The nebulous concept of work-life balance is often debated, but rarely understood. For some its a rather elusive goal, for some a myth. Others have gone so far as to dismiss the idea of work-life balance as a poor compromise wherein neither work nor life is done well.
The short answer: YES, work-life balance is possible, and YES, you absolutely want it! But, most importantly, work-life balance itself is not a very useful goal in and of itself!
First, we must define BALANCE within the context of lifestyle.
For many the simplistic set of scales so often used to represent the balance between life and work is the basis of much of frustration and misunderstanding. When viewed as a simple set of scales, it is almost impossible to have equal amounts of time, energy and passion for a career and a personal life. This image creates an unfortunate paradigm for those trying to “do it all”. A more realistic definition of balance is a dynamic force among the many aspects of our lives. Walking is a great example. As we walk, we balance on one foot than the other, arms and body weight moving accordingly to keep us upright. Using the image of the scale, the only way we could balance would be to stand still, with both feet on the ground and all other body parts symmetrical. That would not be very accurate physiologically and not very conducive to progress.
Second, we must APPLY this better definition to meet specific goals.
“Achieving work-life balance” is not a very effective or well formed goal. It does not drive specific outcomes or actions. I strongly discourage my clients from choosing such a goal. Rather, set strong life and work goals that you value and the balance will come. A “balanced” diet is great example of balance relating to a goal. Regardless of what type of eating plan you follow, a balanced diet doesn’t mean exactly the same number of ounces of vegetables and meat, or the same number of milligrams of vitamins D and C. In nutrition, balanced means having the appropriate type of each nutrient to bring the desired result: a health goal.
In a balanced life, different goals will take center stage at different times. And that’s okay, in fact its desirable. There will be days or weeks during which the office gets more attention than the house or the gym and other weeks when the kids get more attention than anything else. If this sounds like your normal routine, that’s because it is normal and healthy. The yearning for work-life balance comes when things start to feel very lopsided. This is also when its easy to get frustrated and off track by “setting a goal” of having more work-life balance. Next time, you feel that work is taking all of your time and energy, set actual goals for what you want from your personal or home life. Frequently, work goals are the only hard and fast goals set, and they are often set by others. By setting real, measurable goals for home time, your attention will start to refocus and your priorities shift. There is a real actionable difference between saying “I don’t want to work late every night” and “I will be home by 5:00pm two nights this week”. The first pseudo-goal drives nothing but frustration while the second real goal is more likely to drive advance planning and schedule modification. “I wish I had more time to read for enjoyment” is not likely to initiate any changes, while “I will stop what I am doing every Tuesday night at 9:00pm and read for 30 minutes” is much more likely to happen.
Work-life balance is actually just a happy byproduct of having value-driven actionable goals in each specific area of your life.
Get started rebalancing your day with a complementary conversation with me, Cyndi Lynne.