The Myth of the Work/Life Balance
The myth of the work/life balance: Does work/life truly exist?
It was after work hours and I was at a shopping mall with my family. While waiting for my wife outside a store, I received an urgent email from work. The email informed me of a problem at work that required my immediate attention. I stood there for about five minutes trying to think up a solution.
I then figured out the quickest possible solution and implemented it. While waiting for my wife, I sent a quick email to an employee informing him of what to do. When I got home that evening, the employee emailed me back to inform me that the issue had been resolved.
This is the modern world. Work and family time mixed together. Solving a workplace crisis while shopping with your family. It got me thinking about the whole concept of work/life balance and how practical it is in the digital age. Here are my thoughts.
What does work/life balance mean to you? For some people, it means having enough time everyday for work, family religion and self. For others, however, it may mean spending equal time with family and work. This second idea is unrealistic. Such a balance rarely existed in human history and isn’t practical to maintain.
I would go as far as to say that work/life balance itself isn’t maintainable. Life is messy. It has ups and downs. Sometimes work is easy and family life is a mess. Sometimes family life is rosy and work is overwhelming. And there are days when both go smoothly. To expect to maintain a balance in all situations is not realistic.
Instead of focusing on balance, we should focus on the following:
1. Quality Time
It may not always be possible to give 100% to work or family, or both. Instead of focusing on quantity, focus on quality. If you have just an hour to your kids today, make that hour count. If you have six hours of work together, make those six hours count. Focus on improving the quality of your time.
For family, that may mean having a meaningful conversation, sharing a fun activity or just relaxing together in silence. For work, it may mean utilize dead hours for personal development, taking on additional responsibilities or catching up on those delayed projects. Quality is more important than balance.
2. Be in the moment
Whatever you are doing, be there and be attentive. During family time, put your phone away and give your kids and spouse undivided attention. During a high concentration task, be focused on the task and close all distractions, even if it means putting your phone on silent. Attention is key to making every moment count.
3. Be realistic
You not always going to be able to operate at 100%. You will have down days, lopsided days, mixed days. There may be days when you need to work and handle a family issue at the same time. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself and life. Balance isn’t always possible, but achieving realistic goals is.
4. Cut yourself some slack
You are going to mess up at times. You may have to work all night on a project for one week. Or you may have to spend a week nursing an ailing relative at the hospital, neglecting work. You may experience days of pure exhaustion when you can’t give time to either. Remember that you are human, so don’t expect too much from yourself.
Cut yourself some slack on days when you are unable to give it any semblance of balance. And try to make up for those days on other days.
5. During times of work crisis, increase time spent on that
There may be days when your work requires more of you. A week away from home. A long night of research and writing. That sudden business trip. A workplace emergency. Things like this happen. During such times, you will need to spend extra time on work. This is natural.
Your family should understand, but they probably do. More importantly, you should understand. As a working person, you will have days when work is all you do. That is part of life, and you need to accept that.
6. During times of family crisis, increase time spent on that
Family crises happen too. Funerals, interventions, and emergency room visits are all a part of life. During such times, you need to focus on the family. Be there for them. Lead the way in solving the problems. It may mean neglecting some work, or taking a few leave days.
This is part of life and during such times, balance is not possible. So focus on the crisis, and make up the lost work time when things settle down.
7. Double Crisis? Get Help!
It is very rare to face a workplace and home crisis at the same time. In case such happens, you need to realize that you can’t do it alone. You either need a colleague to take over the work matter, or a family member to step in and handle the family issue. Either way, you need help so don’t be ashamed to ask for it.
Conclusion: Do the best with each day
Life doesn’t have much balance. Some days are smooth, some are tiring, some are scary. Make the best of each day, and don’t beat yourself up if you are unable to find balance on difficult days. What is important is quality attentive time, not equal time.
I believe we can live much healthier lives if we focus on the quality of our time, rather than trying to attain unrealistic goals. So make each day count. But when you can’t, don’t sweat it, just find a way to make up for it.