One big question you need to ask yourself

I spend a lot of my day speaking, writing, talking, and recording information about how people 'balance' their lives

One of the first things I ask my clients to do is to print a copy of their diary from the previous four weeks. This elicits some strange looks and I'm sure people are thinking "just give me some strategies and tell me how to be more productive. Why do I need to show you this stuff?"

But show me your diary and I'll immediately tell you how aligned you are to what is truly important in your life. It also reveals how disconnected you are (what psychologists call non-concordant goals).

So where do your priorities lie? Let's do a simple experiment to find out:

Smartphone snapshot

Having your mobile phone glued to your palm 24/7 seems to be the norm these days. Take a scroll through and make a note of the following:

Who wants to be remembered for having the emptiest inbox? Or for working the most hours?

  • 10 most recent calls made and received
  • Who is in your 'Favourites' list
  • How late at night did you check your email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or news feeds?
  • What percentage of your emails are work versus personal?

Diary dissection

Next, pull up or print out your diary at a glance for the previous four weeks.

  • How many appointments are in your diary for personal activities (family, relationships, fitness activities, hobbies, etc?
  • How many social outings did you miss in the previous month?
  • Did you work on the weekends or late at night?

How many of these calls emails, tweets, posts, pics, and hours at the office are connected to things that matter to you? Where is most of your time spent, and more importantly, is this in line with what you really want out of life?

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The truth is many people are now so attached to their online lives that they're becoming detached from the real things. How many days of the week are you going home on time, eating dinner with your family or loved ones. How much fun do you currently have in your life?

The average Australian spends 10 hours and 19 minutes online each day with more of us becoming digital omnivores, equipped with a laptop, tablet, and smartphone to multitask from sunrise to sundown.

The world's best connectivity question

Going analogue can cause great anxiety for some, but the impact on your life will probably be minimal. I learned this first hand from Geoff Rimmer, the executive general manager of Trustee & Wealth Services at Equity Trustees.

Rimmer gave me what I believe is the best question to ask anybody to help them sort out what's really important. Drum roll please. 

"What is the number one thing I could take from you right now that would hurt the most?"

All in the family

My bet is 99.9 per cent of people would say family. It is the overwhelming response I get when I ask my corporate clients this question.

Then I'll take a look at their diary. I am continually amazed that the majority of people answer 'my children and my family are the most important possessions in my life' – yet they often spend less than 10 per cent of their total time with them!

This is a massive disconnect and explains why so many people feel like their lives lack a quality of depth and richness. Striving to be your best and to achieve professional goals is great – just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Kicking goals

Self-concordant goals, which have personal meaning to an individual, are more successful than those pursued for external reasons. It's the difference between 'I want to be CEO because I'm a good leader and want the best for the company' or 'I want to be CEO because of the status symbol and the massive paycheck'.

Doing something just for the money, fame, or success is not enough, and although these people seem to 'have it all', they are likely the ones who feel they're missing out.

To me it's about getting the balance between what Tim Kasser calls the Good Life (pleasure, meaning and purpose) and the Goods Life (money, power and kudos).

You can't buy back time

Let's finish with a graphic image of Cher straddling that gun on the USS Missouri when she sang the prophetic words:

If I could turn back time. If I could find a way.

Sorry if that image is still etched in your head, but Cher was onto something. While we can't turn back time, we can find a way to be more aligned in the future and it starts with your diary.

Who wants to be remembered for having the emptiest inbox?

Or for working the most hours?

Or for having the most holidays stock-piled waiting for that ever elusive rainy day?

The big questions

Grab a coffee and spend five to 10 minutes reflecting on the following three questions:

  1. What do I really want in my personal and my professional life?
  2. What does success look like?
  3. How can I create a better week and schedule it in?

We all need a reality check from time to time. Get back on board with what matters to you by reviewing your weekly schedule and make time for family, friends, social events, and even some all important down time.

What does success look like you to you? Let us know in the comments section. 

Workplace performance expert Andrew May has been helping his white-collar clients achieve both physical and mental gains for decades, and has learned a trick or 20 – plus a few of the pitfalls – along the way.