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Jesse Lyn Stoner


Eight Habits of Mentally Balanced Leaders

Hang your work in a tree on your way home tonight. It will be there waiting for you in the morning.

Published: Tuesday, August 13, 2019 - 11:03

While I was facilitating a retreat for a group of 15 men, all in their late 30s and 40s, all high-level executives and all high achievers, an interesting topic arose. One of the men asked for help dealing with his wife, who was complaining he worked too much. He wanted help in getting her to understand that she was being unreasonable since the reason he was always working was to provide for his family.

He got sympathy from several, but fortunately for him there were a couple of mentally balanced leaders in the group who challenged him. They pointed out that his family needed more from him than to take care of them—that this family needed him to be with them. They told him quite frankly that his marriage was in trouble... and it wasn’t up to his wife to change.

That was 20 years ago. Technology has made this an even bigger challenge today. With the advances in technology, you can always be connected to work, anytime, anywhere—and because you can be available, you are expected to be. Many people are uncomfortable turning off their mobile device even at a social gathering. And how many of us take a vacation without checking email?

This problem is not confined to over-achievers. For those who are struggling in this economy, working a lot of hours to make ends meet, or to find a job, or to build a new business, the pressure to focus on work can be intense and preoccupy much waking time.

Nor is this a problem just for men. In fact, it can be an even bigger issue for women who juggle multiple jobs both in and out of the house.

What are the consequences? Being “always on” keeps your work in the front of your mind and prevents you from being fully engaged in the present moment. There’s a lot you’re missing out on because your attention is focused elsewhere. You might discover you have lost connection with those you care about most, or never develop real connections in the first place.

It’s not enough to just take vacations. It is possible to become mentally balanced, even in a world that demands you to be always available, but you must change your habits.

1. Change your mindset. Identify what you consider “work,” and consider everything else “off.”  “Off” can be when you’re with your family, at dinner with friends, or even taking a walk by yourself. During “off” time, don’t even think about work. Put your full attention on who you’re with and what you’re doing.

2. Set up a backup strategy. Sometimes, things will just pop up even when you’re not thinking about work. So what do you do with the important ideas that pop up while you’re “off?” Do not pull out your mobile device and make a quick call or send a quick text. It’s guaranteed to pull you away from who you are with. Try to trust that if it’s important enough, the thought will reoccur. As a backup, keep a piece of paper or card in your wallet. If you get a brilliant idea that you can’t afford to forget, jot down a few key words... and then put it away.

3. Schedule “off” time.  Set and honor specific times that are dedicated to being with family or friends, and also being alone doing things you enjoy. Structure comes more easily for some than others. If you’re one of the people who doesn’t like structure, it’s even more important for you to do this, so you can be intentional about creating the life you really want.

4. Just say, “No.” Let people know that you are changing your habits and are not going to respond to texts and email or answer your phone for work-related matters during personal time unless there is a true emergency. If they understand this ahead of time, most people will respect your boundaries. They will begin to schedule meetings during times you’re available, and you will discover that many so-called emergencies are not as urgent as they seem at first.

5. Pay attention to your breathing. Focusing on your breathing brings your attention away from your thoughts and back to what is present. During “off time,” occasionally notice how you’re breathing. If your breath is rapid and located high in your chest, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Spend a moment focused on your breathing until you are breathing slowly and from a deeper place, which is how we breathe when we are relaxed.

6. Hang your work on a tree. Here’s a way to mentally separate from work: On your way home from work, as you near your home, locate a tree or something you could hang a bag on. Imagine putting your work in a bag and hanging it in the tree. This idea came from one of the men in the YPO Forum retreat, who said he did that every night.

7. Stop multitasking. Many people view multitasking as an admirable skill. They think they get more accomplished. But studies have shown that you actually accomplish less and do it less well. The illusion of productivity comes at the expense of performance effectiveness. The less you multitask, the less you’ll be tempted to slip a little work in.

8. Be clear about your priorities. Create a clear vision for what you truly desire and what’s most important to you that explains where you’re going and what you value most. It’s tempting to say yes to every request, but that comes at a cost. If you know what your priorities are, it will help you know when to say yes and when to say no.

The bottom line is: Not only is life more enjoyable and rewarding when we are in balance, but we are also healthier. Give it a try. Hang up your work in a tree on your way home tonight. Guaranteed it will be there waiting for you in the morning.

First published on Jesse Lyn Stoner’s website. © 2018 Jesse Stoner


About The Author

Jesse Lyn Stoner’s picture

Jesse Lyn Stoner

Jesse Lyn Stoner, founder of consultancy Seapoint Center, has worked with hundreds of leaders using collaborative processes to engage the entire workforce in creating their desired future. Stoner has authored several books including Full Steam Ahead! Unleash the Power of Vision (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2nd rev. ed. 2011), co-authored with Ken Blanchard. Stoner is recognized by the American Management Association as one of the Top Leaders to Watch in 2015 and by INC Magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Experts. Stoner has advanced degrees in psychology and family system, and a doctorate in organizational development.


Great Article

Thank you Jesse, for a well written and easy to follow article on how to balance life and work.

As you said, with todays technology it is more imnportant than ever to deliniate between the two.

An exercise that I was taught to help seperate life and work is to watch my workplace get smaller and disappear in my rear view mirror as I drove away and concentrate on that visual as I cleared my mind to better help me be a part of my family.

Excellent article!

This lesson is so hard to learn, and often learned too late. To help reinforce these points, I would like to share a story from my own military career:

A friend of mine told me this story, and it had a profound effect on my life. I only wish I had heard it earlier, as many of the traits of the subject of this story were traits that I would have used to describe myself during most of my time in the Navy.

Some explanation to front-load the story: In the Navy, only a few people get promoted to Chief Petty Officer (CPO). Of those, a handful get promoted to Senior Chief Petty Officer (SCPO), and an even smaller percentage of those go on to become Master Chief Petty Officers (MCPO). While commands generally have several CPOs, a few SCPOs, and might even have more than one MCPO (at a large command), there will only be one Command Master Chief. This individual is the senior advisor to the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer. Becoming a Command Master Chief or Senior Enlisted Advisor is a rare achievement, and does generally take extraordinary dedication to achieve. It's a high honor, only bestowed on a few. It takes a lot of ambition and hard work, and in an enterprise where you are often separated from your family,  arriving at even CPO or SCPO levels takes more of that sacrifice than many are willing to make. Please use this as context for the rest of the story...

One day, stopping into the Chief's Club at a Navy base, my friend happened to run into a senior enlisted person he had known from one of his earlier ships. My friend was surprised to see his friend in civilian clothes, because he remembered this individual as the "ultimate lifer," "haze-gray and underway" all the time (Navy for an exceptionally dedicated sailor). He struck up a conversation, and his friend told him he was not doing well. When my friend asked "Why?" he got the following reply:

"I spent my entire career trying to become a Command Master Chief. I took all the most demanding, arduous tours of duty I could, extended sea duty and rolled early from shore duty, volunteered for every challenging job I could find. I finally became a Command Master Chief, then rolled to another ship as their Command Master Chief. During that second tour, my wife came down with pancreatic cancer and was dead within three months. I had to take a humanitarian discharge so I could take care of my kids (both teenagers). Now I work at a civilian job where they don't even know what a Command Master Chief is. I can't control my kids...they don't listen to anything I say...they just say 'Who are you? We don't know you...for our entire lives you were just someone who came home every once in a while and spent some time with Mom. We don't have to listen to you.'"