The Illusion of Work-Life Balance

20 Mar 2018

The Illusion of Work-Life Balance

Are you walking the work-life balance tightrope?

Picture this:

Cirque du Soleil – A woman elevated way up high above the crowd. All that separates her from the ground is a thin wire. Success for her means achieving and maintaining perfect balance.

The Illusion of Work-Life Balance

She does this through superb concentration and by tightening and relaxing the muscles all over her body. It’s a stressful role – especially knowing that even a minor error, loss of concentration or losing balance could result in sudden death.

Definitely a health hazard

While trying to maintain a perfect work-life balance won’t necessarily lead to sudden death, it can be pretty stressful for your health! I’ve seen countless people get strung out because they fear they don’t have the perfect work-life balance they seek.

Like a recent coaching client…

“So what do you want to achieve?” I asked her.
“Well, really I just want to achieve a work-life balance,” she responded.
“Hmm, and what exactly is a work-life balance?”

Like many others, she seemed confused

She mumbled something about, “having more time for herself” and then confessed she didn’t really know. I told her I thought that the concept of work-life balance was a load of nonsense. That, in trying to achieve it, she was just setting herself up for failure and causing undue stress and angst.

Look more closely

Look at the concept of work/life balance more closely, and it becomes apparent why problems arise.
There are some interesting assumptions buried within the language of the statement,

“I want to achieve a work-life balance.”

For example, that:
  1. Work and life are separate from each other.
  2. That work and life can be balanced.
  3. Work is something that exists apart from life.
  4. Life is something that exists apart from work.
  5. Such a balance is achievable (and desirable).
  6. The person doesn’t currently have a balance.
  7. There are only two ways to classify activities.
Let’s examine each one

If we delve further, you might notice how unrealistic striving for balance on a daily basis is:

1. That work and life are separate from each other

  • Do you not experience ‘life’ while you’re at ‘work’?
  • Do you ever ‘work’ outside where or what you officially designate ‘work’ to be? For example, if I’m weeding the garden, sweeping the yard, washing dishes or ironing clothes – that’s all ‘work’ to me. Those things are also part of ‘life’ – rather than separate from it.

2. That work and life can be balanced.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Let’s see if this is possible.

Make a note of all the activities you pursue in a day and the amount of time you spend doing them.

  • Sleep – 8 hours (although I realise this isn’t an ‘activity’ as such, it still uses time.)
  • Preparing meals and eating – 1.5 hours.
  • Cleaning teeth – 2 mins x 2.
  • Exercising – 1 hour.
  • Travelling – 30 mins (You wish!)
  • Talking, texting, social media  – 1 hour.
  • Washing/showering/ablutions – 30 mins.
  • Watching TV – 1 hour (and the rest!).
  • Physically at ‘work’ – 8 hours.
  • Spending time with partner and family – 2 hours.
  • Household chores – 1 hour (see – why do we call them chores if they’re not part of ‘work’?!).
Now categorise each into Work or Life.

The example list adds up to over 24 hours, and for most of us, there are a lot more activities that we fit into a day. Undoubtedly, we would each classify those activities differently. For some people exercising is ‘work’ for others it is ‘life’. There could be also be disagreement about where travelling fits in to this illusional balance.

Could you multitask?

Even if you can overlap some items on the list and multi-task, there are some activities it wouldn’t be ‘cool’ or even prudent to combine; cleaning teeth and eating, for example. Could get a bit messy! Sleeping while at work or while watching TV are likewise somewhat counter-productive!

When you can combine two tasks – such as watching TV and eating – how do you categorise each activity?

What about the time you are asleep? Presumably sleeping is not ‘work’ so must be ‘life’!

But it wouldn’t be much of a life if you slept all the time!

When you’ve classified each of the activities into ‘work’ or ‘life’, do the number of hours spent in each ‘balance’? Do they even add up to 24??!

3. That work is something that exists apart from life.

Perhaps one of the issues we need to confront is how we think about work. For example, at the moment I’m writing this article. Is it work? Well, some people would probably say ‘yes’.

But, I’d much rather be writing than pulling out weeds, sweeping the yard or ironing. It doesn’t feel like a chore because I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

So maybe I should include it in the ‘life’ category?

4. That life is something that exists apart from work.

If you feel you ‘live’ only when you’re not at ‘work’ – it’s surely time to change your ‘work.’ If you ‘work’ 40 hours a week and consider that time not to be part of ‘life’, how does this type of thinking affect your general health and well-being?

5. That such a balance is achievable (and desirable).

See numbers 3 and 4 above!

6. The person doesn’t currently have a balance.

They’re probably entirely stressed-out from trying to attain it!

7. There are only two ways to classify activities

This is a big problem! It should probably be number one! Trying to fit every aspect of existence into only two categories is fraught with danger, as evidenced by number 2, above.

We have several facets that make up our lives; the familial roles we play (parent, child, sibling etc.), our work role (whatever that consists of for you). You probably also have spiritual, sexual, social and physical dimensions of life.

OK. Here are some ‘stupid questions’ for you to ponder:

If you fully enjoy your ‘work’ as much as anything else you do, does that mean you should stop ‘work’ and do something else – related to ‘life’ – that perhaps you don’t enjoy, so that you can achieve that elusive balance?

If you don’t enjoy your work, why on earth are you doing it?

What is the ‘life’ part of the ‘work-life’ balance made up of for you?

What does the ‘work’ part of the ‘work-life’ balance consist of for you?

Is it realistically possible, sustainable and desirable to accomplish this balance?

Here’s are some potentially different ways to think about work and life

1. Stop trying to separate work and life!
2. Accept that you will be out of balance most days – and that it’s perfectly OK.

NO! – It’s more than O.K. – it’s completely natural to be out of balance in how you run your life. Imagine how regimented and stressed you’ll become trying to maintain this mythical ‘balance.’

3. Make sure you love all aspects of your life

Start dividing activities up into ways that make more sense! Who said everything had to fit into ‘work’ or ‘life’ anyway? By finding different ways to categorise – if you need to categorise – any previously perceived boundaries should dissolve. When you’re living as an authentic expression of yourself, in alignment with your purpose, mission and values, almost everything you do is an expression of who you are.

4. Focus on being present

Find ways to enjoy every moment you have and be grateful for life itself.

5. Make the time for self-care

Take care of your own needs first and give your state of being the highest priority. (There’s a reason the airlines demand that, in an emergency, you put on your oxygen mask first.) Check in with yourself regularly, throughout the day and take some ‘time out’ from work or life to reconnect with your heart and soul.

6. Use common sense

Have consideration for the ‘important others’ who participate in your life’s journey.

7. Take a longer-term approach

Stop worrying about walking the tightrope of perfect work/life balance on a daily or weekly basis. Accept that you’ll be out of balance in some way for most of the time in the short-term. (For example, you might work 60 hours for three weeks on the trot to finish a project at ‘work’, but then take a mini break (life?) for five days).

8. Be aware of the language you use to describe your experience or desires

Language has huge power over how you feel – choose your words wisely.

OK. Now spread the word!

The sooner the majority of us stop this work/life balance nonsense, the sooner we’ll be able to get off the tightrope, let go the stress, chill out and enjoy the many and diverse aspects that make up our lives.