Executive talent expert, David J. McNeff, reveals proven ways to manage your stress and attain success.
For years, I have heard the same message again and again from my friends, colleagues, and clients: “My company doesn’t appreciate that we need work- life balance! I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t stressed.”
If you’re a working professional, you’ve probably said the same thing at one point. (Especially now, as we soldier on through the pandemic.) And I’m sure you’ve encountered one of the myriad self-help books, systems, HR programs, etc., that promise you that “work-life balance” is the antidote to the stress that is keeping you up at night and negatively impacting your professional and personal relationships.
My forthcoming book from McGraw-Hill is intended to reset that notion and propose that there is no possibility of balance in our lives. To chase balance between your work and family is futile. Instead, I offer a new way of contextualizing your life and managing your stress: the Seven-Slice Method.
This Method suggests that all our lives contain the following Seven Slices:
- The Family Slice
- The Professional Slice
- The Personal Slice
- The Physical Slice
- The Intellectual Slice
- The Emotional Slice
- The Spiritual Slice
The balancing act we are all trying to accomplish is unachievable because we are all actually living seven different lives, or Slices. The problem is that most of us are only pursuing two. Busy professionals who juggle countless tasks, priorities, and pressures every day are particularly prone to ceding the other five Slices of their lives (their Personal, Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual Slices) just to keep up with the circumstances in their Family and Professional Slices.
Some people pick up one or two other Slices through various and random methods, but many live a life focusing on the two primary Slices and leave the rest to chance. No wonder that for many people the stress of family and work feels more acute than ever: it’s become their entire world. That has consequences—and it’s not healthy, to say the least.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNMANAGED STRESS
Work-life balance may be a myth, but the problem it tries to solve—dealing with persistent stress—is very real. In fact, wanting to package this message in a book is a direct result of watching the impact that stressed-out lives have on each of us—even if we are not particularly stressed out ourselves.
As someone who’s often brought in to help executive teams deal with their interpersonal issues, I can speak directly to the damaging toll that stress can have on your career and your workplace. The temptation for people (particularly for ambitious and hardworking professionals) is to grit their teeth and tell themselves to just get through it. In many cases, I’ll have a client in charge of an executive team tell me, “Yes, everyone’s stressed out, but we’re adults; we’ll hang in there and just get through the next quarter.”
Most of the time, the client will call me shortly after to tell me that someone on the team snapped, made a terrible (and often preventable) error in judgment that financially impacted the firm, or angrily quit and/or that every meeting had dissolved into arguing and yelling.
On a company level, stressed employees are more unhappy and less productive. On an individual level, if you are unable to keep your stress from taking over your life, both your personal and professional lives will suffer.
Think back to a time in your life when you were extremely stressed (which might be right now). How did you treat the people around you? Were you able to be as patient, present, and open? Were you in the best mental place to problem-solve, analyze, and make decisions? Probably not.
This is unlikely to be a surprise to you. People can be perfectly pleasant, patient, and easy to get along with (at their job or in their household) when things are calm and easy. But when stress enters the picture, your sense of perspective shrinks. The things that are stressing you out become the center of your world. You become less patient and less available to the people you care about. You might be short or rude to your loved ones or just less present with them. You become less able to feel and express gratitude and to appreciate the good things and good people in your life. You might even start to act out of step with the values you hold dear—for instance, you might stop noticing (or caring about) the feelings of others.
THE SEVEN-SLICE METHOD— WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
The Seven-Slice Method won’t change your circumstances. Your life will always have stress in it—both from things you can’t change and from things that you can. What I have set out to do here is provide a process and a method to identify, understand, and leverage all Seven Slices of your life. This will help you master the art and science of finding the time and patience to live (even if only briefly) in every part of your life.
Again, the problem for most professionals is that they allow two Slices, their Family and Professional Slices, to dominate their lives. The Seven-Slice Method reminds you that you have five other Slices, and each can provide you a respite and perspective—without demanding a huge time commitment. Putting our lives in this “Slice” context can have a tremendous impact on how we feel. “Balance” may be impossible, but I do believe that you can live more in harmony with yourself, every day.
I’ve helped clients successfully implement the Seven-Slice Method for years. The wonder of this to me is that people who have decided to give this a try not only find comfort from the process but have also declared that they are happier and more satisfied. “I feel lighter” is a response I often hear from clients. They stop seeing the stressors in their life as “unfair” and rather process them as events with a beginning, middle, and end. Those “gifts” of perspective are perhaps worth the effort alone.
Moreover, more effectively managing your stress and accessing a mental state of relaxation and calm using the Seven-Slice Method won’t just make you feel better; it will also benefit the people around you—the people you love, care about, and work with.
Where do you start? Take a look again at the Seven Slices listed above, and think about how much time you spend in each. Are there any noticeable gaps? If so, what small actions might you take to change that? Making the effort to live in all Seven Slices every week—even if it’s only for a few minutes, can help you feel more in harmony with your life.