Work Life Balance: A New Perspective
Reading the comments in the business press, finding the elusive Work Life Balance seems less likely than catching Bigfoot singing Elvis Presley songs at karaoke.
But is it really that far-fetched? Taking a closer look sheds some light on what work-life balance really is, and how it might be done.
Work Life Balance: Defined
There are differences of opinion about what work life balance even is. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to define it here.
If you think of balancenull as a noun, then you’re talking about something that is “At rest in a way where its weight is evenly distributed.” The problem is that work life “balance” implies you’re going to get “in balance” and when that happens, your job is over. Or put another way, a ‘stable person’ in a ‘stable life.’
The reality is life is more like riding a unicycle, on a tightrope, during an Earthquake.
The alternative is to think of balance as a verb. If you treat “balance” as balancing, then the picture changes. The unicycle is moving forward and back, the rope is swinging side to side, and the Earth is moving up and down. A ‘stable person’ in an ‘unstable life.’
Balance is a constant exercise, something you will work on today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of your life (and that’s a good thing). Some people would equate work life balance to time management, but it’s really self-management of three resources: your time, your focus and your energy.
Your ‘time’ is, of course, the number of hours in a day, days in a year, and years in a lifetime. Your ‘focus’ is your ability to mentally concentrate on one thing for a period of time. Finally, your ‘energy’ is your stamina.
You’ve got plenty of things that are important to you, some of these things are priorities to you, and some of these things are obligations that you don’t want to miss.
So for our conversation, let’s define work life balance like this: “The self-management of all your priorities and obligations, using your limited time, focus and energy.”
Work Life Balance: What Are You Trying To Balance?
People tend to split their lives into these two buckets of what they do at the office, and “everything else.”
This is a bit of an oversimplification. Heading out to play football, and caring for an aging parent a few nights a week are both definitely not your day job, but they don’t really fall into the same category as each other either.
When our definition talks about priorities and obligations, there are a few main buckets you can put most things into:
- Physical and mental health
Personal physical & mental health
The biggest force multiplier you have. Having a fit, rested body that you fuel properly, with a healthy means to express your emotions will amplify all your strengths. You can always improve these aspects by 1% and that will pay dividends everywhere else in your life.
Humans are social creatures, we depend upon our ties to each other. Family and friends provide a robust social support network. Colleagues form a crucial part of your business network.
What you will earn, what you will accomplish, and what your legacy will be.
Any activity where you actively learn new things. Be that a new skill, a religious or spiritual pursuit, or any means of mental growth or self-actualization.
In theory, you could distribute your resources evenly across the four buckets: 25% to Health, 25% to Relationships, 25% to Careers and 25% to Education. Reality, however, is rarely so picture perfect. To truly make progress in one area, other areas must go into ‘standby / maintenance mode.’
Priorities and obligations change over the different phases of life:
- Working on a double major in university and a busy internship? Your resources might be balanced: Health 10%, Relationships 10%, Career 35%, and Education 45%.
- Starting a family? Maybe the balance is Health 20%, Relationships 40%, Career 30%, and Education 10%
- Recovering from a serious illness or injury? Perhaps your balance is now Health 80%, Relationships 15%, Career 0%, and Education 5%.
There are many different ways you might split up your limited time/focus/energy.
The problem that high achievers face is that they don’t want to have limited resources. People want to give each of those buckets 100%, which quite literally would require you to be four people.
The key is to embrace the constraints and make the most effective use of the resources you have. The MOST effective people are those that are the best at allocating, and reallocating their resources.
Work Life Balance: How To Do It
Playing The Long Game
Playing the long game means you keep one eye on the future, never forgetting about the things that matter most. Let’s use the example of starting your new career.
There will be times when you will devote yourself to your professional training (Career 80%). To compensate, you might skip driving to the gym for a brisk 20 minute walk at the end of the day (Health 5%), socializing less and relying more on your spouse and family to maintain the home front (Relationships 15%), and hold off on any non-business related learning until things get off the ground (Education 0%).
There will, however, be times when you need to direct your resources differently. After all your hard work, your skills are sharp and you’ve landed an excellent opportunity. You may decide to redirect your resources on spending more time with your friends and family (Relationships 40%), training for a marathon (Health 25%), and taking some Spanish lessons Education (25%).
This period of reducing the resources you put towards your Career (10%) serves two purposes. It gives you an opportunity to shift balance to build out the other aspects of a fulfilling life. It is also preparing you for the next phase of building up your career down the road.
Playing The Short Game
Once you’ve made some choices about what you want to accomplish in the long term, You largely determine success by what you do day to day. The key components of a playing the short game successfully are:
Learning to focus deeply
In the example of building up your career, you need to strengthen your ability to concentrate on a few things very deeply. Eliminate distractions, for example turning off digital notifications and social media for the period you focus on your work skills. Work in a consistent location where you have everything you need to work, and where you won’t be interrupted by anything that isn’t critical.
Establish good habits & routines
Taking the guesswork out of what you’re doing in your day saves energy and focus, and makes you more efficient with your time. Taking your 20 minute brisk walk at 8:30 P.M. will become something you do on autopilot after the first week. Using the same block of time every day to work on your professional skills will also have the effect of training people to know when you can, and cannot be disturbed. Most simple routines take a bit more energy to start, then a bit less to maintain. You can periodically revisit / change habits and routines as needed.
Asking for help
The relationships you’ve established can help you meet all your day to day obligations. Employees and coworkers can help with developing certain aspects of your career skills. Friends will be willing to work around your schedule. Family can help with housekeeping and domestic concerns. If you've invested in your relationships in the past, they’ll be willing to reciprocate now.
Fighting the fear of missing out.
Directing your efforts keenly towards one thing may make you feel like you’re falling out of touch with other aspects of your life. The best recourse is to remind yourself that you’re directing most of your resources towards your career now, but not forever. You’re working towards something important. Remember that.
Get psychological leverage on yourself.
Quotas, goals, deadlines, small rewards, and accountability partners. Use whatever methods you need to keep your efforts on track.
Also read about The 5 Must Have Elements in your Estate Planning
Work Life Balance: Conclusion
To review, we define work life balance as: “The self-management of all your priorities and obligations, using your limited time, focus and energy
.”Priorities and obligations shift over time, so too must the time, focus and energy one invests in them. To make progress in one area of life a person needs to really lean in. The long game is to prepare to direct more or less resources to an area, but keeping it as the focal point over time. The activity of rebalancing resources to one priority or another allows you to make progress in one area, while avoiding neglecting others.
Work-life balance and rebalance is an activity that needs daily attention, but can be found over the long-haul.