Work-Life Balance Myth

“Work-life balance” is a concept that is well-known but, do we really know what it is and what it would look like if we found it? Work-Life Balance:  elusive, mysterious, and mythological.

For anyone working or unemployed, if you receive a paycheck for your work or if you are the supporting person at home, you know very well that there is no such thing as balance.

There are also no silos to clearly designate when we are “working” or “living.” Technology has blurred those lines; creating more flexibility, but also helping work leak into all aspects of our lives.

When the work-life balance concept was first used in the 1800s (and became popular in the USA in the mid-1980’s), work was defined as career and ambition, and life (or lifestyle), was defined as health, pleasures, leisure, and family.

Today, you might workout at the company gym, take a work call during family time, and answer emails while watching little Johnny’s soccer game. Sadly, most people would say there is very little time for leisure or pleasures.

To reinforce this reality, a number of high-profile women now agree that the most desired and discussed of professional ideals, work-life balance, doesn’t actually exist. (Anne-Marie Slaughter, Sallie Krawcheck, and Sheryl Sandberg)

Why are we still talking about something that doesn’t exist?

The fiction of a work-life balance may be lingering because it’s a polite way to explain the feeling of being overworked. Telling someone that you’re, “striving for a better work-life balance” sounds much more civil than confessing that you need to work less because your job is sucking the life out of you!

Maybe the myth of work-life balance exists solely to keep us moving forward believing if we just work hard enough, we can find balance… one day.  

Ironically, we often admire the people who have passionately dedicated their life to a cause.  THEY don’t separate their work from the rest of their lives, it’s all fluid, and we expect that of them (and quite possibly wished we had their passion and dedication towards a cause of our own).

If Work-Life Balance doesn’t exist, now what?

The driving force behind the work-life balance concept is to define a system to judiciously integrate the different aspects of your life so your overall needs are being met. This does not mean your needs are being met all of the time or with equal personal resources (time and energy).

The key to finding balance may be taking a big-picture approach and creating a routine that works for you and your family.

A study, found that the majority of people do not cope effectively with the stress of the different aspects of their life and hence continually grapple with internal conflict.

To cope with these conflicts people will sacrifice from their personal lives, cut back on their social lives, not have children, work harder and get less sleep -- strategies that research shows are associated with increased rather than decreased conflict between work and home.

Below are better ways to cope, which will hopefully help you shift from coping to thriving.

1. Manage expectations.

None of us can do it all! That’s just silly, we’re human. Yet, so many of us set expectations that only a super human could meet. We expect to do exceptionally well at work, have a connected family life, be healthy and fit, have time for hobbies and passions, have a vibrant social life, and remember friend’s birthdays… among many, many other things.

Stop thinking you need to do it all, and if you have any guilt, drop it!

A better way is to manage expectations, and be more realistic with how much time and energy you have each day (and building in activities to recharge, covered below).

2. Build in time to recharge.

When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time for activities that recharge you.

For some of us it’s time with family and friends, and for many of us it’s time alone.

For those of us that need alone time, this is typically the first thing that gets cut when time gets crunched, and it’s exactly what we need to continue to be successful in all of our other activities.

We need to honor ourselves to be successful.

And recharge time is not distraction time, so TV doesn’t count.

3. Know your priorities.

First, know your values and decide what’s important to you. Rank your values in order, what comes first and what’s last (no, you may not put yourself last). Then set boundaries.

Second, be realistic and avoid becoming overwhelmed by juggling too many big projects in your life at once.

If you aren’t sure what you want, this can often lead to trying to do everything at once because we aren’t sure when to say no. This is a recipe for disaster, and will only lead to exhaustion. Instead, give yourself time to reflect and work it out.

4. Build in buffer time.

Things take longer than expected and there will be unexpected hurdles.

Traffic will happen, computers will crash, kids will get sick - stuff happens.

So, instead of getting frustrated or stressed, build in buffer time and roll with the punches. That’s life, it’s full of all sorts of unexpected things (which is also why it’s worth living).

If you expect the unexpected, knowing at any time something can happen to throw you off, then you’ll be able to adjust when it does happen.

There will also be times when something huge may happen, a family or career crisis, that no amount of buffer time can cover. It will need your immediate and undivided attention and will likely cause some big energy deficits afterwards.  When this happens, don’t expect yourself to handle this and “normal” life at the same time. Do what needs to be done, and when things are back to normal take time to recharge yourself. It will take time; more than you expect.

5. Drop activities and people that zap you

Say “No”. Say it often.

Say “No” to activities and people that you know zap your time and energy, such as that gossiping work colleague who is constantly venting.

Say “No” when it doesn’t honor your priorities or values, such as spending way too much time at work.

Say “No” to activities that can be delegated. It’s totally acceptable to hire a housecleaner or use a grocery shopping service to help out. Often the money spent will be well worth the time and energy saved for more valuable priorities.

Say “No” to feeling guilty or worrying. It’s wasted time and energy.

This doesn’t mean saying “No” to things that get you out of your comfort zone and are new experiences. Those can actually be quite valuable.

Do you need help with figuring out how to juggle your priorities? Or how to say “No” more, especially at work? If so, I’m here for you.