By: Jeena Cho
When I lead workshops on reducing stress, anxiety, and increasing productivity, a topic that often comes up is the idea of work-life balance. Often, the participants will express feeling like they’re failing at both work and life. When they’re at work, they often feel as though they should be home, spending time with their significant other, spouse, or children. When at home, the reverse is true. They think about all the work left undone.
I’ve also had my share of going to CLEs on having work-life balance where the speaker will give a list of 10 or so things that will magically make work and life perfectly balanced. It will often include tips like make sure you make time for yourself and go to the gym regularly or ways to manage the Inbox for increased efficiency.
Fundamentally, I believe the concept of work-life balance is flawed. It suggests there is work then there is the rest of of your life, and you must balance the two so that they can co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. Often, this mythical balance is suggested as though if only you can manage your to-do list better, work more efficiently, work faster, and do more, you can have it all. And if you can’t have it all, or do it all, you’re a failure. I think this lie we tell ourselves that work-life balance is possible if only we work harder at it is destructive. It just gets added onto the ever growing list of things we should be doing, things we should be good at.
I’d like to suggest a different way of thinking about work-life balance. Instead of work-life balance, strive for a balanced life. We shouldn’t pit work against life because after all, life encompasses work. What we do for work is intimately related and a part of our life. Balance doesn’t mean you spend precisely 8 hours at the office, 8 hours at life, and 8 hours sleeping. While in many ways, that would be ideal, let’s face it, few of us live in this magical world where we can neatly divide time spent at the office and at home into nice, neat fragments.
What a balanced life look like is different for each person. I work from home 2-3 days per week, so I don’t start work at 8:30 and clock out at 6:30. In fact, this type of work setting — where you report to an office for 8 or 9+ hours — is becoming less common thanks to technology.
Rather than having nice, neat compartmentalized segments, life is looking more like a soup or a salad bowl full of all the different activities that make up this thing called life. Today for example, I’m writing this post in the morning, then I have lunch with a dear friend, followed by tea with an attorney I connected with through Twitter. In between these activities, I’ll likely check my email and respond to client matters. After that, I’ll spend some time doing “work,” then go to Bikram Yoga.
So, how do we cultivate a balanced life? First, recognize that this isn’t something you can achieve, check off your to-do list, then forget about. It requires consistent attention, effort, and practice. Each of us gets 1,440 minutes per day. Having a balanced life is allocating those very precious minutes so that it feels harmonious to you. Only you can know how to best allocate those minutes so that your life feels balanced.
Ask yourself: Who are the important people in my life that I want to spend time with? What is the difference I want to make in the world? At the end of my life, what is the legacy I want to leave? What brings joy into my life? What do I want to learn? What am I curious about?
Once you gain some clarity around those things you want to put your time and attention on, ask yourself what are the distractions or things I need to let go of? The fact is we can’t have it all. At least not at the same time. So, we must prioritize.
If you’ve been struggling with work-life balance, give yourself the permission to let go of the struggle. Consider ways of making your life more easeful so that your life feels more balanced. It can start with your perception — by letting go of all the shoulds. Start paying attention to your life and continually ask yourself, “Does my life feel balanced?” If not, make small course adjustments and align what you do to your intention!