How are you going with the whole work–life balance thing? Do you, like a 15-year-old Russian gymnast, simply glide along that balance beam with poise, grace, and not a hint of doubt? Probably not. However, don’t fret — to take the sporting analogy even further — when it comes to balance, I think we have raised the bar a little too high and it’s time to put this particular ideal to bed.
The concept of work–life balance is, in my opinion, complete nonsense. The term was coined in England in the late 1970s and became part of the US lexicon in the mid-1980s, to describe the balance between someone’s work and personal life. But really, what does it even mean? Each time I hear the phrase work–life balance I have a mental image of a see-saw with some poor frazzled soul stranded in the middle desperately trying to shift their weight to achieve the perfect equilibrium, with the see-saw settled in an unshakable horizontal line.
I work and I love it. I have a life and I love that too. I love to do lots of things. Often my work crosses over in to home or I take my work ‘on the go' while I watch the kids at sport or I handle ‘home' stuff while I am at work. No one I know spends exactly equal amounts of time, joy or endeavour on their work as they do on their life. Their work is simply a part of their life. A life that is a crazy mishmash, hodgepodge concoction of all of the various things they do each day. Do all of these elements need to balance? No. How can they?
It’s time to stop chasing the work–life balance ideal. Here’s how:
- Lose the lingo — everything you do can not be neatly characterised as ‘work’ or ‘life’. It’s all just part of your life! Think about how best to integrate and manage all of the competing interests and priorities that make up your life.
- Have a good understanding of where you want to, and where you need to, spend your time and make sure you allocate the right amount of time to each element.
- Concentrate on what is most important at any given time.
- Be flexible and fluid and recognise that each day will have a different focus, and that you might need to change direction on the fly depending on what is most pressing.
- Embrace integration and give yourself permission to spend your time where it is most needed (by you or others) at any given time — be that on the tools, with your family, pursuing personal development, or simply spending time on the other, multi-faceted elements of your life.
It’s time to stop chasing work–life balance — it’s a myth.