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:
- Reward output, not just activity
- Assess whether your organization is generating deep work and eliminating low-value work
- Force people off the clock
- Model the right behavior.
- 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
Harry, thank you for the excellent synthesis. I had not read these papers and will! I did think immediately of you when I saw the cover and delighted to know it is a KSM professor publishing in HBR. That’s excellent. Here are two more ideas:
✅ our technology (as in those parents of the soccer player) are incredible in their ability to distract and they lead to what has been described as Attention Deficit Disorder of Technology. It takes about 20 minutes to get into deep focus, yet they interrupt us much more frequently than that if we are not careful.
✅ The antidote is what has been called “Deep Work” by Cal Newport – and this is sustained focused uninterrupted attention. Very very powerful! In fact it is believed to be part of the effectiveness of the “4 Day work week” study out of Britain. You can see an overview here: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/22/business/four-day-workweek-study.html
Essentially they don’t let people work and when they do come into work they have to work uninterrupted by their boss!
Lastly, sometimes we have to listen to the little voices of family as well as in our reflections that allow us to be unfocused – it’s amzing how wonderful those moments can be, too as you describe.
Thanks for this and for being a champion of “not confusing activity with productivity” – a very powerful point of reflection for all of us.