A topic of frequent conversation with friends, colleagues and clients is work-life balance. More research is published on this topic every year, indicating we still struggle with it.
Every week I ask myself if I’m giving enough time to my family and my business and myself. Some weeks feelings of contentment arise, while other weeks bring disappointment.
I believe the idea of work-life balance is based on false ideas we’ve accepted as true. The best way to move forward is by debunking falsehoods, creating opportunities for truth to come forward. Consider these three ideas to engage in the concept of work-life balance in a new light.
1. Work-Life Balance. The term work-life balance starts with work, implying work is most important. A week consists of 168 hours. The average American works 48 hours, sleeps 56 hours a week, leaving 64 hours a week outside of work. This means we spend 33% more time in non-work than work. Yet when we use the term “work-life balance” we insinuate work is more important than the rest of life. Let’s engage this conversation as life-work balance — remembering the rest of life, including family, friends, faith and fun, is as important in the conversation.
2. Work hard, play hard. This idea has always befuddled me because it tries to make clear lines between work and everything else. Think about a typical day in the office: How often do you do non-work activities during the work day? Using myself as an example, I read articles, check LinkedIn, scroll through social media, talk to my wife and kids, and check in with friends throughout the work day. Research shows that focus peaks at 45- to 50-minute intervals of consistent work time, then we need a short break before entering into another block of concentrated work. I find that is very true for me. Past 45 minutes, my brain power, creativity and aptitude drastically decrease. I take short breaks doing something completely different than the task at hand, such as taking a walk or talking to a friend. This change gives my mind rest so I come back to the task refreshed.
3. Work cannot enter home life. I have found that we cannot expect work and the rest of life to remain completely separate from each other. Aspects of life will enter the workplace, such as talking to your child’s teacher or going to a doctor’s appointment. Yet I talk to many clients who say they will never answer a work email or call after hours.
Some companies demand employees to be available 24/7, then tell employees they cannot take a personal call at the office. Neither example makes sense! Life is not as clean cut as we’d prefer. Let me be clear, I am not allowing work to consume your personal life or vice versa. But there are a few times when an important phone call comes after 5 p.m., and it needs to be answered. The point of life-work balance is a permeable layer, with both sliding into the other occasionally. Accepting the gray line has helped change my perspective when things happen, keeping me in a better state of mind.
What does life-work balance look like? It looks different for everyone. The truth is we spend more time in life than at work, we need breaks from work at the office, and clear cut boundaries do not exist. Rather than try to make the perfect balance, let’s shatter the belief, replacing it with an acceptance of the real world. Life is messy. Personal life slides into professional and professional into personal.
Today, remember life exists outside of work, take breaks and accept the messiness. You will be on your way to conquering life-work balance every day.
Chris Simon is the founder of Elmry, a Bentonville company dedicated to building leaders across the world. More information can be found at Elmry.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.