Take the Whole-Life View to Achieving Balance

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 11: Balance

Work-Life Balance is a Myth.

When people talk about their “lack of work-life balance”, they are just describing a symptom; work-life balance is never the problem.

I have found that most of the people who complain about Work-Life balance aren’t complaining about balance at all; In truth, they’re saying I don’t enjoy my job, I want a more engaging role, I want more of a challenge. People who are fully engaged at work, having fun and being challenged don’t talk about Work-Life Balance because they don’t need it.

I’ve had many conversations with people trying to achieve Work-Life Balance, which I always find faintly absurd, making no sense to me at all! Your week has 168 hours; That means that to achieve “balance” by traditional definition, you ought to be working 84 hours. Even if you discount for 8 hours sleep per night, that’s still a working week of 56 hours, which I think a lot of people would agree is not something they’d particularly be aiming for.

I have been studying productivity for more than 10 years and have come to the conclusion that the problem with this Myth is that people try to address it as a problem in its own right when they should be looking more deeply at what’s causing them to feel unbalanced in the first place.

Recently I was working with a very successful person. This client has an incredible responsibility, responsible for handling 25% of the income of one Fortune 500 Company. To many onlookers, the amount of time and effort she devotes to her work might seem “unbalanced.” I might even say the same, But this person enjoys her job and her life just the way it is.

I asked her: How do you manage hobbies, personal life; Anything outside of work? She looked at me as if I was talking crazy; The answer was simple, these outside activities were so trivial to her as to be virtually non-existent.

You might argue that this person has no Work-Life Balance – after all, her whole life is work; But if she is truly happy and has no interesting in changing that, who are we to say that it’s unbalanced? It’s an extreme example, and people like that tend to be the exception; Most people aspire to have a part of their life that operates independently of their professional activities. Problems with feelings of imbalance start to emerge when they only manage and plan their professional life without consideration of their other desires; this is when people start to cite lack of balance as an issue.

Problems with feelings of imbalance start to emerge when they only manage and plan their professional life without consideration of their other desires; this is when people start to cite lack of balance as an issue.

Manage Your Personal Life the Same Way as Your Professional Life

When I ask most people how they manage their personal life they look at me as if I’m speaking another language. The answer in most cases is that they don’t. They may have learned techniques to manage their professional life, but their personal life tends to be out of control, or even worse: in cruise control, simply reacting to the things that happen to them.

Work-Life Balance has nothing to do with time, as experts often insist on framing it. The problem is one of struggling to manage your life as a whole and finding that a part of it, usually the professional part, is no longer entirely fulfilling. Hence why people so often complain about work-life balance, and so rarely about life-work balance.

They are months where all I seem to do is work like crazy. There are others where I mostly recharge. The arrangement is frenetic but ultimately balanced. It is in Balance because I know, even on those insane months, that soon I will be in a recharge phase, that will balance everything out to zero again.

I manage everything in my life as a whole; My personal email is handled and managed in the same way as my professional one. My personal correspondence is handled in the same way as my business mail. Everything is done in the same way, as a whole, not as different parts with varying levels of attention and respect.

When You’re Unhappy, Change

Throughout my life, I’ve changed careers, more than once. Many years ago I was bored, unchallenged and tired of the corporate nonsense. I was no longer engaged with my career and the solution was obvious: find a new one. If what you want to do is work less, that’s fine too, but it’s important to understand what’s motivating you and how to put into place changes that will address not simply the balance, but whatever lays at the root of your unhappiness in the first place.

Most of us don’t care about balance. 50% crap on both sides is balanced, and who wants that? Stop thinking about your life as two separate halves; manage your whole life and understand and trust that you will go through periods of doing mostly one thing and other periods of doing mostly others.

Work-Life Balance is a concept dreamt up by corporate robots They can’t tell you that you’re bored or unsuited to your work, so they call it a lack of balance; It’s a convenient lie we tell ourselves and each other to avoid the hard truths that lead to fundamental changes in our lives.

I begin my career as a Lawyer; There were big Work Issues there. I disliked a lot of it. It wasn’t the profession or even the hours. It wasn’t the hours of reading (the only thing that I actually enjoyed). It was the work. I didn’t believe in it.

I went back to school and began looking into a new career. I proceeded to sell software to corporations until I got bored. It wasn’t the fact that I was working sixty hours a week. When I left that company I told them it wasn’t the company, the role or the product, I was simply done.

I then went into a different kind of sales role, I still worked many hours, traveling more than 250,000 miles per year and enjoying it, until one day, I didn’t. The job lost its mojo and once again I was done. It wasn’t the traveling. It wasn’t the hours. I parted on great terms with my employer – my heart simply wasn’t there anymore.

If you’re struggling with your Work-Life Balance then more than likely it’s the symptom of an issue with your current work or your current role. First and foremost you need to be honest with yourself and understand if the problem is with the job, the current role, the current company situation or that you have another interest.

There is no such thing as Work-Life Balance – stop looking for it. Learn to manage your life as a whole and when parts of it no longer work, make changes and find new ways of making your life work the way you want it. Stop seeking balance – embrace the imbalance when it feels good, and make changes when it doesn’t.

Doesn’t that sound like a more balanced approach?