My phone started buzzing in the San Francisco airport.
“Craig, I just heard you speak at the financial advisor’s event,” the man on the other end said. “I need to hire you, like yesterday!”
“Hey, great, but let’s slow down,” I replied. “Let’s start with your name and how I can help.”
“My name’s Blair. I run a financial advisory firm with 25 employees, and I have a big goal.”
“Oh great, what’s that? You want to double your income? Get more clients? Become more productive? Write a book? I can help you with all of those,” I said.
“No, it’s something a LOT more important,” Blair replied. “I want to take every Friday off.”
Whoa. That was a new one. But I was up for the challenge.
You see, I believe in an unconventional concept called work-life mastery, not the traditional, ineffective approach of work-life balance.
Work-life balance implies an equal weighting among work, sleep, and “home time.” It suggests that every day must rigidly look the same because—heaven forbid—you get out of balance, as though imbalance were a cardinal sin.
Work-life balance is so boring. Besides, who among the legends of history and those with a life of legacy ever had balance?
Martin Luther King Jr.? Winston Churchill? Oprah? Your favorite president?
The solution to an unfulfilled life chasing work-life balance is to take ownership of your time so that you achieve your big goals and dreams. For me, it’s writing books that make a massive impact, like “The Perfect Day Formula,” all while traveling to five new countries every year. For Blair, it was growing his company while still taking every Friday off for extra family time (he takes weekends off, too).
“Craig,” Blair told me, “I love my job, but I want to spend more time with my family. Is there any way I could rework my schedule and take Fridays off without getting behind?”
“You bet,” I said, “but right now you’re looking at your schedule all wrong. You’re thinking work comes first, and then you have to fit your personal life around it. But what’s your #1 priority? Your family. So start there, and fit your business around your life rather than your life around your business.”
The lesson, ultimately, was this: Every high-achieving entrepreneur needs to recognize that they have control over their schedules, not the other way around.
In fact, everyone does. Even when I was a salaried employee straight out of college, I still controlled 16 hours of my day. It was up to me to make the best use of that time, to master my work and life, rather than settling for balance.
This mental shift is not easy for people to make; you love your work, and have a hard time separating personal and professional time.
That’s why I walk my clients through a simple goal-setting and scheduling session so that each of them can get clarity on what’s most important.
In the vast majority of cases, the #1 priority is family. That’s true for Blair, too, who wanted to spend extra time with his son who has a learning disability.
With this as a backdrop, I advocate you use the 5 easy steps below for work-life mastery. These should be revisited every week to be sure you’re focused on the right things.
1. Know your top priorities
You’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again: Before you map a path to success, you need to know where you’re going. What are your goals and how do they fit in with your priorities? Do you even know what your priorities are?
Take some time to figure these out first. Get the help of friends, family, and coaches. Bounce ideas off of them. You may not come to a clear-cut definition overnight, but you certainly can’t take strides toward work-life mastery without it. So take time to figure it out. (And read this article I wrote a few months ago on how to define your #1 priority.)
2. Create a weekly schedule that’s easily accessible
Most of my clients create a digital schedule (on Excel or a similar program), and that’s fine. Others, however, appreciate the time spent drawing out a schedule by hand. What matters most is having your week scheduled out hour by hour. It sounds like overkill, but as I say in my book, “structure equals freedom.”
3. Add your top priorities to the calendar
Have you committed to a morning routine? What activities does that entail? Slot them in on your schedule and, if possible, color code them so you know they are part of your non-negotiable to-dos. (For more on suggested morning routine activities, check out this article.)
Set aside time on the schedule for dinner with the family, date nights with your spouse/SO, or one-on-one time with your kids. Again, color code these so you know they are set in stone.
4. Add your work obligations to the calendar
With you personal priorities in place, weave your work to-dos around them. And make sure you control your schedule so you have slotted time for catching up on emails and correspondence, responding to phone messages, etc. Don’t just block time for meetings. And make sure to block an END time for every activity, so that one does not steal from the next.
You might even consider setting aside time in your work schedule for a “digital detox.” This is the time when you can do the big thinking about your business and how you’re going to take it to the next level. If you don’t make time for this, you’ll like get caught in the rut of daily pressures and fighting fires.
5. Find an accountability buddy
If you’re keen on maintaining work-life mastery, consider making a copy of your weekly schedule and sharing it with a spouse or coworker. Tell them you want their help staying on track—whether that means turning off the phone, leaving the office early for a date, or spending time in “big business ideation.”
Trust me; an accountability partner is very often the secret ingredient to work-life mastery success.
Last tip for those who really want to make the most of a weekend with loved ones: Front load your work during the week. Yes, you are in control of your schedule, but that means you’ll have to work later on Monday and Tuesday to be able to take Friday off—which is exactly what my friend and client Blair did.
In fact, he had enough time to launch his own charity called Joyride—a program designed to give kids with learning disabilities the chance to experience a ride in a high-performance vehicle, just like his son loves to do.
Let me leave you with this: Work-life balance is a crock. As an ambitious entrepreneur, you can’t play the 9-5 game and expect to achieve everything you want in business and in life. You need to control your own schedule and make time for what matters most to you.
So stop balancing. You need work-life mastery, and it only takes 5 steps.
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