Not Work-Life Balance, Work-Life Tempo

By November 8, 2014Generations

Work-life balance is a myth. Have you tried to balance yourself on a thin beam? You can do it; it just takes a lot of concentration and effort. If you move, you need to move slowly in order to retain your balance. Have you tried to balance something on your head? Or, have you participated in a race in which you must balance an egg on a spoon? Both are doable. You just need to move slowly.

Balancing will not suffice in today’s fast paced world.

Of course, you can slow down and unplug from it all, and you definitely need to do this at times. However, depending on what type of life you want to live, a slow-pace or disconnected way may not work for you and your life purpose. A life choice for sure.

work-life tempoThe concept I started this year with is work-life tempo. Tempo is about a beat. We dance between work and life, finding our rhythm in the movement. Our beat may require a whiplash pace from time-to-time. In other moments, our beat may be a slow dance to soak it all in. Tempo is an ebb and flow, a consistent beat, or a mix of slow and fast movements.

Tempo is about movement and flow, doing the right mix of activities to deliver and achieve in purpose. Life and work are tangled today. The 1950 dream of eating a nice big breakfast before leaving for work and then arriving home at 5:00 pm to read the newspaper have evaporated. We can still have a healthy lifestyle. Our new mix may be an early morning run, a healthy breakfast on the move, and then off to work. In the modern mix is reading online news sources and Flipboard rather than newspapers and magazines. We tailor what we do and read to explore new interests or discover the right ways to make our living healthy in mind, body, and soul.

And this is the point. We need to find our work-life tempo and it changes as often as we need it to or when different situations appear unexpectedly.

How do we find the right tempo?

I am still figuring this out. Life is about change. To embrace change, we need to experiment, so I am. Work-life tempo isn’t perfect but it does set a mindset of dancing through more challenging times when work and life get jumbled and the rhythm shifts. Within the shifts in chords or beat, we need to keep up and find our adjusted tempo to pursue our work and purpose.

Highlighted below are some of my thoughts on keeping the right tempo in life and work.

Discern moments. As this year began, I set a goal of centering my thoughts on tempo not balance. When I do this, my mind shifts to rhythm instead of balance. I discern if I need to slow it down or lean into it and pick up my pace.

Finding that center in the moment is key. I visualize myself waltzing and finding that center of peace in which I flow through the work and challenges of life. I find my path forward, my tempo.

For me, this is where a walk around the building re-centers my thoughts or I close my eyes and find the center of what matters most and what doesn’t. There is something to the break and the visualization that centers my thoughts and actions on the right beat again.

Discernment is a key practice in our work-life tempo.

Say “no.” Saying “no” to distractions keep our life tempo in the right frame. A lot gets thrown our way. Uncertainty is a constant. Projects arrive unannounced. We get bogged down in trying to do everything. Everything isn’t the answer. When we understand our life’s purpose, we then need to say “no” to the projects, meetings, and other activities that don’t serve it. Saying “no” is tough. I know I want to pitch in and help out. The opportunity and temptations are always there. However, when I do too much, I am dancing someone else’s dance and not mine.

Life really is a ballroom. Each has their dance. We need to dance to our tempo, being courteous to others while moving to purposeful tempo. Just as a crowded dance floor can get confusing so is trying to dance to many tempos at the same time.

I am beginning to learn this lesson. I am finding homes for projects that add value but better fit another person’s tempo more tightly. Stopping certain activities to see if anyone notices is another way to say “no.” Too often, we do things we think are important but they really are not. Saying “no” more often keeps our work-life tempo right.

Being present in what matters most ensures we have the right music to keep our tempo.

Be healthy. Developing a healthy mind and body keeps us fit for the dance. Tiny habits help. Get started in small ways and expand those healthy habits. Walk for 15 minutes each day for a week. The next week, walk for 30 minutes a day. Walk, run, skip, or bike… whatever fits you to keep fit is the right fit. Just pursue being fit!

The same goes for our mind. A fresh mind keeps a fresh spirit. Read two out-of-the ordinary articles each week. Read a chapter a day. Listen to a podcast a week (I am told I need to do this!) Spoken and printed words enliven our minds. Be rich in thoughts. Keep your mind fit.

For the past year plus, weight training has strengthened my core in more ways than one. Reading an unexpected article sparked in me a new way to think about a problem or, more importantly, a solution. Heathy minds and bodies keep our tempo strong. Build strength.

All in all, fairly basic, I guess, but it fits in today’s wild world of connectedness and busyness. Balance indicates having a foot on two sides. Tempo is a dance between life and work. Life and work intersect often. We just need to find the right tempo between the two, flowing effortlessly and purposefully between the two.

If nothing else, when work and life seem to bury you, visualize tempo, find your flow, move into it, focus on it.

How do you keep a work-life tempo? Do you tango or polka?

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • […] today’s fast paced world. According to Jon Mertz of Thin Difference, we instead we need to find a work-life tempo and change it whenever the need arises. Follow […]

  • Samantha Hall says:

    I love the concept of work-life tempo rather then work-life balance Jon!

    For some reason I have this line playing in my head now….’the rhythm is going to get you…the rhythm is gonna get you…the rhythm is gonna get YOU!’… I cannot for the life of me remember who sings that at the moment and I don’t want to pause to Google right now! : )

    I’ve had to dance at various speeds throughout my life. Army life speed was one tempo. Civilian life and nursing was another tempo. Homeschooling kidlets was yet another tempo….and then fast forward to dramatic life changes such as death; first the death of my spouse and then more recently, the suicide of my next door neighbor and relative. The tempo can change dramatically even when we don’t want it to! i.e. cycling thru the various stages of the grieving process, changes in eating habits, suffering from insomnia, etc. All for the purpose of ‘adjusting’ thru shock and change.

    Your section on Be Healthy really resonated as that has been my focus this past year after some health issues, moms cancer etc. And one thing I’ve found is that it’s important to get the nutrition down or all that physical fitness doesn’t help much! 80% nutrition! Common saboteurs of good health >> not drinking enough water, skipping meals, drinking too much caffeine, not eating every couple of hours etc. All of which have been my personal health and fitness gremlins.

    Baby steps, baby steps. And get back up on the horse when we fall off!

    As for tango or polka? I’m a tango girl! : )

    Just for fun (since I usually share serious ‘stuff’…) here’s the Assassins Tango! (originally heard on the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith and fell in love with the song. ) : )

    My hubby and I tried to learn how to tango together in the living room to dvd’s yet spent most of the time stepping on each others toes! haha (we still had fun though)

    : )

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Samantha, for your thoughts and imagery! I never tangoed but have tried to polka (and had a blast trying!). Tempo does come at us and we need to adjust our footwork and beat. All through it, we must keeping dancing to our purposeful life. Thanks! Jon

  • Randy Conley says:

    Hi Jon. Focusing on tempo rather than balance makes a lot of sense. As Alli mentioned, balance implies that we have to devote equal amounts of time and energy to each area of our life, which although noble in concept, isn’t feasible in reality.

    Instead of work-life balance I’ve started to focus on the concept of work-life harmony. Different seasons of life require different priorities and our time & energy will ebb and flow in different areas. As long as the overall song of our life is in harmony, then we’re at peace and moving forward in a positive way.

    Trying to live on tempo AND in harmony,


    • Jon M says:

      Great add, Randy. Harmony is essential. As you point out, there are different seasons to life, and we need to align in the right ways to make the most out of each. So, I guess, we must dance in harmony! Thanks. Jon

  • Terri Klass says:

    Fabulous post, Jon! Tempo is a much more descriptive word to describe weaving in and out of our professional and personal lives.

    I love your idea of saying “no” when we can. Recently I have been on a merry-go-round and finally decided to refuse presenting some workshops. It felt good. I could breathe again. I needed to create a different tempo because I was literally burning out. Also I now will have some time to expand my mind again and catch up on reading and viewing.

    Thanks for a great perspective, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Terri. I feel like I have been on a merry-go-round, too, and am trying to shift and focus on what matters most to my purpose and serving it well to others. It does give some breathing room! Thanks again. Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    I love it. Balance is definitely the wrong word and scales are definitely the wrong image. It implies that the scales need to be equivalent at all times. Tempo I can get behind! It really is a dance! Balance is simply choice in motion. It’s giving ourselves the permission to choose work, to choose family, to choose health, to choose a full life. Sometimes we need to spend more time in one area than another but then we get to choose again. Look forward to sharing this post widely, Jon. Great metaphor.

  • Danny Rubin says:

    What a great outlook on work/life issues. It’s about finding a “balance” that works for the person. Great stuff!

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