Is work-life balance really a thing? This week I’m sharing some thoughts about what it means (and what it doesn’t mean).
Is work-life balance even a thing?
In preparing to talk about work-life balance at a recent women’s wellness retreat, I googled “work-life balance women.” I was surprised to find 1,070,000,000 results. That’s over 1 billion articles, books, images, and more on this topic. It’s been discussed a LOT.
I love what one writer has said about this whole issue of work-life balance:
“Work-life balance has been sold to women as being the key to happiness by suggesting all we need to do is to simply find a way to better fill our roles without going crazy. The bottom line message being (unfairly) sold to women is that if we would only prioritize our work lives better we would have more time to spend with friends, family, and on ourselves. . . .
There are plenty of women who do not have a job outside the home that need more balance in their lives. And, what about the career women who love their work so that trying to add more time (balance) baking cookies at home would be to their detriment?
The very term work-life balance implies that there is a balance to be had in the first place (there is not) and if we do not have it something is wrong with us. Work-life balance is just one more task for women to try and find time to tend to; one more thing on our long to do list to fail and feel bad about not accomplishing in a day.
To think we can achieve better work life balance by simply being more prioritized, better organized, or by trying harder, is foolishness at best.
I don’t always get it right. Personally, how I identify whether I am “balanced” is whether I’m present in whatever I’m doing, and I’m not letting the other pieces of my life intrude on whatever important thing I’m engaged in at the time. There are many times I didn’t balance the different areas of my life well. There were times when I wasn’t present the way I wanted to be.
My biggest challenges with respect to finding a workable balance in my own life are my tendency to get absorbed in one thing to the exclusion of others and my difficulty saying no. The big picture way I address these challenges is thinking on purpose about what really matters to me, and paying attention to how I’m actually spending my time. On a day-to-day basis, setting timers and alarms is helpful because it allows me to put boundaries around certain activities; when to start and stop.
What do I know about work-life balance?
- Balance doesn’t mean equal amounts of time to each area of your lives, or even exactly the right amount of time for each.
- No one else can tell you what’s right for you.
- What’s right for someone else might not be right for you.
- You can’t figure it out by looking at someone else’s life.
- The “right” balance changes throughout your life.
So how do you figure it out?
- Be very clear on what’s important to you: Who do you want to be in this world, and why?
- Ask yourself the questions that matter most:
- What kind of life do you want to live? Why?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- What kind of things does that kind of person do?
- Figure out a way to do those things every day.
- Ask yourself the questions that matter most:
- Live and work with purpose. Have a destination in mind. You can’t know what steps to take if you don’t know where you’re going.
- Spend some time understanding the big-picture, long-term view.
- What kind of life do you want to create for yourself and those you love?
- What kind of person do you want to be?
Taking the time to establish a vision for your life, write it down, and review and update it regularly will make your life better, more fulfilling, and ultimately more productive.
We all have to choose among many options for how our time and resources are used. Without some guiding principles to base our choices on, we can’t be sure we’ll accomplish the things that matter to us.
Taking the time to think through our commitments, our dreams, and our values, and establish priorities firmly in our minds, will help us make smart choices about how we use our time and resources, so we accomplish the things that are most important to us and become truly productive.
- Know your why. Know what matters most to you, and why, and make decisions in line with those priorities and principles.
- This is what keeps you going when things get hard or boring
- Your why needs to be personal to you, and consistent with your values and big-picture objectives. (“Because other people think I should” won’t carry you forward)
- Learn to be okay with imperfection
- Learn to delegate and let it go. Negotiate with your spouse/kids/co-workers a sharing of responsibilities and then let go of the parts other people are responsible for. If it doesn’t happen, don’t pick it back up again and resent it.
- Develop tools, systems, habits that help you be as efficient as possible at the must-do stuff, to allow more time for the want-to-do.
- Develop an attitude of gratitude: Choose to look for the positive in any situation.
- Give up comparison. What somebody else is doing may be a source of ideas, but should not be a basis for judging how you’re doing. You don’t see the whole story.
- Instead of trying for “perfect” balance every day or even every week, think in terms of seasons. During a season when you have young children or you’re caring for a parent, you’ll spend more time on that and perhaps less on others; when starting a new job or a new business, more time there.
- Make sure to include time for self-care
“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not failure in life. Failure in your relationship is.”
~ Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium and Twitter
“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”
~ former First Lady Michelle Obama
- Learn to say no. Be wise and strategic about the obligations you take on.
- No to the expectations of others that don’t fit your big-picture goals/objectives.
- No to the things that others can/should do.
- No to yourself when you pressure or guilt yourself into taking on things out of guilt or obligation or foam
- No to the good, to leave room for the best. (Check out Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown, and episode 32, where we talk about this in more detail.)
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends, and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
~ Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and COO of Coca-Cola
What do you think?
How do you feel about the balance between work and the other important elements of your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
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Taylor Hansen says
I found it interesting when you said to write down a vision for your life so your life can be more fulfilling. Lately, I have been having a tough time trying to balance my new job and maintaining my friendships outside of work cause it takes up a lot of my time. Thanks for the helpful tips and I’ll have to write down some of my goals to make sure I’m accountable to myself with making my life better.