Unless your name is Steve Rogers and you’ve recently been thawed from a block of ice, then you know that work-life balance is all the rage these days. And, while there’s plenty of valid reasons why it’s mainly because it helps you avoid burnout. As a result, you’ll be healthier, happier, and more productive. Here’s how to stop obsessing over work-life balance.
At the same time, I think we obsess over work-life balance. And, that can do more harm than good.
Workin’ 9 to 5, what a way to make a livin.’
Sorry, Dolly. I love ya. But, we don’t live in this world anymore.
“The fact is we no longer live in a nine-to-five world where you can easily draw a line between work and life,” says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., an organizational psychologist and author of The YOU Plan. “Work-life balance used to be about dealing with staying at the office too late or bringing work home. Nowadays it’s much more complex.”
The reason is obvious. Technology. We’re glued to our laptops and smartphones. And, that obviously makes separating your work and home lives more of a challenge.
For example, let’s say that you’re home on a Friday night enjoying time with your family. You decide to order a pizza online. You grab your phone to place the order and notice that there’s a work-related email. Of course, you’re going to check the message. If not, it’s just going to nag at you until you open it up.
Besides, you’re expected to be on-call. That doesn’t mean 24/7/365. But, here’s a recent example. I took a long weekend and went skiing with my family. The office was still open on Friday and Monday though. Even though I still had time to enjoy myself, I did have to take a couple of work calls when I had a chance.
There is no black-and-white situation. It’s all part of life. Highs, lows, middles.
Van The Man’s words speak volumes. See, in a perfect world, you could establish consistent working hours. Whether if it’s the traditional 9-5 or something that better fits your schedule or preferences, you would be able to keep the same working hours.
Unfortunately, that’s not always feasible. Sometimes you have to put in an excessively long Elon Musk-type week because you’re launching a new product or moving into a new location. Other times, you have to leave work early because you have a doctor’s appointment or attend to a sick family member.
That doesn’t always gel with work-life balance, does it?
Sometimes it’s just not possible to make work-life balance possible. Now, this shouldn’t be a chronic condition. But, you need to realize that depending on what your priorities are, you may have to spend more time at work. But, there will also be times when your personal life is where your focus should be.
Work-life balance doesn’t allow you to think big.
“Balance is a limiting concept, and if we set the bar too low, we won’t demand enough of ourselves, our leaders, and our companies,” writes Tracy Brower, Ph.D., MM, MCRw. “Right now, too many companies are still operating in an either/or mentality.” In case you’re wondering, this is why there are companies that penalize “parents who choose to take parental leave or assume that employees who don’t put in as much “face time” aren’t committed to their jobs.”
“I always like the mantra that ‘you can have it all, just not all at once,’” adds Brower. “There are seasons of life where you’ll have less time for yourself and will devote more to school or family or work.” However, by thinking big and expecting “that you can have a positive experience with all that work and life have to offer, you’ll be more likely to make that happen.”
“How we talk to ourselves matters, and how we talk about issues makes a difference,” says Brower. “This is a linguistic determinism. Let’s bury “work-life balance” and think bigger and better about work-life fulfillment to do a little less balancing and a lot more living.”
Related: How to Start Thinking Big
Stop pressuring yourself to achieve work-life balance.
In all honesty, you need time away from work to decompress and recharge. And, I hope you’re sitting down for this, there’s more to life than just work. At the same time, stressing over work-life balance just seems futile. I wish this was real. But, that’s life.
As opposed to chasing something that you’ll never be able to catch, here are some realistic ways to be productive and still have downtime.
Make your own rules.
If you’re familiar with work-life balance, then you’ve been told to have boundaries. For example, when you’re at work, don’t take personal calls. And, when you’re at home, don’t respond to work messages.
Sometimes that works. But, that can cause additional stress. Let’s say that you have children. Are you really going to not answer that call from their school if there’s an emergency? When they’re asleep, here you honestly not going to monitor texts or emails?
Setting boundaries is a start. But, they don’t have to be rigid. If you’re in a meeting for 30-minutes, then no personal calls should be accepted. When playing a game with your kids, then anything involving work can wait until you’re done.
The point is, make rules that work best for you and your life.
Strive for harmony, not balance.
“‘Balance’ is a misguided metaphor because it conveys the idea that we have to give up the prospect of success in one part of our lives in order to have it in another part—one or the other,” says Stewart Friedman, the director of Wharton’s Work/Life Integration Project and author of Parents Who Lead.
“When we think this way we’re likely to end up making more sacrifices than necessary” he explains. Instead, we should “pursue the prospect of harmony among the different parts of life—like the instruments in a jazz quartet trying to make good music—then the possibilities for wellbeing and high performance are much greater.”
According to Freidman’s research, “Consciously and deliberately aiming for what I call ‘four-way wins’—improved performance at work, at home, in the community, and for the private self (mind, body, and spirit)—leads to smarter use of time, stronger relationships with people who matter most, less distraction and more focused effort, and better results.” In fact, it’s impossible “to have it all in balance, all at once. But our research shows that over the course of time it is possible to have a greater sense of peace and harmony.”
One way to achieve this would be having a more flexible schedule so that you can comprise. You can’t stay late at work don’t because you’re picking your in-laws up from the airport. But, you can come in an hour early tomorrow morning to make this time-up.
Schedule your priorities.
I’m not in the position to tell you what your priorities are in life. But, they should the things that bring you closer to your goals and make you the best version of yourself. Typically, this would be your mind, body, and spirit, relationships, purpose, continuous learning, happiness, and security.
These can change throughout time. But, the key is to identify what’s most important right now. After deterring this, add it to your calendar so that you’re committed to following through with them.
What about the things that aren’t a priority? Either delegate or outsource them to someone else or remove them for your life. When you do this, you’ll end-up freeing time in your schedule and achieving everything that you want to in life.