We hear about it every day, all the time. We hear about it everywhere from parenting blogs to social media to workshops at leadership conferences. The chase for work-life balance is everywhere, and it’s a myth. For busy leaders with demanding careers work-life balance is just not possible. While that may sound negative, I view that as a positive because it stops me from striving for something that is not achievable. I can stop feeling guilty and dissatisfied and instead start focusing on the internal balance that is most crucial, and happily, possible for everyone. Finding internal balance, learning what to say “no” to, delegating and embracing work-life integration all allow you to shatter the illusion of work-life balance and live your life by design.
Cultivate Internal Balance. Internal balance allows us to better navigate change, handle conflict, feel more joyful personally and more satisfied professionally. Most people equate work-life balance to better time management; that’s the easy part! Feeling truly at peace and aligning how you spend your time with what your values and priorities are takes work, and it’s worth it. Your internal guide will tell you if you’re too far off-balance because you’ll feel it. When this happens, take a moment to pause and evaluate what you need to say “no” to and stop doing to better align your time. Internal balance keeps us in emotional equilibrium and at our best.
Learn to Say No. Learning to say no to things can be difficult, especially if the request is made by someone we care about or it’s something that can benefit us professionally. Being overcommitted, however, leads to overwhelm and stops us from giving our best because we are spread too thin. Learning what to say yes and no so that you stay fulfilled is the key to finding internal balance (even if your calendar looks skewed). Prioritizing your time is crucial and you can evaluate where you are at using our YESS! Calendaring Exercise. Start by printing of some blank calendar sheets and writing down what an ideal, balanced life would look life for you- schedule about six weeks. Then, take out your current calendar and compare the two. What do you notice? Is what you say is important to you reflected in your calendar? If not, it’s time to reevaluate and act to address the biggest gaps. Balance means you are spending your time based on the values and priorities you have, not fitting in time for them as an extra or after-thought.
Pausing before saying yes is also useful because many us say yes as our default. Take the time to truly evaluate the task and the additional tasks your one yes will cause. If it’s too much for your schedule, say no. Additionally, you must recalibrate what you say yes and no to as your life stages change. For example, you may need to say no to more things during the years you have young children than later years when they would be away at college or out of the house. Remember: for every new thing you add, you must then remove something else. Otherwise you will become overcommitted and lose time for the activities that make you feel fulfilled and keep you at your best.
Delegate. Many leaders take pride in helping others and managing so many priorities at once. While these traits are inherently good things, they can become an issue if they prohibit you from finding internal balance or doing things that are closer in line with your values. I often encourage leaders to flip the equation and ask their team for help. This encourages the team to step up and lead while also lightening your role as the leader. It’s a win-win! Outsourcing tasks that are not the highest and best use of your time is also a good solution. Be intentional about using that time for something that furthers your values and priorities.
Strive for Work-Life Integration. As I mentioned above, work-life balance is not a reality for busy leaders. Instead, I suggest we search for work-life integration. You already bring your work home, so it’s possible to bring your home to work as well. Technology and virtual offices make this integration easier than ever before. Although your days might look different than a 9-5 workday followed by a sit-down dinner and quiet evening with family, it’s still possible to fit in everything that is important to you. Getting creative and recognizing you can have it all, just not all at the same time, is the key to achieving a feeling of internal balance and an integrated life.
While accepting that as a busy leader you most likely won’t have a perfectly balanced life, be intentional about your time and make sure it’s aligned with your priorities. Balance is more often found in brief moments and I encourage you to appreciate it when you are experiencing it. Each person has a different idea of balance as well, so refrain from comparing yourself to others. Shatter the illusion of work-life balance by cultivating internal balance, learning to say no, delegating, and striving for work-life integration. It’s time to live life by design!