Forget Work-Life Balance. Here’s How To Win At Life Your Way
Work-life balance is a subjective, internal concept, and you are the only person who can evaluate your success.
Work-life balance — it’s the elusive magic ratio that we all strive for. The perfect flow to our days when we have a combination of family time, personal time, professional time, and down time — and yet still feel like we have plenty of time.
This concept has both eluded me and intrigued me for years, and so when I see others who look from the outside like they are accomplishing it, I often ask them how they do it. This is what I’ve learned from my own experience, as well as from others, about the magical and sought after equilibrium of work life balance.
1. It’s about quality not quantity.
I used to try to structure my time so that I had specific chunks for certain activities set aside throughout the day — like a fixed amount of time each for my writing, my work on client projects, spending time with my kids, being with my husband, exercise — oh yes, and sometimes time to sleep.
But what I found, and what others have echoed as well — is that these chunks of time may not be as clearly defined as I once thought. I can sometimes write my best blog post ever in 15 minutes, even though I’ve given myself an hour and a half to do it. I can sometimes have the most meaningful, memorable, and delicious experience with my family that actually takes place over a very short period of time.
Shifting the focus from quantity to quantity lifts the frantic, “not enough time” pressure that I have often felt. I make it a goal to have quality time with each of the priorities in my life regularly — and don’t stress about the number of hours.
2. It’s different for everyone.
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for achieving work life balance. It is unique to each person’s situation. For some people, that means not seeing their children or spouse at all for certain days in the week while they focus on work, and for some that means time with family and time at the office are all in a day’s work.
The defining characteristic of work-life balance isn’t a number of hours, equally distributed, it’s the feeling of balance that you have inside.
Maybe you don’t feel that balance unless you do yoga every day, while one yoga class a week might bring someone else to their center and keep them there. When we compare our lives to other people’s, we often question ourselves and end up frustrated. Someone else’s formula for balance is not necessarily yours.
3. It’s easier to achieve when work is part of your life, not separate from it.
I have cared more about having work life balance when the work I’m doing for money isn’t something I fully enjoy. At those times, I just wanted less time doing what was unpleasant and more time doing things that I enjoy — like being with my family, going on hikes, sleeping, etc.
But when I’m passionate about my work, it is an integral part of my life — not separate from it. I have no desire to “switch it off” because my work switches me on.
This is how I always strive to feel about my work: that is it another aspect in my life that uplifts me — just as much as yoga or time with loved ones. And if work isn’t feeling that way, there are usually mental shifts I can make so that it does.
4. It changes over time.
Work-life balance isn’t a summit you finally reach and then stay there, perfectly perched in perpetuity. It’s always changing, just like we are. If you have kids, their needs change drastically as they age and become more independent. Your romantic partner may be more — or less — available, depending on what is going on in his or her life.
There will be times when exercise, or sleep, are a bigger priority for you. Flexibility is key, as well as being in touch with your own feelings. Since work life balance is more about how you feel than what you do, the secret to achieving it is paying attention to how you feel, and making adjustments daily as needed.
If you feel joyful, engaged, stimulated, and connected — chances are you’re teetering pretty close to the edge of your ideal balance, regardless of how you’re spending your time.
5. Boundaries are good only if they feel good.
I’ve heard theories about setting strict boundaries with both time and technology — and enforcing them in the name of work life balance.
I know that in my case, if I’m passionately engaged in work that is fulfilling me, helping others, and providing economic means for my family, I will not feel better if my work time is cut off due to a boundary. I will feel frustrated.
Although, I do appreciate certain boundaries — like apps that time and then block my social media activity each day — that prevent me from spending too much time on things that I don’t mean to. Again, it’s all about what feels good — and to me work life balance that feels good is when I’m firing on all cylinders — passionately engaged in every aspect of my life — professionally, personally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
6. The goal is to be fully present in whatever you’re doing in the moment.
I think what most of us really want when we talk about work life balance has more to do with the activity in our minds than in our actions. We want to be able to take a break from thoughts about work — whether we love our work or not — when we want a break.
We want to be fully present with our kids or in our yoga class when we do have the quality time for those activities that we love, so we can soak up every juicy minute and let it empower us in every other aspect of our lives.
Mindfulness exercises can help a great deal with this, because ultimately most of our life experience is dictated, filtered, and perceived through the functions of our mind.
This is good news, because there are only 24 hours in a day — and it is good to sleep for some of them. But there are trillions of neurons firing in our brains, and they can be directed with intention and repetition.
So the next time someone asks you how you achieve work life balance, perhaps you’ll consider telling them it’s all a state of mind.
Originally published at www.mindbodygreen.com.
I invite you to check out my new book, The Joy Plan, a memoir about the neurobiology of joy and how to apply it to your own life. Publisher’s Weekly calls it “an energized and informative plan for transforming your life.”
Find out more at TheJoyPlan.com.