Maybe your life is full.
There’s no more room. None. No dessert menu, thanks. Full.
You’re as busy as you want to be, you’re doing work that matters to you, and all is right with the world.
Then you get an idea.
A big idea.
An idea for a project that could change your organization. A side hustle that could teach you new skills. A career change that could transform your life.
Your big idea is high-risk/high-reward. It might not work, and even if it worked, where are you going to find the time? Like I said, your life is full. But you can’t shake this idea.
Can you say yes and still keep your sanity?
And if so, how?
Work-Life Balance Is Overrated
Life cannot always be in perfect balance every day and every week. –Zig Ziglar, Developing the Qualities of Success
I know this sounds crazy, but let me explain.
The shorter the time frame, the less important work-life balance is. The longer the time frame, the more important it becomes.
Imagine an old-fashioned scale with “work” on one side and “home” on the other. Imagine tipping the scale toward the “work” side for the following lengths of time:
- Five straight hours. Not even a full work day. No problem here.
- Five straight days. For most of us, this is a normal workweek.
- Five straight weeks. Most jobs have a “busy time of year,” but we can’t do this too often.
- Five straight months. This is asking a lot of our loved ones and ourselves. It can be done, but it better be rare. It also better have a built-in finish line.
- Five straight years. A serious balance problem.
Day-to-day and week-to-week, work-life balance doesn’t matter much. The more we zoom out, though, the more important it becomes.
If you’re going to pursue a new idea, it might be okay to sign up for a month (or six) of imbalance. The key, as we’ll see in the next section, is to set some boundaries at the outset.
Make the Rules Before You Start
Elite marathon runners decide before the race under what conditions they’ll quit. When you’re on mile 22, you’re not thinking straight.
If you’re considering a big new project that’s going to make your life a little crazy, you need to set parameters in advance.
In what way will things be crazy?
- Will I be working 50-hour weeks? 60? 80?
- Will I work nights? Weekends?
- Will this cost money? How much? Where will it come from?
How long will things be crazy?
- Is this six weeks of crazy? Six months?
- When’s my “drop-dead date?” Pick a date to decide whether to continue the project. If things don’t work out, better to bail right away.
Make decisions before the race. Don’t trust yourself on mile 22.
Decide What to Eliminate
If your life is full, something’s going to have to go. Examine your regular activities, and ask yourself some questions:
- What would this look like if it were easy?
- Can I delegate this? Can a colleague take the lead on a different project? Can your kid mow the lawn?
- What would happen if I just didn’t do this? If you skipped that meeting, what would happen? Will the whole thing shrivel and die if you’re not there?
- Can I spend less time and take bolder action?
- What can I temporarily live without? Can you skip poker night for two months? Give up your Friday nights for three months? What about Sunday afternoons?
- What’s non-negotiable? For me, practicing the trumpet is non-negotiable. I’ve got to get in at least 20 minutes per day. End of discussion. Exercise and sleep, I can skip. This isn’t healthy, but it’s honest.
A good friend of mine has mastered this kind of “activity triage.” Once, when she was finishing her Ph.D., she came out with the rest of the group for dinner and a movie. After dinner, she sat in the theater lobby and worked on her dissertation for two hours while the rest of us watched the movie.
That’s ruthless planning. Dinner? Non-negotiable. Movie? Negotiable.
If You Pass, Can You Live With Yourself?
The answer may well be “yes.” Not every big idea is a great idea.
And if the answer is “no,” you’ll find out soon enough. You won’t be able to get it out of your head.
When a big idea crashes into your busy life, you don’t have to make a snap decision. Apply some rational thought and define your parameters. You might be surprised at what you can make happen.