The beginning of a new year is the time when people traditionally take pause, reflect on the past year, and resolve to make some positive changes. ‘A better work/life balance’ is something we hear lots of people expressing a desire for. Many people say that they feel out of balance. They feel that ‘work’ dominates, robbing them of time and energy for ‘life’.
I see 2 problems with the ‘work/life balance’ concept. The first is the actual language used. It infers that our lives can be categorised into 2 parts, ‘work’ and ‘life’. But we don’t have a ‘work’ and a ‘life’. We have just one life. And our paid employment, assigned the broad term ‘work’, is just one part of the portfolio of activities that integrate to make up our life as a whole. The second problem is the concept itself. The use of the word ‘balance’ suggests the ability to neatly divide up our time across the various domains of our life. But for most of us this kind of balance is not so easily attained.
Therefore I wonder if ‘how can I achieve a better work/life balance?’ is the right question to ask. A better question might be ‘what can I do to ensure that I am paying sufficient attention to all of the important areas of my life?’ Then perhaps the next question to ask yourself is what stands in the way of doing this.
Sometimes, what will stand in the way will be particular life circumstances. At different stages of life one role or domain is sure to dominate over others. For example when there is a newborn in the family, or when higher education or particular career goals are being pursued, the focus of life is going to be dominated by that circumstance. But despite this there will still be other important areas of life on which we want to focus some of our energy.
The goal therefore is to find ways to manage our various portfolios, roles or domains, and weave these strands into our lives to achieve an integrated whole.
In the end, perhaps it comes down to how we go about getting the important things done.
In a terrific post on her blog Puttylike, Emilie Wapnick discusses one of the barriers to getting things done – information overload. Her post is targeted at multipotentialites but contains sound advice for everyone whose lives comprise a range of roles and diverse interests. Emilie suggests that most of our activities can be divided into 3 categories – connecting, consuming, and creating. This made such sense to me. Most of my activities can be categorised into connecting (gathering with or keeping in touch with family and friends) and creating (craft, cooking, gardening, writing for my blog). My ‘consuming’ activities include reading (for learning or entertainment), some television, and minimal social media engagement, making me not such a good ‘friend’ on FB! Whilst use of social media can be considered a ‘connecting’ activity, it can also become a distraction, diverting attention away from more important priorities. This is part of the reason why I don’t have my blog linked to social media platforms.
I think the other main barrier to getting things done is the absence of a good system for managing life’s many dimensions. My paid work is diverse and encompasses many portfolios, and outside of work I have a lot of interests. It’s therefore all too easy for things to get lost or slip off the agenda. There is a great post on Kelly Exeter’s blog in which she shares her system for organising life. I have adapted her ‘2 pads and a calendar’ system to suit my needs. I find I usually don’t need to use a daily task list or schedule every hour of my day in the way Kelly does. But her idea of an A4 notebook divided into sections that capture the projects and portfolios of life makes such good sense. I use a weekly format for my work portfolios and tasks.
For my projects outside of work time I find a monthly format works well.
Long a champion of the to-do list, having a visual reminder of what I need, want, or hope to do works really well for me.
Do either information overload or the absence of a good system of organisation stand in the way of you focusing attention on all of the important domains of your life? If so, will you commit to making some changes this year?
I suspect that the notion of ‘work/life balance’ is a bit of a myth. Working toward achieving a sense of flow by aligning all aspects of life to create an integrated whole might be a more attainable goal. I would love to hear your thoughts about this.