Work/life balance. It seems to be a hot topic these days as technology invades more of our waking hours and allows us to connect to work 24/7/365 from anywhere in the world. When I started researching balance for this article, I was convinced that we were not striving for true ‘balance’ -- some sort of equilibrium between work and life, we were more concerned with how work has permeated every aspect of our waking hours. After researching the definition of ‘balance’, I concluded balance and work’s permeation are both issues we need to address and they are different. Balance, according to www.dictionary.com is “A state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight, amount,’ or time, energy, etc.” While this definition of balance is about equilibrium, I don’t believe the goal of work/life balance is to have an equal distribution of time between work and life.
I think we just want to reduce the stress and overwhelm in our work and in our lives! We describe this as balance, but it’s not really about achieving 8 hours of work and 8 hours of life, it’s about achieving a quality of life that provides time and capacity to truly live, day in and day out, whether at work or at play.
When we put the emphasis on equal distribution of hours, we live for our weekends, holidays, and vacations, but with a full time job, it’s nearly impossible to catch up the life hours. We will never fix work/life balance this way.
There’s no magic wand
I’d love to give you a magic wand to wave the stress and overwhelm out of your life because living a life out of balance is toxic, but if all we do to address this toxicity is to take vacation or live for the weekends, all we’ll get is a band aid covering a festering wound.
Instead, we need to dive into the factors that cause us overwhelm and stress and begin to address them. Most people describe overwhelm as having too many things to do and too little time to do them in. Stress is created from this constant state of overwhelm.
I often hear owners talking about the constant struggle to achieve efficient operations, to provide excellent customer service, to make strategic decisions that deliver profit and growth, to constantly manage expenses, and the emotional and mental investment demanded by staffing and personnel issues.
In Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, she highlights that our lives are full of multi-tasking moments. We have a zillion things on our ‘To Do’ list that will never all be done, and we add to that a zillion other things that show up unexpectedly, like a sick child or car trouble.
It’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed.
Our Busy-ness as a Badge of Honor
But we also wear overwhelm and busy-ness like a ‘badge of honor’. If we’re busy, we must be important and successful. If we’re not busy, we and/or our business must be at risk.
I’ve started tested this ‘badge of honor’ by responding to the popular question, ‘So, how are things going for you? Busy?’ by saying, ‘Very well thank you, and no, I’m not that busy’. Most people look at me with either shock or worse -- sad droopy eyes -- convinced that something is wrong, I am heading toward doom and gloom, and my company is on the brink of bankruptcy! Then they try to cheer me up by saying, ‘Well, I’m sure you’ll be busy soon.’
I am not interested in living in ‘busy’ or ‘overwhelm’! It’s not sustainable, it’s not enjoyable and frankly, it benefits no one. Clients don’t get better service from an overwhelmed customer service team; productivity and profitability don’t result from frenetic busyness; and the statistics are clear that our health is not better under the stress of constant overwhelm. In fact it’s the opposite. Many of our health issues are caused or exacerbated by the stress of overwhelm.
You Have More Control Than You Think
So how do you deal with this in your life? The first step is to recognize you have more control than you think. Start a time log and see where your time is going and where your energy is in each block of time. Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr, in The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is The Key To High Performance and Personal Renewal, noted that it’s not lack of time that sucks the life out of you, it’s lack of energy. Log your time and evaluate your energy throughout your day. Then start to put some boundaries around how much time you spend, when you spend it, and what you are doing that depletes your energy. Evaluate the expectations you are holding for yourself – and those you think others have of you -- and assess areas where you can shift from ‘exceptional work’ to ‘good enough work’.
Leaders with work/life balance are more efficient, more effective and happier – and that contributes to better workplaces and often more financial reward for all. Don’t brush this aside and promise to look at it next year.
Just tackling one time/energy boundary and one expectation per month can recharge your work/life. It’s worth it!