I remember years ago my go-to excuse for feeling rubbish was – Work-Life Balance. It wasn’t right (whatever right was) and it was making me miserable, stressed and unwell. The more I strived for it the more it seemed to get further and further away and the worse I felt. In the end, I just gave up, I admitted defeat and decided that maybe as a single parent, running my own business and juggling everything myself – I was just not destined for this ‘mythical utopian’ idea of Work-Life Balance.
What was interesting though was that giving up on it allowed me to explore the very kind of balance that was right for me. What surprised me was it wasn’t work-life balance at all – it went deeper than that.
By labelling it Work-Life balance it suggests that these are two very separate parts of an existence that shouldn’t meet. Like the sun and the moon – they should not be seen together when the reality is very different. I’m in the fortunate position that I LOVE my work, and whilst some days are more challenging than others, and there are parts of it that I would prefer I didn’t have to do, on the whole, I genuinely enjoy what I do. Equally, I enjoy my life, for the most part (I mean…who really does enjoy cleaning, ironing & taking the bins out?) and I like to think I make the most of my ‘non-work’ time by making sure it is heavily sprinkled with the things and people I love.
To break this down even further – when people talk about work – in relation to work-life balance, it’s generally in a negative context. They describe all the things they have to/need to do before a deadline or to please someone else, to keep a customer happy, the relentless busyness etc. There seems to be a sense of resentment that it is somehow interfering with their ‘life’ – especially when having to respond to emails at home etc. And the truth is it might be. It is worth asking yourself though – if your brain is telling you that work is a ‘bad’ thing… will you ever achieve a work-life balance? On average - most people spend 40 hours a week at work – or more… if you are spending 40 hours a week doing something you consider a negative experience then that’s going to exhaust you and potentially consume your thoughts even when not there. Hence – no balance.
My approach to this may not work for everyone but I challenge you all to give it a try. Rather than now seeking work-life balance… I now just seek balance. I guess if I had to give it more of a label I would call it Battery Balance. To keep myself as charged as possible I need to make sure both my positive and negative experiences are balanced. Here’s how:-
Take a category in your life (let’s take work) and look at it in detail
Break it down and identify elements of it that you love (I like to do this in a visual format like a mind map) eg:
Love physically teaching/training a subject
Love being around my colleagues/interacting with clients
Love organising and planning a project
Love solving a problem
Love creating spreadsheets etc
Break down and identify elements that you really don’t like eg:
When I have to work late
The micro-managing boss/annoying colleague
Inputting data/filing etc
Do the same with your ‘out of work’ life – another reason I like to mind map these is so I end up with a visual Positive and a Negative representation.
Once you have done this exercise look at your results and then instead of thinking of Work-Life Balance, I just look at Positive-Negative balance. If there is a day when I know I have to do some things on the negative side – I make sure to prioritise something on the positive side to balance things out, ideally in the same day or at least the same week.
In case you are still struggling with this concept – here are some really simple things I’ve changed to help with this:
When ironing – I put on a comedy programme or film to keep me entertained while getting it done
When doing my accounts – I plan a reward for every time I complete a specific accounting task as well as playing my favourite music whilst I do it
When I know I have a busy week coming up – I book something in the diary (usually a dance event or a pampering session) for afterwards