jeudi 1 mai 2014

The Balanced Lifecard

I wanted to share a simple philosophy and tool that I have been using for over a decade for structuring the conversation about "work-life balance" with my wife. Yes, I know that sounds incredibly geeky but hey, it works!
Work-life balance is a topic in vogue both in the public sphere and many a dinner party conversation. My wife and I were no exceptions. As we talked to people around us early on in our marriage and careers, we learned four important things.
  • Stakeholders pull in different directions. There are many stakeholders in most of our lives. We may choose to focus on one more than others, but that is indeed a choice. For each stakeholder, there are needs that must be balanced.
  • Success indicators and metrics. Just as in business, we can actually set metrics for many of the things we care about in life. From how many times we go to the gym to how much we have saved for retirement.
  • Timeframe matters. It's hard to have a "balanced work-life" all the time (and in fact may be inadvisable), but you should achieve it over your lifetime. Bill Gates worked his tails off in his 20s but is giving back to charity in the second half of his life for example.
  • Compare, don't judge. Everyone has different values and priorities, and may be at different stages of life. It's fun and informative to compare how we view "work-life balance", but we shouldn't judge. There is no right answer; for every gain there is a tradeoff.
With those insights in mind, we develop a framework called "The Balanced Lifecard" to create a profile of how well we were meeting our life goals at any given point in time. The basic concept is derived from a topic many will have learned at business school - the balanced scorecard. The balanced scorecard combines financial and non-financial metrics into a single view to enable managers to assess the health of a business holistically. Similarly, users of the Balanced Lifecard identify key dimensions of their life that are important and set associated goals and metrics.
For example, you might identify metrics about yourself (e.g. health, continuous learning, and satisfaction at work, financial security); interactions to those close to you (e.g. good parent, good spouse, and good friend); your career (e.g. subject expertize, track record, skills, mentoring); and contributions to society more broadly. Putting these in the form a spider diagram looks something like below – this is my actual Balanced Lifecard from 2003/2004.

Each axis is a measurable set of goals. The further up the axis you are, the closer you move to your goals. Connecting the points on each axis yields a polygon. Just by looking at the shape of the polygon, you can get a sense of how life is going – back in 2004 for example, I was doing reasonably well at work and really not so well on everything else. This polygon can be plotted at different times, and you can see how things have changed from year to year. You can overly your polygon over others, and compare and contrast.
There is a lot more depth to the Balanced Lifecard as we have come to use it over time. There are great insights we have gleaned on how to identify the right set of axis for your values, identifying metrics and measuring them, how to have conversations with your better halves and those you care about, and we are starting to collect information that allows us to benchmark against similar cohorts. As we use it longer and with different age groups, we also start seeing how the polygon changes through life.
It’s a fascinating tool for spurring introspection and good dialogue. I hope you find it as useful as we have. Do let me know if you have any questions, feedback or suggestions.

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