I frequently get asked the question by students and executives, “Why is self-reflection so important to pursuing life balance?” Let’s discuss why self-reflection is important and how it can be very helpful.

Ask Harry #3

”Why is self-reflection so important to pursuing life balance?”

Let’s be honest, every person reading this post has way more things to do than the time to do them. However, because we are very conscientious, the first reaction is to convince ourselves that if we can just go faster and faster, we can do everything we need to do. As I write this, I am reminded of the video clip from one of my favorite childhood TV shows, “I Love Lucy.” In this 3-minute clip, Lucy and Ethel show what happens when things begin to move faster and faster, and we become busier and busier….

Doesn’t that video say it all?! 😀 Does it sound and look familiar? Well, maybe just going faster and faster is not the answer.

Another potential solution is “multi-tasking” because if we don’t have enough time to do everything sequentially, maybe we can do several things at the same time? Let’s look first at an academic perspective, and then I’ll share one of my personal stories:

Academic perspective: In an article on multitasking switching costs, Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein state: “Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

Personal story: When my kids were younger, my goal as the father of five children was to be one of the athletic coaches for each of their grade school teams. A big lesson for me occurred while I was coaching one of my daughters’ first grade soccer teams. One of the six-year-old girls on our team scored a goal, and I was very excited for her. I ran up to her and yelled, “Fantastic, Liz, great job!! And isn’t it great that your parents are here to watch you make the goal?” I was amazed to hear the response from this elementary schooler: “Well, Mr. Kraemer, they are here, but they aren’t watching me. They are only watching there iPhones.” Wow! That really put things into perspective for me. We may think we can multi-task, but are we ever really present? Do we ever “live in the moment,” or are we just “rushing to the next event?”

Adam Waytz, a terrific Kellogg professor, authored a wonderful article in the March issue of the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Becoming a Culture of Busyness.” Professor Waytz does an excellent job of explaining how our current culture rewards “busyness” over everything else. So what can you do about the non-stop busyness? He outlines five points to help us overcome our obsession with busyness:

  1. Reward output, not just activity
  2. Assess whether your organization is generating deep work and eliminating low-value work
  3. Force people off the clock
  4. Model the right behavior.
  5. Build slack into the system

It reminds me of the question I often ask my Kellogg students: “Have we confused ACTIVITY and PRODUCTIVITY?? We are amazingly active, but how productive are we?

This is why SELF-REFLECTION is so important. That is, taking the time to slow down and ask the important questions:

  • What are my values?
  • What is my purpose?
  • What really matters?

If you don’t slow down to reflect, how can you possibly figure out what really matters and why? I often speak with executives and students who tell me, “I am having a lot of trouble balancing my life.” My reaction is: How can you pursue life balance if you have not taken the time to figure out what you are trying to balance?

So, yes, we are all busy, but take the time to figure out why, and what you are going to do about it.


Illustration by Mike Werner