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As a business professional, work can seem like an almost endless cycle of paperwork, emails, meetings, phone calls, (In between, you somehow end up watching funny videos on YouTube.) At the same time, we get constant reminders that we need to maintain our work-life balance if we want a happy life. We read about overworked professionals who regret neglecting their family later in life. Yet, we also read about professionals who don’t reach their potential because of their life outside of work.
How can we win? How do we figure out this whole work-life balance thing?
The Impossible Demand of Work-Life Balance as a Business Professional
Some facts to consider
- Only 55% of Americans took all of their vacation days
- Americans took an average of 16 vacation days, leaving 600 unused million days
- 81% of workers in a survey by Paychex wished they could spend more time with their kids
- 31% of workers in the Paychex survey mentioned above felt that overtime was negatively affected their family, yet over 50% worked overtime
Based on the stats above, it’s obvious that work-life balance is not working for us. In today’s world, our working and non-working lives have blurred more than any time in human history. We spend more time at work, spend more time thinking about work, and have more devices that leave us connected to work on a 24/7 basis. (Think about how many times you check work email when you’re not at work.) Our work culture praises the worker who “arrives early and leaves late”. We praise the professional
With this emphasis on work, our balance has shifted from work and life balance to work with a few moments of life sprinkled in between.
Is this the kind of life we want to live? Are we doomed to keep chasing a perfect standard of life that we can’t attain?
Why We Need to Scrap the “Work-Life Balance” Myth
The problem may not be us, though. The problem may lie in how we think about work and life.
The idea for “work/life balance” is rooted in the assumption that a “one-size-fits-all” approach applies to every worker in every situation of their life.
We know that this isn’t the case. Life happens. Children are born. Children and family get sick. We get sick. We have phases in life where we are OK with working more hours. We have some aspects of business (especially in critical aspects of business growth like the beginning) that are busier than others when we need to put in more hours in work.
On top of all this, we live in a different world than the 19th century in which the “work-leisure concept” was being floated around. That world is also radically different than the 1980’s when the more modern term of “work-life balance” was used.
All of this is a factor behind dropping the “work-life balance” as some perfect level of achievement we can one day achieve.
Women’s Magazine: Work-LIfe Balance is a Sham
Creating a More Flexible Model to Balance Work and Life
So where does this leave us? Should we just scrap all efforts at achieving a balanced approach to work and life?
While you probably won’t ever reach an ideal balance of work and life, you can create a more optimal fit between your work and life. Here are seven tips that might help you get started.
1. Stop trying to balance your work and life
As mentioned above, the first step in creating a better work-life fit for your life is letting go that a perfect standard exists. Your life and work needs will change throughout your life. You can improve different aspects of your work- life (Some of the tips will help with that.)
2. Identify your current priorities and assumptions about work and life
Before you make any changes, identify what kind of life you want. Identify what kind of work schedule you prefer. Identify what kind of life you want to pursue when you’re not at work. Identify and prioritize your answers and use these priorities to plan a strategy for a better life. Plan out your ideal workday in detail and your ideal non-work day.
3. Compare your actual time to your intended priorities
Now that you’ve outlined an ideal workday and non-work day, analyze how you are currently spending your time. Take an inventory of how much time you spend at work for at least 1 week (or longer, if you can). Take time to seriously to reflect on how much of your life differs from what you want it be.
4. Identify your current resources
Now that you’ve taken a look at the gap between your planned life and your current life, it’s time to focus on resources. You will need these resources to support you, guide you, and help you reach your intended life. Take a look at the current resources you have, at home and at work, to help you:
- Family members
- Friends (at work and away from home)
- Community groups
5. Identify your current constraints
When you have a good idea of the resources around you, look at the constraints in your life. Do you have children at home and want to get home at 5 to see them? Make this a priority. Look for jobs that allow you to work at home or leave at 5 pm. Can you work on a part-time schedule? Make this a priority.
Taking the time to look at your constraints now will help you later. When you approach your work/life fit with a proactive, rather than reactive, you gain more control over how your work and life work together.
6. Make small adjustments instead of big changes to reach your “best-fit” life
Looking over your ideal life and your current life, you might feel the need to make quick changes like leave your job or demand a change in schedule. Take it slow. There are times when you need to make a big change. In most cases, you want to focus on making small changes to improve your life.
Some books on work-life balance that might help:
“Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Read our review of this book on DIY Marketers). The book talks about breaking free of the need to “always be the last one to leave the office” and other common assumptions about work
“The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction” by Samantha Ettus. “The Pie Life” was designed to help working parents (particularly women) break away from the idea of perfect work-life balance and create their own “pie” of their time commitments
“Work PAUSE Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career” by Lisen Stromberg. This book focuses on the “pause” that parents often take while raising children. Stromberg provides tips for helping parents review their options before and after they pause. The book also delves into how businesses can help
Recommended Tools and Resources
Phone Addiction: Tied to your phone? Try the Break Free app to monitor your time and set times when you don’t use your phone
Stress Management: Do you want a self-guided tour through stress management? Try Pacifica. Pacifica is a mixture of a journal, support community, relaxation and meditation teacher, and daily goal tracker.
Work-Life Balance: Have trouble creating your work-life balance? There’s an app for that. Balance Your Life provides a “Wheel of Life” which helps you manage the different aspects of your life.