the elusive work-life balance

Work-life balance, is it even possible?

Balance in life, it sounds so fabulous and yet so elusive, doesn’t it!  Anyone who’s ever strived for work-life balance or felt pressure to have it knows the feelings that seeking it brings up.  And the questions start to roll. 

If other people are searching for it then it must be possible to have balance. Right?

People always talk about having it.  

If other people can seemingly find it, then surely I can too?

But it’s not easy to find and it’s defiantly not easy to keep hold off. 

And why is that?

Let me put it to you this way in a big bold statement.  I think work-life balance is a load of nonsense!

Let’s get real about this concept.  It’s something I’ve thought about a lot and it’s been under my skin ever since I became a mother when the pressure to obtain it really kicked in. 

If the literal definition of balance is ‘an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.’ Equilibrium or equipoise.  

Are you really striving for a state of equilibrium or equipoise? It sounds so fancy and outlandish!  To be honest, I had to google equipoise, its meaning is ‘balance of forces or interests’.  And this definition of balance makes sense, of course, we want to have balance and remain upright and steady, but how does that apply in the real world. 

The elusive work life balance

Break it down

I’m going to try and break it down because if you don’t know what balance is, then how do you know what you’re striving for. When you think about this elusive work-life balance thing, do you:

  1. Imagine your day, your calendar, your life in some kind of a harmonious blur of light and love. Where you float along each day with the innate ability to handle any and everything. Because you have all portions of your life perfectly in balance.                                                                                           
  2. It’s just a kind of sense that things are all falling into place and you have time for all the various parts of your life. Your family, your partner, work, health, fitness, diet, learning, friends and so on and so on and you feel content and fulfilled.                                                                                           
  3. You have no idea, truthfully you’ve not thought about the practical application.  But it just sounds like such a great thing to have.                                  
  4. Work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritises the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life.

Well, I have to say that none of the above is really obtainable, at least not in a long term sustained way. The answer D by the way is the definition of work-life balance from a blog on Business News Daily.  The article goes on to explain that work-life balance will improve physical, emotional and mental well-being and is important for our career

Do you agree with the above?

I do agree with this.  Having your life in a manageable state that doesn’t leave you stressed, exhausted, unhappy and feeling completely overwhelmed is certainly something to strive for.  But what I’m suggesting is that the pressure we put on ourselves to have it all figured out, is part of what is causing a lot of these issues in the first place.

Because when we don’t have it all figured out, we feel, well out of balance!  But then we feel pressure to have it figured out and then we feel, well, like we should have it figured out! And on an on it goes….

So, sorry (not sorry), but it’s time to call bullsh*t on all this work-life balance stuff.

Work, rest and play?

So let’s put aside the idea that consistent work-life balance is even obtainable. And accept for the sake of argument, that trying to get there will only make us feel hopelessly inadequate or at the least, unorganised.  

Instead of thinking about making all parts of our lives balanced or as the definition states, evenly distributed.  Why don’t we try and figure out how to destress, unclutter and rethink how we are managing things that may reduce the feeling of being out of balance.

By the way, work-life balance is not a modern or contemporary thing to want.  I know my grandfather, fought hard for the right to an evenly distributed day of  8 hours work, 8 hours rest and 8 hours play.  This was over 70 years ago.  And prior to the legislation being approved in 1948,  Australian workers who demanded this had been exploited for generations with no boundaries or restrictions on time at work v time at home. 

But in your current society when it comes to balance, let me put it this way.  If everything is equally important, then nothing is important.  It’s assuming everything has the same level of priority.  And life simply can’t work that way, you’re just spreading yourself really thin. Especially once you have kids.

I hear so many working mother’s longing for balance.  Wanting to have some time to themselves.  Only to feel terrible and guilty when they get it, or simply for wanting it.

Real world example

Here’s a really simple example. On the home front, I used to spend half an hour every morning getting my kid’s school lunches ready.  I’d try all sorts of different things, pikelets, sandwiches, sausage rolls, homemade cheesy mite scrolls, bento boxes, ploughman lunches. It was ridiculous because half the time it would come home uneaten.  The kids would say ‘oh, I didn’t have time to eat it.’ Or worse, I suspect they threw it out to avoid my interrogation on whether they liked it or not!

I put a priority in my mornings to make the kids a great lunchbox so that I could be sure they were eating well.  I considered it as important as getting myself ready for the day. I felt pressure from other mothers talking about what they made their kids for lunch.  Not to mention the mum blogs and Pinterest pins and all the literature about promoting a healthy diet etc. 

And the mum guilt was huge.  I even had a work colleague shame me when I confessed to finding it really hard to manage. She told me that her mother was amazing.  Her mother made her wonderful salads and three-course lunches every day!  She even attributed her success in school to her mother’s amazing lunch box abilities. OMG!!!!

But

(And yes, it deserves a big but) But at the start of this school year, I asked my boys to help me make their lunches.  After about a week, I realised that they were more than capable of packing it themselves. Particularly if it was all simple and ready to go.  An apple, some crispbread, a yoghurt and some sultanas. That’s all they wanted, no prep, no fuss, they did it themselves. And they have a good breakfast and a great dinner so their diet is more than adequate if they have a light lunch.

Suddenly I have an extra 30 minutes every morning and the kids love their independence. Yes, I felt a little sad that they didn’t, and probably never had, needed my input into their lunchboxes.  And yes, it was hard for me to let it go, but hey it was a win-win.  So I got over it.

Is this balance? 

I was a super stress mum getting lunches organised every day, but it’s a breeze now.  Am I a lazy mother?  No, why did I even entertain that idea?  Because I felt like it was my responsibility to make sure they eat a balanced, healthy diet.  But they do, so what’s the big issue.  I was trying to add balance by making sure they had what they needed and I had what I needed with equal priority.  But what they really needed in the morning was to eat breakfast with a chilled out mum who sat an ate with them rather than fussing about packing their lunchboxes.

It’s a perspective shift, did I really think making lunch was more important than spending time with them, no, of course not.  But I’d got it into my head that lunchboxes were as important to their health and wellbeing as spending time with them.  As I said, if everything is important, nothing is important.

An at work example 

At work, I juggle a number of projects all the time.  There’s a lot going on. But recently I’ve started looking at the projects in a different way. That’s because the constant juggle made it hard to dedicate enough time to move the needle on any one project in a timely way. Now I’ve committed that I can only have 3 priority projects on the go at any time. More than that and I’m spread too thin and none of the projects get any traction.  3 is still a lot, but it’s manageable.  Any other projects I have on the go, I move to later in the year.  

As soon as I did that, it freed me up in a way that’s hard to explain. I felt more in control and it’s significantly more likely all the projects will successfully be completed.  Because I have now got enough time in my week to tackle the 3 that are a priority.  

If a new project comes up with a pressing deadline, then I either have to find more resources or I have to move one project off my plate or down the line.

These are two examples of where a change in priorities has helped me reduce stress, overwhelm and a feeling of disorganisation and pressure.  But one example is from my personal time and one is from work.

The definition of work-life balance

So, when it comes to work-life balance the definition is definitive:  the division of one’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities.  

My argument is not that you should do more at work, and less at home or vice versa. But rather that it’s about making choices in your home life that make life more streamlined, and making choices at work that make your time at work more streamlined.

It’s about making the different parts of your life work, not about trying to split them into categories, drawn a line in the sand and say ‘Wahoo, I figured it all out!’ 

For me, it’s not work v life, and I no longer think it’s necessary to have an even split.

It’s all life and it all has to fit together. 

And that’s what I like.  The ability to adapt and flow.  

The reality is that at different times, different things need a focus and priority.  When your children are very young, then need a lot more from you.  When work is very busy with deadlines approaching, it requires more of you.  Sometimes, the family takes priority and at times work does. So your ‘balance’ and priorities need to be flexible.

It’s like a balanced diet, it’s not an even split between protein and vegetables and it never will be. But sometimes, if you’re training for example, you’ll need more protein.  At others, you’ll need more fruit or veg. 

If you watch this video by Marie Forleo she tells us that people don’t even really work 8 hours a day, even when they are at work for 8 hours, they are not really working all that time.  So I put it to you that perhaps there are ways to do things differently at work that could make you more productive and less stressed, and there are ways to do things differently at home that will also make you feel more fulfilled and less stretched. 

Perfect balance!

You’ve just got to stop thinking that it will all come into a perfect balance and stay that way.  

What’s important is that you are enjoying your life.  And that you can manage all the things on your plate without adding some ridiculous expectation to achieve ‘work-life balance’. And consistently have it all figured out.

I hope some ideas in here have been helpful food of thought.  Let me know what’s been working for you or what you’re going to try?

Share in the comments because ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.  And your thoughts and ideas could help someone else too.

If you’re looking for some tips on how to manage your time to reduce stress, you might like this blog How to take back your time.

Til next time,

Best wishes,

Sue