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Teresa Beck prefers the term work-life management to work-life balance. The word “balance,” says the partner at Lincoln, Gustafson and Cercos LLP in San Diego, suggests something precarious to her — “a set of scales where adding weight to one side causes weight to shift on the other, where having more of one thing means having less of another.”
Management, on the other hand, suggests direction, intention, organization, administration, the act of handling something successfully. It’s what both men and women, with and without kids, “in countless shapes and forms are doing all over the country,” Beck said. “And that’s what you can do, too.”
In a recent Sound Advice podcast, sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Litigation, Beck shared her work-life management “dashboard” system, a way to envision what’s working and where you need to focus your efforts.
“I’d like you to picture a dashboard with several gauges,” she said. “Note that everyone’s dashboard will look different because we all have different things we think are important and different ways of assessing how we’re doing. You can design your dashboard any way you want to, and your dashboard may change from year to year, from month to month even.”
Beck’s dashboard has gauges for family, work, soul/spirit, volunteering and fitness. “Let’s imagine that each gauge has a green zone in the areas of about 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock, signifying optimal conditions,” she said. “Each side of the gauge goes to yellow to signify needs attention and red to signify critical.”
Here is a rendering of Beck’s dashboard.
On her dashboard, she is attempting to get the arrows on each of the gauges to stand straight up a 12 o’clock.
A note on the size of the gauges: Just like on your car’s dashboard, not all of the gauges need to be the same size. For example, Beck’s soul/spirit gauge is bigger than the others. “For me, being regularly active in my church, having daily prayer or meditation time and regularly studying books relating to my faith are all activities that have served as a strong foundation for me in managing my life by giving me standards to make decisions by, strength in difficult times and a huge sense of gratitude, among other things,” Beck said.
You might find that the size of the gauges change over time. “For example, if you’re having health problems, your fitness/health gauge might be so large that it’s bigger than anything else because you need to focus on that until you recover,” Beck said.
“One important thing I’ve learned over the years is that successfully managing a busy life requires flexibility, so be flexible and understand that as your career develops, your children grow, your parents age, everything is in flux,” she added. “If you’ve found that one of the gauges has come to be more important, you can make that adjustment. You may even add new gauges and discard old ones.”
The last gauge on Beck’s dashboard is the overall satisfaction gauge. This has a green zone for “very satisfied,” yellow for “manageable” and red for “unacceptable.” The intent behind the gauge is to assess your feelings about how you’re managing overall, Beck said. “It’s important when we might have a few gauges that need work, yet other gauges are going well, to understand that we might still be happy with our lives,” she said. “On the other hand, if we’re unhappy, perhaps looking at where we are with the individual gauges can help us determine where we can make changes.”