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Be a Noticer

Work-Life Balance: Where to Put the Accent

By Margery Leveen Sher

As we enter the new year, most of us make some resolutions. Commonly we want to lose weight, be more patient with family members or get better organized. And high on many lists is figuring out how to have better work-life balance.

On that last one, I have to ask, why? Why do you want better work-life balance?

Maybe it is because you have an incredible amount of things that must be done at work and an incredible amount that must be done at home — ferrying kids to sports and other activities, preparing better meals, exercising, cleaning, etc. But if that’s so, then I have to say it seems like what you really need is more time to check things off your list.

This is normal. We all need more time. But if, when we talk about work-life balance, we are really talking about more time (time to check things off a list), then we have come to a very important issue: Life is not a checklist!

Focusing on the Wrong Syllable

When we talk about work-life balance, the accent should not be on balance, the accent should be on life! We have the accent on the wrong syllable. What we need is a better, higher-quality life at work and a better, higher-quality life at home.

How do you get there? The answer is mindfulness.

Attorney Jeena Cho writes about why it’s important for lawyers to practice mindfulness. She talks about the benefits of mindfulness for self-regulation, avoiding knee-jerk reactions and increasing self-discipline.

Cho is talking about meditation and this is an important viewpoint, but I have a slightly different take on mindfulness. I call it “noticing.” Noticing is not meditation. It is being in the moment all the time; being deeply aware of what you are doing; squeezing all you can out of life by being mindful of the little things that make life meaningful.

Life is full of amazing, and sometimes annoying, but often smile-provoking things. You must notice them if you want to have a more fulfilling work life and home life. Here’s how.

1. Flex your “noticing muscle” by using all five of your senses. You can do this with your kids, your friends, your co-workers. Wherever you are, see how much you can really see, smell, hear and touch. Sometimes you can taste as well. Perhaps you are having breakfast as a family. Not much time, right? Everyone has to get to school and work. Still, you can all practice noticing what you see. What things in the kitchen are made up of straight lines? What has curves? How many different colors can you see? Are there shadows on some things? What is the brightest thing in the room? You can make up all kinds of things to notice. In the office, take a minute to notice what you see and hear. Who is that walking down the hallway? Can you tell by listening to the distinctive footsteps?

2. Now that you are used to noticing with all senses, you can progress to “zippers.” Noticing zippers, and the next step (spoiler alert), broccoli, will make you an attorney-hero. A zipper is a simple invention that works. Zip, you’re done. Notice the zippers in the workplace.

  • A template is a zipper.
  • A clear subject line in an email is a zipper.

What other zippers can you notice? When you notice zippers, you can often figure out ways to replicate them and use them in different ways. Further, if you have a complicated process in your office, can you zipper-ize it? Those who come up with zippers are heroes.

3. Broccoli. Broccoli is a beautiful vegetable that is composed of a repeating pattern. A head of broccoli is made up of smaller broccoli heads, and those are made up of even smaller broccoli heads. Repeating patterns are everywhere in the workplace — in our work processes and in how people behave. Notice the broccoli! If it is nice and green and fresh, see if you can replicate it elsewhere. If it is getting dry and yellowing, disrupt it.

Those who notice zippers and broccoli are the heroes of the office. They make everyone more efficient and productive. And when your billable time is more productive, you are more likely to be able to find the time to “notice” at home with your family and friends.

So don’t just focus on balancing your checklists. Instead, notice — and you will have a better quality of life both in the office and at home.

Margery Leveen Sher is Founder and Chief Noticing Officer of The Did Ya Notice? Project and author of The Noticer’s Guide to Living and Laughing. A speaker, writer, entrepreneur and executive, Margery has successfully developed a consulting firm, over 30 nonprofit organizations and two charitable funds. She holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Rutgers University. She is also excellent at getting people to laugh.

Categories: Attorney Work-Life Balance, Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Health, Passions, You At Work
Originally published January 4, 2016
Last updated August 19, 2020
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