Podcast: Does Your Life Reflect What You Value?
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Careers Jan 3, 2023

Podcast: Does Your Life Reflect What You Value?

On this episode of The Insightful Leader, a former CEO explains how to organize your life around what really matters—instead of trying to do it all.

Based on insights from

Harry M. Kraemer

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With each new year comes the pressure to improve—and the temptation to set an ambitious number of goals.

Unfortunately, going for quantity over quality is a good way to burn yourself out, says Harry Kraemer, a clinical professor of management at Kellogg.

“Most people that are having trouble balancing things haven’t been self-reflective enough to figure out what they’re trying to balance,” he says.

In this episode of The Insightful Leader, Kraemer explains how self-reflection can help you align your actions with your values.

Editor’s note: to learn more about this topic, you can read an article we did with Kraemer here.

Podcast Transcript

Laura PAVIN: If you run into Harry Kraemer, and you want to make some small talk…don’t make it about TV.

Harry KRAEMER: I’ve watched zero television in 35 years.

PAVIN: Kraemer is a clinical professor of management at Kellogg. And he says that, while extreme, cutting TV out of his life gave him more time to spend with his family. The decision was part of a bigger exercise he’s been doing for decades: mapping out his time to reflect his values.

This is The Insightful Leader. I’m Laura Pavin. And, at a time when people are thinking about how to live their best lives this New Year…and piling new activities and habits onto their schedules…Kraemer says a lot of people struggle to keep things sustainable.

KRAEMER: When they realize they’ve got more things to do than maybe time to do it, the usual reaction is, “well, I’ll just go faster and faster.” And I think what ends up happening is many of us can confuse activity and productivity.

PAVIN: So today we’re going to talk about how to balance what really matters to you, instead of just doing more, and more….and more. Because when you try to do it all, you’re burning yourself out doing things that maybe don’t matter to you as much as other things.

KRAEMER: My observation is…most people that are having trouble balancing things haven’t been self-reflective enough to figure out what they’re trying to balance.

PAVIN: This episode, Kraemer tells us how, when you want to live a life that reflects your values, you first have to figure out …what are your values, actually? He tells us how to self-reflect to determine that. And then we’ll hear how to actually match our actions to our values—with the help of a map, of sorts.

That’s next.

PAVIN: Kraemer is, himself, a very good balancer of things. Like, very good.

PAVIN: What does a day look like for you—for Harry Kraemer?

KRAEMER: I’m usually teaching one or two classes. And I’m always on—believe it or not—six or seven boards.

PAVIN: He’s also an executive partner with the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners…he has five adult children scattered across the country that he maintains a close relationship with.

KRAEMER: I try to call each of the five of them every day.

PAVIN: And there’s a lot more that we don’t have time to cover. Just know that Kraemer’s an authority on balance. His secret? He’s pushed a lot of things off his plate to make time for the things he wants on his plate….and then he very carefully plans out his time to make sure he’s holding himself to that.

We’ll get to those careful plans in a second. Because if you’re taking notes on how to balance your time more like Kraemer, you’ll first need to figure out…what’s worth your time? And you’ll do that by spending some time self-reflecting.

KRAEMER: Take a little bit of time, turn off all the gadgets, find some place quiet, and ask yourself, “what are my values? What is my purpose? No kidding around—what really matters? What kind of a leader do I want to be? What kind of example do I wanna set for other people?”

PAVIN: It’s different for everybody, but Kraemer says you can usually divide the things you care about into six buckets: your career or your education; your family and the people you care about; your spiritual or religious views; your health; another bucket is having fun; and the last one is social responsibility or volunteering.

Maybe you want to make some really big structural changes for the people you manage at work. And at the same time, you want to make sure you’re spending more time with your family—a common value. You want to spend more time practicing mindfulness; sleeping and exercising more; maybe going on some fun outings with friends; and volunteering at your local food bank. Great! You’ve just done some good self-reflection.

So then what? How can you make this list of values a reality? Well, now it’s time to consider how you spend each of the 168 hours you’ve got every week. For this, you’re going to want to get out a pen and paper, and make a grid.

In the rows, you’ll want to write down those buckets we talked about…which again, could include career, family, spirituality, health, fun and social responsibility. In that case, you’d have six rows.

And then you’ll have three columns.

KRAEMER: The first column is your goal—your goal, on average. Where would you wanna spend your time as a percentage of your time? And I say “on average” because if you’re traveling all week and you’re not around, what, on average…where would you spend your time? That’s the first column. The second column is current reality. Now you gotta get honest. Now you take your calendar out. Where did you spend your time, on average, over the last several months? And the third column is the difference.

PAVIN: Let’s talk about that last column: the difference. This is where you’ll figure out: how many hours short of your goals are you? Or maybe you’re doing really well! But Kramer says don’t count on it.

KRAEMER: I’ve yet to meet the person who says, “well, that’s an amazing coincidence…my goal lines up with exactly where I’m spending my time.” I haven’t met that person yet, right? Because I’m not so sure it’s possible to achieve life balance. I think we pursue it. If you’re close, congratulations.

PAVIN: But if you’re not, that’s also normal.

Kraemer actually recommends roping someone in to help you figure out if what you’ve written down for your goals and your real-life actions…even look right. Are your goals really what matter to you? And is the reality you’ve put down honest? Find someone that you trust and respect to run this by.

KRAEMER: And look at the range of reactions: the sort-of good news, bad news. The good news is you may say to me, “hey Harry, thanks for sharing with me, but I see your actions every day, and based on your actions…you know what? I could have guessed your values…you’re right there. I get it.” Now, this other side would be a little scarier when you say to me, “wow, based on your actions, I’m amazed you’re confused enough to think those are your…you’re like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” right? So that ability to be open enough to get other people to say, “does this really…do the words and the music fit together?”

PAVIN: Once you’ve got a solid grid in place—you’ve got your goals and the hours you’d like to spend on them versus the reality, and the difference, all written down—it’s time to adjust your life to get you closer to your goal schedule.

But here is where things get tricky, Kraemer says. Because for a lot of us, there’s comfort in doing things a certain way. But we don’t always consider whether that’s the best way.

KRAEMER: I’ll talk to somebody in finance, “oh, I’m too busy.” “What are you doing?” “Well, I’m doing a forecast.” “How often do you do the forecast?” “Well, every week, I don’t have the time.” “What if you did the forecast once a month and took the time to do it?” “Well, no, we do it every week.” “No, I know you do every week. Now, what have you actually changed?” So literally looking at your work and figuring out how much of this could we actually eliminate?

PAVIN: Rethink what you think is fixed in your life. A lot of it might not be, with a little bit of strategizing.

At the same time, it is worth noting that everyone has various degrees of flexibility and inflexibility in their lives. For example, if you are the primary caretaker for an older parent, that’s pretty crucial and something that you can’t move around in favor of spending more time volunteering for a shelter you really care about.

Do the best you can to adjust the things you can without disrupting the things you can’t.

PAVIN: Living a life that reflects your values is a practice. You’re probably not going to succeed at it overnight. But try to get in the habit of assessing your progress on a regular basis.

Here’s how Kraemer does it.

KRAEMER: I will take 15 minutes a day at the end, in my case, for the end of the day and ask myself a series of questions. I do a personal self-examination. All right. My personal self examination goes like this: what did I say I was gonna do today? What did I actually do? What am I proud of? What am I not proud of? How did I lead people? How do I follow people? If I live today over again, what would I have done differently? And finally, if I have tomorrow—being fully well aware that sooner or later I won’t, but if I do have tomorrow—and I’m a learning person, based on what I learned today, how will I operate differently tomorrow? It literally just puts everything into perspective.

PAVIN: Living a purposeful, values-based life takes a lot of reflection and work on the backend. But if you strategize—you change the things you can and leave what you can’t—and assess yourself often, you’ll be better positioned to make this new year—and years—count.


PAVIN: This episode of The Insightful Leader was produced by Laura Pavin, Jessica Love, Emily Stone, Fred Schmalz, Maja Kos and Blake Goble. It was mixed by Andrew Meriwether. Want more Insightful Leader episodes? You can find us on iTunes, Spotify or our website: insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu. We’ll be back in a couple weeks with another episode of The Insightful Leader Podcast.

Featured Faculty

Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations

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