might desperately want to include more time at the gym or weekly coffee with a good friend.
Next, in a step that often gets overlooked, you need to specifically plan out the “how” of your goals. “If my tweak is I really want 8 hours of sleep two nights a week,” says Yost, “you have to ask when. If it’s Sunday and Thursday, put it down on your calendar, and then ask, ‘how are you going to make that happen?’ You can’t just snap your fingers and be in bed at 10pm; you have to turn off the TV and computers an hour beforehand, turn off your phone, get your pajamas on. You have to think these things through beforehand. We often wonder why that action we committed to didn’t happen, and it’s because we didn’t think through the next steps.”
Third, says Yost, set realistic goals for yourself. Don’t try to make 25 changes in a week; it simply won’t happen. “One week, maybe you can try three meaningful tweaks,” she says, and if it goes well, you can add more later. Importantly, she says, don’t dwell on where you fall short: “Every week, celebrate your success. Celebrate what you did get done, even if it’s only 70% of what you wanted.”
One tweak you shouldn’t neglect, she advises, is staying on top of your career. Citing my book Reinventing You, she says that “thinking about how you’re positioning yourself in your career has to be part of people’s everyday work-life fit: don’t wait until there’s a crisis.” She suggests executives ask themselves, “Who do I need to be networking with? Who should I send an email to? Have I updated my LinkedIn profile lately?”
Even one small career-focused activity per week (such as reading industry publications, watching TED talks, or connecting with an old colleague) can pay off, she says. “It should really only take you 20 minutes a week,” she says. “You have to make those small steps toward reinvention a part of your work-life fit, so you’re not caught off guard, and don’t find yourself fired or laid off without a network.”
Finding time for sleep, or the gym, or your family may sound daunting. But Yost believes that even a few small adjustments, when made regularly, can have a dramatic impact. “It’s important to understand that work and life are one, and we have to think about the broader context,” she says.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on September 10, 2013.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.