The idea of work life balance has gotten a lot of coverage in recent years. And with it, a message of criticism: that if you’re not balancing things perfectly, if you’re spending too much time at work over home, or with friends over that new project, that you are somehow failing.
I’m here to tell you otherwise.
There is no work life balance. It just doesn’t exist.
What there is instead is life as a whole. Life and balance.
The positive message behind work life balance
I get why the concept of work life balance has been praised so highly. It’s gotten easier and easier to spend your entire day in work mode. To forget about the self and get lost in that report due by end of week.
So having a buzzword come along to remind you to take care of yourself every once and a while is actually great. It’s a positive message reminding you that life is made up of more than just work.
But like all things, this idea comes with pros and cons.
On the pro side is the aforementioned reason above – that being aware of work life balance helps remind you to take lunch away from your desk, go for a walk when you get home, or take a day off to do something fun.
Work life balance guilt
The flip side to that though has to do with the perfectionists out there, like you and me. The Type A’s that like to take control and function at the highest level in all circumstances at all times.
For us, work life balance doesn’t serve as a reminder, but as one of guilt.
That if you spend extra time working, you need to stop and go do yoga. That if you’ve been watching movies, you need to be done relaxing and go work.
There is a feeling of “the other.”
That whatever you’re doing now isn’t good enough. That you must stop working and go experience life. Or that you must stop enjoying life and go work.
But things aren’t so black and white.
Why work life balance doesn’t exist
I came across an article that touched on this topic the other day and it really resonated. I wish I could remember where I read it or who wrote it because I would love to give them credit, but I sadly can’t.
The message is one that I agree with either way.
And that message is that things aren’t so cut and dry.
Rarely do you find someone that only works when at work; no personal calls, no non-work-related conversations, all business. Does that person exist? Probably. Is that person you or me? I doubt it. Even for myself, a rigid planner, I’d love to say that I perfectly do work when working and am doing “life” when I’m not at my laptop, but that’d be a lie.
And even if I could do things that way, would I want to?
Because having the flexibility to balance all aspects of your life is key to experiencing more out of your days than just work and not work.
Are you achieving work life balance? Probably not.
Still need more convincing? Think about this. How often do you find yourself doing this at “work”?
- Making plans with friends
- Going to a spin class in the middle of the day
- Seeing a doctor in the morning and starting work a little late
And how often do you find yourself doing this during “life”?
- Responding to a Slack notification during dinner with friends
- Taking a work-related call while at the gym
- Right before bed, coming up with a new idea that you can’t wait to share with the rest of your team
See what I’m talking about? Things aren’t as strict and formal as just work and life. There’s a lot of gray. Of in between.
After all, even the best gardens have weeds. Things overlap, come up, grow, and become the new priority. There is no perfect system and things are never as simple as 1 or 0.
There are decimal points in between.
Life as a whole
Now you’re probably thinking: OK OK I get it. Thanks for overexplaining. There is no work life balance. Fine. Should we strive for nothing at all then?
And to you I reply – of course not!
Work life balance may not exist, but what does is life as a whole.
Work life balance is a simplification. In actuality, there is life in its entirety. Life, and the things that you choose to dedicate time to within it.
Take right now for instance.
I’m working a full-time job, while writing this to you in my downtime, and I’m about to take a break and go for a run because it’s nice out. Now I work from home, so there’s some extra flexibility baked into my day that I wouldn’t have say if I was a teacher or worked in an office.
But, all jobs, no matter the position or company, come with perks and are rarely as binary as just work and not work.
My first job is a great example. Even as a teenager making minimum wage at a kids party venue, I would sneak off, eat some pizza, or text my girlfriend (now wife).
The argument I’m making is that the problem is not a life and work balance issue, the problem is one of balance as a whole.
The different sides of you
When you actually stop and consider the various facets of your life, you’ll probably be surprised. There are so many different sides of you all competing for your time. Sides like the:
- Financial side
- Worker side
- Healthy/Athletic side
- Social side
- Medical side
- Family side, etc.
The worker in you is just one piece of a much larger, much more complicated puzzle. So to simplify things down into either work or not work doesn’t make sense.
Instead it’s an equation of time and of balancing the things that matter most to you.
For instance, if you have five hours of time do you break it down into:
- Three hours of work
- Two hours of not work?
No. You’d probably say:
- I want to work for two hours
- Take a yoga class for an hour
- Call my Mom and chat for an hour
- And sit and read for an hour
The time that you spend each day is a reflection of the things that you want out of life – income, health, a relationship with your parents, education and learning, etc.
What you need, then, isn’t to balance the scales of work and life, but to balance the scales of life in its entirety.
How to achieve balance
That is the real question. Work life balance tips won’t cut it here. What we need instead is a model for achieving balance in all-aspects of our life. Not just before and after the “working” hours.
What could that look like? How can one achieve balance?
I confess that balance for myself, especially with a new baby, is a constantly changing, constantly renegotiating process. Some days I feel more in balance than others.
Sometimes I feel lopsided. Sometimes it’s like I struck perfection.
I continue to experiment and learn and share with you what I can. And while I continue to navigate the tightrope of balance for myself, there are certainly things that you can do to start realizing more balance in your life right now.
So when negotiating the balance of your life as a whole, consider the following.
Know what you want
If you don’t know what you want out of life, it’s incredibly easy to let work take over your time. Because if you are indifferent towards your days, whatever yells at you the loudest will call the shots. And most of the time, that means work – your boss, client, whoever can get to you and make the most noise.
It doesn’t have to be that way though.
For instance, if you know you want to swim laps today, you don’t need to spend ten hours at work. You can spend nine at the office and one of them in the pool.
If you use “work” as the placeholder for your time when you aren’t sure what to do, it will inevitably consume all your time.
It’s like when you’re tired at night and you walk over to the kitchen and start munching on chips or chocolate because you aren’t sure what else to be doing. *You do that, right? Please tell me I’m not the only one that eats when they’re bored.
Work often takes the form of that bag of chips. If you don’t know what you actually want to be filling your time with, you’ll do whatever the default is.
So how do you counteract that? Know what you want. My goal setting course is great for this as I have an entire lesson dedicated to understanding what it is that you actually want.
Here’s something else you can do…
Look at that list of Sides that I mentioned above. Ask yourself: if I had my way, what would each of these Sides ideally look like in my life?
Make time for it
Once you know what you want, you need to make time for it. It’s the difference between dreaming and doing.
Consider what it is that you want and then make time for it in your schedule.
- Want to read more? When can you make some time for it each day?
- Want to get in better shape? Where can you carve out some time for exercise?
Try planning out your day tomorrow.
But don’t just put together a generic to-do list. Instead, create a detailed plan that includes what you are going to do and when. That way there will be no confusion or ambiguity when the time comes. You’ll be ready.
If you need some help planning, I recommend checking out this post.
Be deliberate with your actions
Remind yourself during the day to be deliberate about what you do. To not move through your days unthinking, but to question why you do what you do.
Set a reminder or write a note that you will see. Write down: Be deliberate
When you see it, remember to be thoughtful about your actions. To not let work take up your entire day for no reason. Or to waste your weekends sitting on the couch because you haven’t spent the time to think of something better to do.
Be intentional and create an intentional life for yourself.
Try living a more balanced life. Plan for it, be deliberate about it, and – this next part’s crucial – take a moment to look up and reset every once and awhile.
That could be once a week or once a month, whatever works for you. Consider if things feel in balance. If they do, great! Keep it going. If things feel off though, like you are spending too much time in one area of your life and neglecting other areas, consider what you can do to balance the scales once again.
It will take some trial and error, but some effort is better than no effort. Some balance is better than none.
Side note: That’s where having a goals coach often comes in handy.
Moving forward with balance
Work life balance does not exist. All that exists is life as a whole and the things you dedicate your time to.
So in that vein, strive to live a more balanced life in total.
Not one of work and not work, but one of spouse, athlete, business person, scholar, parent, or whatever other areas of life appeal to you. Follow your interests, make time for what you care about, and put the scales of your life back into equilibrium.
Don’t let work take over your days because you haven’t decided to do anything else. Take charge of your life and be the architect of something amazing!