Balancing Getting Things Done and Relationships

05/05/2015 10:49 am ET | Updated May 05, 2016

I've been wrestling with some paradoxes over the last few weeks...

On the one hand, you can't give others what you don't have, so if you're completely undisciplined with your time investment, it's hard to invest deeply in meaningful relationships. On the other hand, if you're too structured, you can shut yourself off from deep connection with others because you're too controlled and measured in your approach.

Also as I've been reading the very insightful book The Gifts of Imperfection, I've come across this paradox from Brené Brown's research:

On the one hand, "Compassionate people are boundaried people ... The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become ... If we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior."

But on the other hand, "Without exception, spirituality -- the belief in connection, a power greater than self, and interconnections grounded in love and compassion -- emerged as a component of resilience."

So what does this mean? How can we be intentional and boundaried and yet not cut off the connections that exist between us because of our shared humanity?

I think this will be a question we will all need to wrestle with for the rest of our lives, but here are a few of my recent insights that may help you go from simply having your schedule under control to having a schedule that allows you to invest in life at the highest level possible:

  • Intention is Key: To be truly relaxed, open, and present in the moment, you need to know the basics are in order. That means have a clear sense of your calendar or at least reminders in place to prompt you when it's time to do something. That also means having clarity around what key activities need to be done by certain times. Without this basic level of control, your attempts to be open to the moment can backfire and spin you into chaos.
  • Leave Space: I must admit that I can get tunnel vision when I'm focused on getting certain things done. This can be immensely helpful from a productivity standpoint but not from a connection standpoint. To overcome the downside of this tendency, I'm trying to leave a bit more flex and openness in my schedule on a daily basis. I find that when I'm not feeling overly pressured by deadlines, I have a much greater capacity to engage spontaneously with other people.
  • Greedy is Needy: I listened to a really thought-provoking radio show on Greed vs. Generosity in Relationships. The key point that the counselors who were being interviewed on the show made was that when we're being greedy with our time, we have a need to feed our ego with something that doesn't intrinsically satisfy in an attempt to cover up our pride, pain, fear, or unrealistic expectations. Hence the over compulsion to work, be busy, or even be overly invested in a hobby that squeezes out time for our relationships. But to truly be satiated we must practice generosity in relationships, which can lead to the deep sense of love, connection, and belonging which is intrinsically what we all truly want and need.
  • Less Perfectionism, More Self Compassion: As Brené shares in The Gifts of Imperfection:

  • Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame ... Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from taking flight.

    We put up all these perfectionism walls because the truth is that we can't be and do everything. We need to choose for being authentic to ourselves and our values and realize that may mean we won't always appear like others around us. In the face of that reality, our natural inclination is to justify why we are the way we are but what will really lead to the best outcome is having greater compassion for ourselves and others.

In the end, we're all a lot more the same than we are different. I came across this video that has made me cry every time I watch it. It's called "The Mother 'Hood Official Video." Whether you're a parent or not, I believe it's the best 2 minutes and 38 seconds you can invest in today. Yes, I'm a time investment expert, but I want us all to remember that we're people first.

About Real Life E®
Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who feel guilty, overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished. She is an expert on achieving more success with less stress. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through training programs.

McGraw Hill published her first book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success with Less Stress. Harvard Business Review recently published her second book How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Elizabeth contributes to blogs like Lifehacker, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and the 99U blog on productivity for creative professionals and has appeared on CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox.