At the beginning of each year, my wife and I sit down and think about what went well last year and what we want for our lives this year, then jot down goals we hope we can accomplish in the year ahead. New year, new goals, new dreams, new ideas…same 24 hours in a day. As I look back on last year, I remember feeling physically and mentally drained by the end of October. I was doing what I could to make sure I stayed afloat at work and at home, with just enough left over to get to the holidays and finally get some rest. My balance was off! It reminded me of a concept my friend once shared: The Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is a life-design framework designed to help you identify key areas of your life that are important to you and recognize when you’re neglecting those areas in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle. This year my goal is to pay more attention to my wheel — and I encourage you to do the same.
When I talk about the idea of balance, harmony or being in sync, I don’t mean that people should always strive to divide their time in equal amounts across a variety of different areas. Life is hectic and in a constant state of flux. There will always be one area of life demanding more of our attention than another. I do, however, believe that if I can be more aware and intentional about how I spend my time and allocate my energy, then I can set the right expectations for myself and for others. When I know which areas I need to focus on, I can ensure that I’m putting myself in a position to live my best life.
The Myth of Work-Life Balance
This kind of thinking requires that we deconstruct the idea of work-life balance. In my opinion, the term “work-life balance” is used as a capitalistic tool to entice employees to work harder and longer, as if work is a separate thing that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) fit into the larger picture of your life. There has never been a better time to think of work simply as another piece of life’s puzzle. A state that you constantly flow in and out of, making sure that those times work for you and your company’s schedule.
Leveraging Balance for Creative Energy
At Brains on Fire, we get to solve big problems with creative solutions. Doing so requires a team of rockstars expending huge amounts of creative energy. It requires us to be in the moment, focused on our client’s success and how we can inspire people to action. Without balance in our lives, we can’t bring the same energy to the problems we are solving. It’s the things that we do outside of our roles at Brains on Fire that spark inspiration and ignite a burning desire to be brave for our clients. We have intentionally designed an environment at BOF that understands the importance of leveraging that balance: weekly work-from-home days without meetings (“Jam Day”), incentives for working out and staying physically fit, rewards for accomplishing personal growth goals outside of work, the comfort of having financial support if you’re in a bind, bring-your baby-to-work benefits — and perhaps most importantly, a group of people who are understanding of what it takes to be a fully-functioning human being and respectful of the way we spend our time. We don’t call this balance, it’s just baked into our culture! Whether it’s freelance design and photography, authoring children’s books, running small nonprofits, mayoring a town of 9,000+, spending time with our families and friends or exploring fun, new hobbies, we do our best work at Brains on Fire not despite these things, but because of them.
Create Your Wheel
The art of making your own wheel is pretty straightforward. Identify 8–10 key areas of your life that you feel are most important. For most of these you’ll want to keep things relatively broad, but if you have a couple of specific areas you really find important (or take up a big chunk of your time/brain space), be sure to include those, as well. For me, those include: Marriage, family & friends, health, finances, work, spirituality, fun & leisure and my nonprofit, Brother Box. These buckets get equally distributed around the wheel like so:
The wheel is not a measurement of time spent on any one bucket; it’s a measurement of your satisfaction with the time and energy you’re putting towards that bucket. Fill each slice from the core to the outer edge as a rating of your satisfaction. An easy way to do this is to pretend each slice has a scale of 1–10, with 1 being the center and 10 being the outer edge. Ask yourself, “How satisfied am I with the time and energy I’m devoting to my marriage?” The most ideal scenario would be for the entire circle to be filled, but that likely won’t ever happen because life is messy! In October of last year my wheel was not looking good.
I was devoting large amounts of time to projects outside of work that sucked up energy from other areas of the wheel. I stopped going to the gym and taking care of myself. I wasn’t able to put as much energy into work as I would have liked. There simply wasn’t enough space in my day or my brain to devote to things I care about. Since October, I’ve been able to refocus my energy by taking some tasks and projects off my plate, setting financial goals, getting back in the gym, and learning to say no to projects that I feel will drain my energy in ways that aren’t healthy and don’t contribute to more satisfaction around the wheel.
There’s power in being intentional with your time, knowing what you value and designing your life around those values in a way that allows you to be present in all of them when it matters most. So pick up a pencil and draw your Wheel of Life. Audit each area, taking note of what has been neglected. Come up with a plan for how you can feed the pieces of your being that make you your best self.