Anyone working for a company or organization will undoubtedly have heard of work-life balance. Many companies invest large sums of money to develop policies, surveys and much-heralded initiatives purported to support their employees in achieving this shangri-la of modern day life. Admirable though that may be, work-life balance is a misnomer and trying to achieve it ultimately leads to feelings of frustration, guilt and stress.
There was one occasion where this really hit me. I recall sitting in the weekly executive meeting where one person was singled out to share what they did to achieve work-life balance. My colleague shared her story of how her husband took her son away from the house on Saturday and Sunday mornings so that she could relax and “catch up on emails.” As people nodded their heads in – what appeared to be – agreement, I couldn’t help thinking how isolating herself from her family was anything but indicative of balance.
So here lies the problem. The expression ‘work-life balance’ suggests an equal division of two things; work and life. That is a 50/50 split. So, twenty-four hours in a day – seven of those sleeping – leaves seventeen hours to divide between work and life assuming, of course, that sleep isn’t forced into the ‘life’ bucket. You are left with eight and a half hours to commute and work, and eight and a half hours to spend time with family and friends, attend to the day to day chores of living, work-out, ferry your kids around, relax, shower, buy groceries, eat and work in your community. See the problem? To suggest that balance is a 50/50 split of work and life is overly simplistic and serves no individual well.
So what to do?
First and foremost, it is time to give up the notion of work-life balance. That unreachable, unrealistic place of simplistic balanced bliss will be forever out of reach and you will drive yourself into an early grave trying to achieve it. But hope is not lost. Because while work-life balance may be unattainable, life balance is well within reach. Start by putting work where it belongs; in the list of activities that comprise your life. Work is part of life, not a detached entity. With all components of life in full view, the entire picture becomes clear and making time allocation and trade-off decisions becomes possible.
Here are three steps to get you well on your way to a more balanced life.
1. Take an inventory
For one week, write down all the things you do and record how much time you spend doing each of them. The devil is in the detail, so include such things as preparing meals, eating, working out, commuting, sleeping, showering, driving the kids around, grocery shopping etc. Include everything (no matter how personal it may get!).
2. Three Buckets
After the week, three clearly delineated buckets of activity will emerge.
– Life Sustaining (eating, sleeping, grocery shopping etc)
– Lifestyle Sustaining (working, paying bills, cleaning your home, home repairs etc)
– Life Nourishing (spending time with family, your kids, working out etc)
Divide your activities into those three buckets and calculate how much time you spend in each. You will probably be surprised by how much time you spend doing things that fall into the first two buckets. Only when you have a clear picture of your life can you decide how to allocate your time and where to make trade-offs.
3. Get Brutal
The world is addicted to being busy and there are tasks you may be doing that you really don’t need or have to do. There will also be things you do that suck the life out of you and you would like nothing more than to get them off your plate.
a). What can I stop doing?
b). What could I get help with/assign to someone else/share?
c). What activities can I combine/do simultaneously?
When you come to the realization that work-life balance is not achievable – but life balance is – you will feel liberated, lighter and a whole lot more empowered to adjust, and liberate your time. So grab your life, take control, and liberate yourself for a more balanced, productive and fulfilling life.