Tuesday, October 11, 2022

When listening to a podcast featuring Steve Shriver, Iowa entrepreneur and CEO of Eco-Lips, something he said about balancing work and life really resonated with me. It was about the ability to manage one’s work life and life outside of work being a myth. Shriver discussed how different stages in his life and business endeavors called for him to flex where he was spending his time. He noticed it was often out of balance but was what the season of life needed at the time. For example, he shared that missing out on family events when work was extremely busy was traded for taking advantage of more steady time at work to participate in his children’s activities, practices, etc.

I am not a CEO, but this resonated with me. The tradeoff of our resources (time, money, and energy) is constantly occurring to help us manage all of our responsibilities. Being intentional and mindful of the “gives” and “takes” is key.

Let me be very clear. Only you will be able to discover a cadence or groove that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the busyness of life. But the consequences of a do-nothing approach are dire. Said a different way, we must be intentional about where we spend our precious resources (our time, money, and energy) to support our overall well-being and prevent burnout.

Reacting to life’s challenges without any planning or intention inevitably mounts up. Newton Cheng, Director of Global Health and Performance at Google, took a mental health leave from work in January 2022 citing he was “tired, burned out, and ashamed of how I was showing up as a husband and father.” As an Asian-American leader, Cheng said that something was calling on him to share his story in hopes of helping prevent others from getting to where job, family, or life are on the line due to the crippling nature of unchecked stress.

Cheng has received considerable support for seeking help and sharing his story. The World Health Organization reports that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% in 2021 and many other organizations are reporting that they are seeing similar declines in mental health due to increases in stress.

And even fewer admit to seeking professional help. I am deeply concerned that the leading indicator of increased stress is going to begin showing up in even more severe mental health issues or events such as losing a family or job.

At the same conference where I met Cheng, I had the opportunity to ask other well-being professionals what they do to juggle and balance the busy demands of life – I think that their insights lend a nice perspective.

Beth Finkle, director of Employee Well-Being and Engagement at the University of Delaware, has four children and leads an office of 10 employees. Here are some of her strategies for managing her extremely busy life:

  • Reserve Fridays for focused work and decline meetings when possible to keep the day open
  • No work email on your phone
  • When invited to participate in new work projects or committees, always ask for clarity on the scope of the work and involvement to discern if it’s something you can take on

Carla Lopez is a mother of two and the manager of Wellness Programs for the University of Texas System (13 institutions!). Some of Carla’s strategies include:

  • Making sure that there is “me time” built into every week. Currently, that is some time for running in the nice, fall weather in Texas.
  • Using technology (Apple watch) to block times as “do not disturb” and scheduling when work reminders are allowed to come through. (Note: there are many articles on ideas for this depending on your device. Remember that you need to find strategies that work for you. I use an analog watch as I find that I get overwhelmed with too much access to technology).

Suzy Harrington is the assistant vice president of Workforce Well-Being at, Texas Children's Hospital. She shared that she has changed a long-standing morning routine to focus on centering prayer and journaling. It cuts into her usual exercise time, but the lesson is that we often need to trade our resources (time, money, and energy) for what will ultimately help our well-being at our present stage in life.

Another colleague simply stated, “Megan, I’ve gotten really good at just saying no to things that I know I cannot feasibly take on, but it’s taken me a long time to get here.”

Show yourself some compassion and do not to compare yourself to others who may appear to have things all figured out. Remind yourself often “I’m doing the best I can with the time/money/energy I have.” The story we tell ourselves is powerful, and our attitude and mindset determine what outcomes are possible for us to achieve.

A famous Henry Ford quote, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't – you're right,” emphasizes how much attitude and mindset determine our outcomes.

There are a few other articles that have been written for our Mental Health @ Iowa “Trending Topics” series that have some very important nuggets on managing demands of busy adults: