Well duh! It follows that most of us are time-poor, which is why we seek work-life balance – the general premise being that we’d have more LIFE if we only spent less time working.
I often talk of balance in more spiritual, philosophical terms, but how to translate that in practical terms?
True work-life balance is less about how much time we have for ‘life’ outside of work, and more about how we balance (as opposed to juggle) our lives (and ourselves) to spend time WELL (ideally if we are passionate about our work, then it’s time spent well).
I subscribe to the philosophy (here I go again) that work belongs within life (well duh), so that work-life balance is in fact a misnomer or at least a term that is best applied to structuring workplaces to be more flexible, to policies that support employees to balance family responsibilities etc.
Whilst we all have non-negotiable responsibilities, life is not a pie-chart to be divided into chunks, meted out in the percentages of time we devote to one aspect or another.
Might it be better to focus on balancing our life out in terms of our energies, our passions, and of course our responsibilities – taking a qualitative, rather than quantitative approach?
This thinking can help us prioritise not only our investments of time, but our investments of money and resources and our choices about what we are prepared to compromise on, what sacrifices we are willing to make, even our decisions about friends and where we choose to live.
When we think of ‘work-life’ balance in broader terms we realise that we will feel more balanced if we focus on choosing opportunities that ‘enrich’ us and stop watching the clock.
So here are some (semi) practical (part) philosophical tips.
1) Flip from time-poor to time-enriched – it’s all in the attitude. We all get 24 hours in a day – make time or opportunities (which may not require huge chunks of time at all) for things that enrich you – your purposeful passions, the things (work) that you love and that when you do them you ‘find your flow’, the activities that bring you into balance (yoga, meditation, walking on the beach, spending time in nature, writing, cooking, gardening, painting, playing music etc).
Schedule these things in your diary first and adopt a ‘first in, last out’ policy. Sure massages and movies are nice, but things that really enrich your soul should be priorities. If you take this approach, then for the most part you should be able to schedule responsibilities in around your soul-enriching passions.
2) Prioritise relationships – this means being conscious that relationships need ‘quality’ time, not the harried trip in the car to take the kids to dance class or the dentist (although you can make travelling ‘quality’ time – just the other day I engaged my 3.5 year old in such a good conversation – well as good as 3.5 year olds can engage in – that it felt like we’d been on a lovely journey together, instead of simply coming back from the shops).
Taking a narrow view of spending ‘time with the kids’ or ‘alone time with the spouse’ will not necessarily bring a sense of balance (especially if this time is spent distracted by technology, TV or worries).
3) Schedule in social – while most of us have special occasions that we prioritise, how often do we add appointments for activities with our family and get-togethers with our friends, for no particular reason other than the fun of it. Whether it a date night with a partner, dinner with friends or a morning at the beach, we need to prioritise time for simple connection.
3) Lunch ‘hour of power’ – a lot of people enjoy a ‘break’ during their lunch hour, and while it’s great to socialise, exercise or simply get outside in the sunshine, it can also be turned into an hour of power, during which you indulge your creative thinking, tap into the flow.
A short amount of time can be perfect for ‘creative bursts’ that leave you feeling inspired and energised (and maybe more enthused and productive for the rest of your work day). It might take quite a few lunch hours to write a novel, but treating lunchtime as valuable time to nurture your passion will help ensure the creative juices keep flowing. (I’m hopeless at taking a lunch break – it comes from starting out as a journalist with a nightly news deadline – but when I do ‘make time’ for a power burst of creativity, I feel sooo much better).
4) Jot it, sketch it, just get it down on paper or voice memo – Interrupt what you are doing (within reason) to spend a couple of minutes taking notes, sketching out a concept or recording your passionate thoughts. By preserving your ideas you can kick start the creativity later on much more easily. Plus in pausing to capture your ‘brilliance’, you can return to the work at hand without thoughts continuing to whir in your head.
5) Choose your sacrifices wisely – only ever sacrifice one passionate activity (and I don’t mean sex) for another. If you can’t make yoga, find 15 minutes to write, or paint, or garden or whatever ‘flow’ activity you prefer. Sacrifices of household cleaning activities are always allowed and probably advisable (as is outsourcing if you possibly can). Just don’t get to the end of the day and realise you haven’t done anything that makes you come alive (and I don’t mean sex).
6) Balance your kids – if you have children you should probably try to divide your ‘energy’ between them somewhat equally, if not your time. Knowing that kids have different needs at different times it will never be a exact equation and that’s OK. If you only have one child, then the balancing shifts more to the parent/spouse equation, without forgetting play and activities to share together as a family.
Regardless of whether you’re a partnered parent of six, a solo parent, one half of a couple with no kids or a single person, balance is always part of managing the relationships in your life, including the one with yourself. As per tip 2, it doesn’t really come down to time as much as effort, energy, priorities.
7) Balance your books – I feel hypocritical for writing this, but managing your finances (or getting someone else to do it for you) will help you feel in control, and a sense of balance is closely related to a sense of control. Here’s a ‘fun’ way to look at it – schedule one hour a week to pay bills that can’t be automated, to check bank balances and plan budgets and here’s the thing – reward yourself with the points accumulated by paying your bills on credit card. She who pays the bills (always), gets the points!
8) Allow time to just BE – possibly a no brainer. It can be a small blocks for mediation, or sitting quietly in the morning with a cup of tea, or combined with exercise in a morning walk or run. It could be snippets of ‘pushing the pause button’ throughout the day. However you do it, just BEING is essential.
9) Seek flexibility – if you possibly can, don’t be afraid to seek flexibility in your workplace. Often it’s not the number of hours that you work that threatens ‘work-life balance’ as much as the rigidity of hours. If you can start an hour earlier one day, can you leave an hour earlier another? If you just can’t get to work at the designated time because of school drop off, can you cut 20 minutes from your lunch-break and call it square? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from asking for the flexibility you deserve.
10) Find work you love (or make it for yourself) – you know the saying – by Confucius no less:
Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life
Love to hear your thoughts on work-life balance.