MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: If you had an extra day in the week, how would you spend it? is written by Lori Bailey, global head of special lines at Zurich Insurance.
I recently led a session at a women’s leadership Summit that was focused on the topic of work-life balance. It’s a topic that has always been extremely important to me, and one that I try to incorporate in mentoring, leadership training and personal development sessions. However, this gathering was a bit different as I was able to incorporate one of my favorite foods—chocolate.
Here’s how. As each participant entered the room, she was asked to take an empty cup and place exactly 24 M&M’s into her cup—1 M&M for each hour of the day—selecting from a variety of colors representing the following activities: work, family, community, self, sleep, and other. After selecting their M&M’s, the women were then asked to get into groups based on their “dominant” category—i.e. the area where they spent the most amount of time in any given day. The only rule: you had to have exactly 24 M&M’s—no more, no less. Not surprisingly, most participants found that their cups were predominantly filled with “work” M&M’s (designated by the color blue), with the remaining categories creating a colorful depiction of the balance of their day.
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In the discussion that followed, there were two themes that immediately became clear: it was hard to fit all of one’s daily activities and obligations into 24 separate and distinct hours; and everyone had areas of their life that were noticeably lacking. For some it was sleep; for others it was self, and for many it was family. As the leader of this activity, I also completed the exercise and shared my findings with the group. To my surprise, there was one area in particular where I was completely lacking—community. Whether it was volunteering at my church, helping out in my daughter’s classroom or assisting with my son’s cross-country team, this area of my life wasn’t just out of balance – it wasn’t even in the picture. But in order to get it into the picture, it would have to be at the expense of another area of my life. At the time I thought ‘if I could just create more hours in the day, or another day in the week, I could make this happen’.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t grow on trees, or magically increase according to one’s will. So if I was to make this change, I would have to actively manage the other areas of my life to keep everything in balance. What I soon realized was that I didn’t have to necessarily sacrifice other areas of my life in order to make this happen—I could combine them. Through Zurich, I could volunteer at several places as part of Global Community Week which would combine work and community; and volunteering with my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop combined family and community. I didn’t actually need more hours in the day—I just had to be smarter about how I used them. By making these small changes, I was able to incorporate all of the “colors” into my life’s cup without sacrificing one area for another. Maintaining an adequate life balance is a challenge for all of us—but even more important is making sure you have the right areas to balance.