Wouldn’t it be great to have a perfect work-life balance? Where your job never intrudes into your personal life, and you can switch off all work-related worries at 6 p.m., like clockwork? Well, let’s get real here – it’s hardly possible. You may be thinking: “If only I could get better at balancing, then I could have it all.” Sometimes you may even blame yourself for not achieving that elusive work-life balance and think it’s because of your poor time management skills. But the reason for not reaching this gold standard is that you simply have a wrong understanding of what ‘work-life balance’ is.
The problem isn’t just about having equal time for career accomplishments vs time for your family, hobbies, and self-care. It’s deeper and more fundamental. The problem is in the feeling of the self-being split between two sides. On a rational basis, your work is a part of your life, it’s not something separate from it. You are as much ‘alive’ in the office as you are doing your yoga class or playing with kids. It might not feel comfortable to admit, but it’s the case.
If you cringe just because of the thought of being associated with your work, this is definitely something you should reflect on. Why do you want to push your job from your identity? Why do you want to separate who you are from what you’re doing? And what if, instead of striving to keep work and life at odds with one another, you start to see work as an opportunity for self-expression?
These questions might help you identify activities you are passionate about or that can recharge you.
- What is your fantasy job, even if you consider it as non-realistic?
- Do you have any activities you have dreamed about trying but talked yourself out of even trying?
- What did you enjoy doing as a child?
- Make a creativity board with a collage of images, quotes, and people or anything that you find inspiring. As your board evolves, you will begin to see a pattern of what interests you.
So, start thinking and talking less about work-life balance, and focus your thoughts on how you can incorporate your work into your life and feel great about it, instead. Shift your perspective of work-life ‘balance’ to work-life ‘harmony’. When you go after this approach, you’re no longer seeking the ability to switch off from work at 6 p.m. sharp and step into your ‘real’ persona.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, uses this framework to step up his productivity. As he tells:
“I prefer the word “harmony” to the word “balance” because balance tends to imply a strict tradeoff. In fact, if I’m happy at work, I’m better at home — a better husband and a better father. And if I’m happy at home, I come into work more energized — a better employee and a better colleague.”
So, if you don’t see your current job as something you can express yourself through and do nothing about it, you’re shutting down the possibility of finding a career you want to talk about with friends at the pub, that you passionately share about with your family members, that feels like an inspiration to wake up for in the mornings.
Work is life. And if work is holding back your growth or ruining your relationships, then find different work. However, you may think “Easier said than done” and will be right. Finding work-life harmony, or congruence requires having a strong sense and clear understanding of self, of who you are, so you need to focus on getting to know yourself on a deep level.
Now when you’ve realized the fallacy of a work-life balance approach, let’s see what you can do step-by-step.
1. Acknowledge The Fact That Life Is NOT Balanced
And it will never be. Life is life with its ups and downs, force majeures, and unexpected obstacles. You live some of it at home with beloved ones, and some of it at the office with your work responsibilities, colleagues, customers, and deadlines.
Do you have to balance your roles and responsibilities? Yes. Do you have to balance the things you do for a paycheck and the things you do just for pleasure? For sure. But the key is that you don’t balance ‘work’ and ‘life’. You just live. All you need to do is to broaden your horizons by exposing yourself to new life experiences wherever you are.
2. Set Clear And Realistic Goals
If you don’t really know what you’re trying to achieve, both personally and professionally, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working all the time or, vice versa, loafing around. After all, if you have no way of knowing when you’ve reached your goal, then working days, weeks, even years can be an endless treadmill of meaningless tasks.
Similarly if you haven’t set clear goals around your personal life, including your interests and relationships, it’s easy to neglect them for the sake of work. So to not feel guilty about not investing time in life beyond your workplace, make a conscious decision around how you want to spend your life taking into consideration both what would make you feel successful in work and what you’d find personally enriching.
3. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity
You can start with coming up with your top three to seven life priorities – keep the number manageable as otherwise, you’ll end up with a million-priorities piece which makes no sense.
Once you have those priorities, assess how you actually spend your time. Do a quick audit of your last week or month. How many hours are you dedicating to work, obtaining new skills, hanging out with friends, sleep, or checking social media? Now that you have a clear understanding of your life priorities and your how-I-spend-my-time list you can answer the question: Does how you’re spending your time match your priorities and goals?
4. Be Fully Present
Work-life harmony is mostly about being present to the people and activities you value. Instead of thinking of ‘work-life’ balance as a tradeoff, try being involved in your work for 100% when you’re working and give 100% of your attention to things that matter to you beyond a workplace. Both deserve the best from you.
Rather than feel guilty that you’re not home during a working day, or guilty that you’re enjoying yourself-time during your off-hours, be truly present in a moment whether you find yourself in the office, or at home, playing with kids or reading a book. Tune in fully to any activities you’re engaged in to feel the moment and enjoy it.
The idea of work-life harmony rather than work-life balance puts you in a less stressed place as it offers you not to divide these parts of life, but to make them co-exist harmoniously. With this concept in mind, you shouldn’t control if you divide your time equally between working and non-working hours. You just need to define work as a part of your life, not something separate from it. To succeed, choose where to put your energy and time from a ‘worth’ perspective, not from a ‘should’ one.
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