By David J. McNeff, Peak Consulting Group
While the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out in the USA and around the world, “returning to normal” is far easier said than done. In fact, many MSP leaders and professionals find themselves facing the next wave of pandemic stress as the clients they serve return to “normal.”
And as many professionals learned the hard way this past 14+ months, poorly managed stress can negatively impact your work performance as well as your relationship with your clients, colleagues, and teams. How can MSP leaders and professionals better manage their stress so that they can truly bring their best selves to work?
The Work-Life Balance Myth
Long before COVID-19 entered the world stage, I 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.”
You’ve probably said the same thing, both before the pandemic and especially now. I’m also 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.
As I discuss in my book The Work-Life Balance Myth (McGraw-Hill), we need to reset that notion. I 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 for MSP leaders and professionals to contextualize your life and manage 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 patient, present, and open? Were you in the best mental place to problem-solve, analyze, and make decisions? Probably not. This can be deadly for MSP careers.
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.
How MSPs Can Use The Seven-Slice Method
The Seven-Slice Method won’t change your circumstances. We’re all trying to work our way through the many ups and downs and starts and stops of pandemic life. Moreover, 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.
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.
MSP leaders and professionals are more likely to spend a lot of time in their Intellectual Slice. They want to stay on top of market trends and how the evolving tech landscape will affect their clients. If someone on your team asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, you probably thoroughly research the subject on your own to learn about it and respond very quickly.
That’s a good thing, and leveraging your intellectual curiosity can help you address your more dormant Slices. For instance, if you spend a lot of time feeding your Intellectual Slice with work-related learning, why not decide to read a book just for you for a few minutes a day? Or learn about a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try? Both would still be anchored in intellectual curiosity, but they would attend to your Personal Slice since the activities would genuinely be just for you. Alternatively, if you’d like to bump up your Emotional Slice, why not spend half an hour every week reading up on psychology and emotions?
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 also have 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.
About The Author
David J. McNeff is the author of The Work-Life Balance Myth: Rethinking Your Optimal Balance for Success (McGraw-Hill). As Founder and President of Peak Consulting Group, David is a thought leader, executive advisor, jury trial consultant, profiling expert, workshop facilitator, author, and keynote speaker. Learn more at https://www.peakcg.com.