One Thing at a Time



I like work-life separation, not work-life balance. If I’m on, I want to be on and maximally productive. If I’m off, I don’t want to think about work.

There are way too many of us trying to juggle way too many responsibilities, all at the same time. You have seen it in meetings – a leadership team is gathered around a conference table, with most team members distracted by text messaging, shuffling papers, and “multi-tasking.”

You have seen it on the highways, often with dangerous consequences.

And you see it in restaurants as families eat together but don’t speak to each other. We are in one place but never fully focused. We fool ourselves into thinking we are highly productive, all while feeling more and more stressed because, in reality, we are not.

The devices and practices that were supposed to create work-life balance have actually created a significant and unproductive imbalance.

Essentially, there are seven areas of life: Faith, Work, Health, Relationships, Finances, Home, and Personal Growth. If you work 40 hours a week, you can’t give 40 hours to each of the other areas in order to create a time balance between your work and the other six areas. You intuitively know that. Yet, what do you do? It is likely you attempt to multi-task, as in the examples above. This makes you feel like you are balancing work and life quite well, and being highly productive – but if you ask your team, your spouse, or your children, what would they say? Do they have your full attention when you are with them?

The case for work-life separation
There is great value in the ability to focus on life one area at a time, giving it full focus with maximum productivity. In times past, this was somewhat attainable. You may have worked late at the office on occasion, but when you left the office, you were generally able to leave your work. In this age of technology, however, the work is always with you.

How do you create work-life separation?
Following the example of a program to overcome addiction, you can take these steps to gain focus and create targeted success, not just in your work, but in all areas of your life.


PROBLEM – Admit you have a problem that is out of control. For varying reasons, people get addicted to work. For some, it is the adrenaline rush of getting results. For others, it is the fear of what happens if they don’t work. As with any addiction, it is either driven by pleasure or by pain… and more often than not, either way, it ends in loss. Heart attacks, relationship issues, or loss of “self” are often the outcome. Executive burnout is an issue we often address in executive coaching sessions.

ASSESSMENT – Determine which 1-3 areas of your life are most out of balance. Many draw this out as a “Wheel of Life” – and the end result is a very unbalanced wheel. Ask yourself what one thing you can do to improve in each of the most extreme areas. Set those as your next goals. Improving your top areas often has a cascading effect on other areas as well.

VISION – Create a vision for where you want to be. The key is to stop long enough to reflect on where you really want to go in life. What is the end toward which you are working? What does success look like to you – not just in one area – but in each area of life?

VALUES – Determine your values. Values are the principles by which you live. They are bedrock. List your top five values. Literally, write them down.  

12345ACTIONS – Decide what actions you will to take to live by those values. For example, if one of your values is health, the action could be movement. If you claim that health is a value to you, yet you never leave your desk or get off the couch to exercise in any form or fashion, you have either violated a value – or it is not a real value to you. If you are doing something that violates any one of your values, you will feel stress, anger, or frustration. Pay close attention to those things that make you feel this way, and you will likely find a violated value at the root.

HABITS – Replace bad habits with good habits. Habits are essentially daily actions. Are your daily habits – your repeated actions – based on values, vision, and your desired destiny? Your habits create your destiny. Are you making daily deposits toward the outcome you desire?

PLAN – Make a plan based on vision. There are two ways to plan. You can start with all that is on your current to-do list and plan for how you are going to accomplish the items on the list; or you can create a plan based on the big picture first. Start with vision. Where do you want to go, and how will you get there? Then look at values – what daily actions will you take to maintain those values?

ACCOUNTABILITY – Find a method to hold yourself accountable to your goals. This can come in the form of your plan, a calendar, a timer, or someone who will serve as a partner in helping you reach your goals. This person must be objective – someone who will encourage your progress but also ask the hard questions when needed, someone who won’t let you give up on you. This is why successful people have coaches.

BOUNDARIES – Work-life separation requires boundaries. You must first establish schedule boundaries – times when you will work, times when you will not work, and flex times when you will work if necessary. Communicate these to your team and to your friends and family. Then…prepare to be tested! Just as certainly as you set your boundaries, someone or something will push those boundaries. You must hold the line with rare exception. This may mean putting your phone in a lockbox at times, or having “digital detox” days. It may mean closing your office door to focus on projects, or turning off inbox notifications.

REVIEW – Review your progress regularly. Consider your calendar, desk, and inbox. Is everything in those areas relative to your values, actions, and goals? Or do you see a lot of unrelated clutter? Review your progress regularly to ensure your to-do list aligns with your values and priorities, and not those of everyone else.

Dave Ferguson is an internationally recognized executive leadership coach, speaker, facilitator and author. Contact him at 704-907-0171 or at Ferguson is a part time resident of Hilton Head Island. This article was originally published in CEOWorld magazine and is reprinted here with permission.