Work life balance is a term that is used a lot among professionals. People talk about wanting more work-life balance, potential employers promise better work-life balance…but what does it actually mean when you say “I am looking for more work-life balance?”
It is a very subjective term. For someone who works at a magic circle law firm, more work-life balance might mean not leaving the office at midnight everyday and instead leaving the office at 7pm. For another person who is in the beginning stages of motherhood, more work-life balance may mean leaving the office at 5:30pm or being able to work less days a week. For another person more work-life balance may mean not working on the weekends.
What does it mean to you?
It is important to think about what you mean when you express that you need more work-life balance in your life. Think about what more work-life balance would actually look like for you. What do you want more time to do? Spend more time with family, with friends or more time doing things that you are interested in?
If you don’t have in mind what more work-life balance looks like, you will not know when you have achieved it.
An alternative approach
Work-life balance is a universal concept, but I think there is a better way to look at things. I suggest a move away from striving to attain the perfect work-life balance.
Why? Because when we talk about balance in this context, we often think of a scale with “work life” on one end of the scale and “family life” on the other end of the scale. We compartmentalise the two, and the two areas are constantly competing. This can lead to a feeling of frustration because you are never really going to reach a place where everything is completely balanced for a significant period of time. You may have moments where you feel like everything feels nice and balanced right now, but that it unlikely to last for long.
The scales are going to tip when you are having to spend more time at work or your child gets sick and you need to be home. As a result you will regularly feel off balance and like you are falling short in both areas of your life. An alternative approach is to aim for better work-life integration.
Think about your life as a whole as opposed to treating work and life as completely distinct. You are one person with one life, who has various different elements of your life that are important to you. Consider which things fall within the “this is important” category. That may be work, family, fitness, health. You can then acknowledge that one or some of those areas are going to have to take priority over others.
Let’s look at a practical example of how work-life integration would work.
You are working as a corporate associate. You know that next month is going to be really busy as you will be in thick of completing a corporate deal that will become all consuming. Long hours are going to be inevitable.
You know now that in that season you are going to have to prioritise work and everything else is going take a back seat. You know this ahead of time, so you can decide that right now you are going to prioritise life outside of work. Instead of thinking that you will just stay in the office until 7 or 8 o’clock because that is what people do, you can make a commitment to say no actually, I am going to leave on time so that I can make it to a fitness class, spend the evening with my family or have dinner with a friend because you know that in a few weeks you are not going to be able to do that.
You prioritise life outside of work now because next month you will be prioritising work.
[bctt tweet=” You prioritise life outside of work now because next month you will be prioritising work.” username=”@LightBOXPD”]
Taking this approach means that you are less likely to question whether you are achieving work life balance on a day to day basis. Instead you can look at your schedule over the period of a week, month or quarter and look at the time you have been able to dedicate to work and the time you have been able to dedicate to other things. Looking at things holistically over that period can reduce the feelings that you have only been working or only been spending time on other commitments.
Try taking the following steps to help you feel more in control of your life, and less guilty about how you are spending your time.
- Taking time to establish what is important to you and get intentional about making time for those things.
- Plan ahead and use your calendar to block out time for the things that are non-negotiable. Allow flexibility where you know that urgent work commitments are pending.
- Set boundaries around your commitments.
- Reflect on how you have spent your time over a month or quarter and decide whether you have prioritised in a way that you are happy with. If not, identify ways to tweak and change things.
Life is busy, but you can actually take control over it if you are intentional about your time.
If you like the idea of embracing work-life integration, but need some support in figuring out how to implement this approach in your life, join the LightBOX Coaching community HERE and you will receive regular information, tips and strategies directly to your mailbox to help you effectively integrate all aspects of your life.