The Truth About Work/Life Balance
There are numerous pieces of advice, articles and books devoted to the concept of work/life balance. It’s something that most Americans strive to achieve. It’s too bad that, in my opinion, such a balance doesn’t really exist.
Think about it: Have you ever been able to string together more than a week or two of perfect balance between your job, family, friends and other obligations? Probably not, if you’re anything like me. And that’s okay.
You see, I have come to realize that work and the rest of your life are best negotiated when you think about rhythm, rather than balance. This shift in perspective will have a huge impact on your decisions, priorities and stress levels.
When you look at nature, you’ll see that everything happens in seasons. That’s true for people, too. In our lives, there are seasons during which we must work hard and other seasons that allow us to rest.
For me, there’s a season to be on the road (usually in August, September and October), and a couple of seasons (July and December) when things will be slower. Taking that into account, my wife and I look at our overall year and make plans accordingly.
I encourage you to do the same. No matter how long your seasons are or when they fall during the year, you can look ahead and determine when you’ll probably need to put your nose to the grindstone, and when you can recharge, relax and connect with your loved ones.
Here are some practical pointers to help you navigate your “seasons” in order to achieve some balance between your professional and personal lives:
Consider last year’s rhythm. Look back over last year’s calendar and make note of when you took vacations, when you were especially tied down at work and when you felt more engaged at home. Overall, was your life actually balanced … or do you need to make a change?
Identify your company’s seasons. You might not work on a farm, but your company still has periods of extreme work comparable to planting season and harvest. (Those periods might be when your company is getting ready for major industry events or at peak sales times, for example.) It’s a good idea to plan your work/life flow around these busy times—and don’t limit that planning to vacations, either. When things are slower, it might be acceptable to leave earlier each day, since you’ll be making up the time during the busy season.
Don’t forget your family seasons, either. There are times—like the birth of a child—when family quite rightly comes first. If possible, plan to prioritize these seasons no matter when they fall in the larger scheme of things. Realize, though, that family commitments might crop up unexpectedly, such as a parent getting sick. Be ready to adjust, and know that there will be a time—later—to apply yourself more heavily at work.
Make hard work “investments” with your company. Don’t ever do just the bare minimum. If your company needs you, go above and beyond—cheerfully! Think of it as making deposits in a bank account. Then, when you do need to prioritize a family season (in other words, to make a withdrawal), your company will be more likely to give you the time you need with goodwill.
Wherever you are, be there. This advice is the most important of all: Whether you’re in a season of working or prioritizing something else, you need to fully commit. Feeling guilty that you’re not spending time with your family when you’re working longer hours (and vice versa) will only make you miserable. When you’re at work, remind yourself that your job makes a difference in the lives of others, and that it is important. If you’re fully committed, you won’t watch the clock as much—and you’ll feel more fulfilled. And when you’re at home, banish the BlackBerry and engage fully with your loved ones.
When you look at the big picture and gain an accurate understanding of rhythms and seasons, you’ll be able to plan more wisely and commit more fully to what you’re doing. You’ll never balance your work and the rest of your life perfectly every day. But you can create a flow that will enhance your happiness and productivity, and cut down on your guilt and regret.
Jon Gordon, a consultant and speaker, is the author of The Seed, The Energy Bus, Soup, The No Complaining Rule, Training Camp, and The Shark and the Goldfish, all published by Wiley. Jon’s principles have been put to the test by NFL football teams and Fortune 500 companies alike.