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Beyond the Work-Life Balance

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The attempt to achieve "balance" in our lives can be a trap. I almost never feel in balance. For me, I'm either working too much or not enough. I'm too focused, or not focused enough.

Instead of aiming for balance, I suggest we pay attention to the quality of what we do, and the quality of how we approach whatever we are doing. I like to look for ways that I can accomplish the most with the least amount of unnecessary effort. This generally means finding ways to do less.

To accomplish more by doing less involves a simple, yet profound, transformation: it's a different way of being in the world. You may, in fact, be no less active, but you will be less scattered and distracted, and you will accomplish more of what matters to you - more of what aligns with your deepest purpose and intention; more of what brings you satisfaction and connection with others; more of what you believe really needs to get done. Doing less and accomplishing more is about aligning your actions with your values and your particular passions. And finally, by becoming more peaceful and at peace with yourself, you will spread that into the world, which will become that much more peaceful and sane as a result.

Here are five practices for doing less:

1. Take time to rest mentally and physically in between or outside of your usual activities, perhaps instituting a regular practice of meditation, retreats, breaks, and reflection. In the midst of a busy life, a full work day, go for a walk, do yoga, read some poetry.

2. Stop, pause in the midst of activities: mindfulness practice (such as coming in touch with your breath in between reading or sending emails). You can do this without breaking from intense activity - just bring your awareness to your breath and your body.

3. Identify and reduce unnecessary activities. In this case, "unnecessary" means those things that are not in alignment with what you want to accomplish.

4. Do less by shifting the quality of your awareness. We must be completely present for what we are doing, without sacrificing or rushing what's in front of us in order to get to "more important" stuff later. No matter how mundane the activity, treat everything as important and take pleasure in it. At bottom, whatever we are doing right now is what we are engaged in and it deserves our full attention and appreciation.

5. Do less by integrating effort with a feeling of effortlessness. This sounds like a contradiction but it isn't. With practice, we all can find that sweet spot that combines engagement, creativity, and composure.

I would propose that we can almost always accomplish more when we approach each moment and task in an open, relaxed, and fully engaged manner -- whether leading a meeting, answering emails, or taking our children to school. In this way, our sense of accomplishment depends more on the way we act (which we can control) than on the results (which may be out of our control). No matter the chaos of any particular day, this can become one of our most important and useful aspirations and measures of success.

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