Is ‘work/life balance’ a myth?

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.

 

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24 Comments
  • Mel says:

    I love this Jo. You are spot on! For me it’s definitely about fitting everything in and creating a balance across all aspects of my life.

    • Helen says:

      I agree with you Jo and Mel. This is such a well written and thoughtful article. I am going to follow up on the links and suggestions and work towards continous improvement that is flexible and not too rigid.

  • Maree Rossetto says:

    Big fan of lists and I love ticking off things when they’re done. I find writing things like dates helps me commit to memory.

    • Jo says:

      Maree writing things down also gets them out of your head so there is less to have to remember. I confess to also adding things to a list after I’ve done them, just for the pleasure of seeing that tick!

      • Helen says:

        Yes… I probably do that adding to lists. Also I mentally run through my achievements at the end of the day sometimes. Plus, if I feel I have had a productive day, I will give myself time out for the rest of the day or evening,

        • Jo says:

          Helen it’s a great idea to remind ourselves of what we have achieved each day. Far better than thinking about all of the things that didn’t get done! Leisure is also an important domain of life, and we therefore need to give ourselves permission for taking time out to rest, read, do craft, or whatever we like.

          • Helen says:

            Yes so agree Jo. I am actually getting better and better at taking time out to do things I love and also enjoy spending some of that time alone with my own company and thoughts. Practicing yoga for many years has probably helped as well as having kids where there is little peace or time out to be had so when it returns it is all the more relished. Feeling blessed…..

  • Elizabeth says:

    I love lists too Joanne, couldn’t function without one, I have daily, must do for both work and home and then longer term lists again for both work and home – similar really to what you’ve described. Love crossing them off too. I think work/life balance is just trying to fit in some “me” time amongst as you said fitting everything else in.

    • Jo says:

      You have more domains in your life to manage than many of us Elizabeth, and ‘me’ time is also an important one. I see a big weekend of me time in your near future…..;)

  • Angela Schoemaker says:

    Hi Jo. Great article. I think we as a society ‘hook’ into certain catchphrases and they explode and become an epidemic i.e. finding work/life balance. Perhaps what people really mean is work/personal life balance? As individuals I think that we all need to find the balance between every activity in our life, the balance that keeps us happy – quite a juggling act I’m sure you agree! Anyway, for this old girl it’s one foot in front of the other, a dozen lists on the go at any one time, and a chilled bottle of wine in the fridge for when the scales tip over to the wrong side 🙂

    • Jo says:

      Thanks Ange for your thoughtful comment. Yes we sure do hook onto phrases and concepts and sometimes don’t stop to think about meaning and relevance. Balance across all of our activities and not too much focus on one to the neglect of all others is the key isn’t it.

  • I totally agree with this post! I use a system of three planners to organise different aspects of my life! I really dislike the term work/life balance!

  • I find it’s more of a semi-controlled juggling act Jo! 🙂 You never actually have balance as such – there’s always something that takes priority over other things (for better or worse). I live by my paper diary – everything is in it. I can’t adjust to a digital one. You have to go with whatever works for you #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      I don’t like digital either, with the exception of my work calendar which is linked to email. I think it stems back to a love of stationery and pretty paper!

  • kathymarris says:

    Yes most definitely! I can waste a lot of time just browsing Facebook or Instagram during the day when I should be more focused on paid work. It’s one of the downfalls of working for yourself and from your own home. I do have a daily planner that is hopefully going to keep me on task, and ensuring I do limit my time on social media and get me off my backside doing some physical activity each day and taking time out for me. Great post. #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      Ah but there are also so many benefits Kathy to working from home! Productivity can definitely be better, but yes, so important to also get up and move, and not get caught up in too much browsing.

  • Deborah says:

    I use the work / life term but know what you mean. In my pre-seachange world, my life was very much about work. I worked long hours and then was on-call (monitored and responded to emails) at home. Because I was (am) single and had limited other commitments it felt like my life was all / only about work. There was little room for anything else. #teamlovinlife

  • I don’t really use the term work/life. But that’s because I’m lucky to be “working” at the things that I am passionate about. So it just fees like life/life.
    Although I still get stressed … all self imposed of course.
    Love your planning method.
    #TeamLovinLife

  • Johanna says:

    Ahh love this Jo. Yes to find a work/life balance is tricky but it’s easier if you love the work you do. Dave says I have no work life balance, but I think I do, because I love what I do so much that part of it is life and the other part is work! Yes I get stressed, but not too stressed. #teamlovinglife

    • Jo says:

      Jo I think you are a wonderful example of someone who has integrated all domains into your life to create a ‘whole’. What could be a better example of ‘flow’ than going on a very long world cruise whilst continuing to blog, run your business and stay fit and healthy!

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