The concept of work-life balance is outdated and doesn’t help.  The work-life balance conversation is framed so that if one part of the equation wins, the other loses.  It implies that too much work will negatively impact life and vice-a-versa, that too much life will negatively impact work.  Work-life balance supporters encourage us to achieve a balance between the two, but the result of this balancing act is mediocrity in both areas. And when life happens and we need to spend more time in one area versus the other, too often guilt, shame, stress, and depression set in.

There also are insidious value judgments lurking in the shadows of this concept.  For example, people who work hard at their careers apparently do not appreciate the wonders of life–they are lumped into that sad lot of soulless humans missing out on the bigger things in life.  And what about those who choose life?  Well, they are soft.  They do not have the constitution required to make sacrifices, to work hard, or to dedicate themselves to winning.  They are using the ‘life excuse’ because they just don’t have what it takes to be successful in business.

But none of this makes sense.  None of it!  Stewart Friedman, a professor at the Wharton School of Business, has worked tirelessly to offer a different approach for people wanting more from their lives. Friedman advocates for total leadership, a holistic approach to life that integrates four domains: work, family, community, and self (mind, body, spirit).  By focusing on the right things, the nonessential tasks that clutter ‘to do’ lists become obsolete and people start creating real value in their lives.  People do not work less, or try to balance work and life, but instead, they focus on the right things at the right time and effectively communicate these priorities with the people most important in their lives.  The result is a positive impact in each domain, creating a cumulative effect described by Friedman as “four-way wins.”  According to Friedman, leaders who embrace the four domains of life and who have honest conversations with their people become more fulfilled and effective.

Focus is the key to Friedman’s total leadership, and Olympic athletes illustrate its power.  Terry Orlick, a sport psychologist who has worked with hundreds of Olympians, agrees that focus is central to pursuing excellence.  Yes, hard work goes without saying, as does an Olympian’s dedication, sacrifice, and grit.  But their focus, and how this determines the decisions they make, remains central to their success.  Olympic athletes choose to pursue excellence in their sport and prioritize their lives accordingly.  They share their values, dreams, and goals with those closest to them to establish expectations and to gain support for how they will need to spend their time.  These athletes create an environment that allows them to focus on pursuing excellence in their sport.

To be fulfilled and to pursue your personal excellence, you need to move past the notion of work-life balance and adopt Friedman’s concept of total leadership.  You need to focus like an Olympic athlete on the stuff that is important to you.  With that in mind, here are four steps to get you started.

Step One: Identify what Friedman’s four domains mean to you.  Think about what adds the most value to your life, what gives you the most fulfillment. This is going to be different for everyone, and that is okay.

Step Two: Conduct an honest assessment of what matters the most to you during this season of your life, or during a particular moment. Understand that crises will occur and that adjustments and flexibility will become the norm.  Don’t become rigid, adapt accordingly.

Step Three: Have an honest and ongoing conversation with the most important people in your life about your needs and how those needs will impact them.

Step Four: Prioritize your time and focus accordingly.

For this four-step process to work, you need to routinely evaluate, discuss, and adjust. The result? An environment that supports and encourages you to pursue your personal excellence, guilt-free.  You will be able to confidently focus on the right things, at the right time, allowing you to live your best life.

(Adapted from original article published by the Reading Eagle Business Weekly on 2-27-18)