So many people have requested this topic! I kept getting the requests to add this to my list of podcasting topics and it surprised me. But at the same time, I wasn’t. Let me tell you why. I used to think that work/life balance was not a thing, it didn’t exist. Several other business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders in companies taught me that work/life balance didn’t exist. I felt that way for years. And then I learned more about how to take care of myself. In this post, I’ll share what I have learned about work/life balance and how I now challenge the idea that it doesn’t exist.
When you think about work, what comes to mind? The Oxford Dictionary says that work is defined as
an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result or a task or tasks to be undertaken, something a person or thing has to do.
There are a few pieces here that make me look at work a little differently. First, the fact that it is “mental or physical effort” makes it clear that work doesn’t just have to be manual labor. Things like landscaping or construction work. It can also be things like brainstorming, creating posts for social media or studying a subject you’ll be teaching. The second piece is that work is considered something that someone “has to do”. That makes me think of working for employer. As an employee, you are required to come in on time every day and submit TPS reports done on time. That concept is not fun for me or for anyone else.
When I looked at the definition of work/life balance, I started to see something very peculiar. Oxford defines work/life balance as
a divide of one’s time between work and activities outside of work or an idea that a fulfilling life outside of work helps improve work performance while reducing stress.
Now wait a minute. Why on earth does the time I spend outside of work have to “improve performance”? Well, the honest answer is that it doesn’t. If you spend all your time outside of work partying and drinking, then no, it won’t improve your work performance. In fact, it will hinder it. If you spend your time taking care of yourself, then you’ll ultimately reduce your stress and be more focused and productive. Simple as that. Think of the last time you went on vacation [and if you’re reading this during COVID, I’m sorry]. When you go on vacation, there’s a lot of relaxing, resting and doing things that give you pleasure. When you come back to work, the first day might be a bit tough but after the second day you’re probably gung-ho and ready to work.
That’s how I used to feel and I thought it was fine. I’d work for a while, go on vacation for a bit and then come back better than ever. Work was the priority, not the vacation. I lived this way for a very, very long time. Care of myself went to the wayside. Yes, I ate well, worked out and read books to feed my brain but I always said I would sleep when I was dead. Living like this for years led to serious burnout. It was bad. I was exhausted, feisty (and not in a good way), judgmental, jealous and more. I kept telling myself “work/life balance doesn’t exist” and that how I was living was how it was always going to be. If you look back at the definitions, it’s easy believe there is no such thing. Seems like we’re fighting an uphill battle, for sure.
To help you understand this a bit further, think of a seesaw. Work is on one side and Life is on the other. There is almost never a time when both sides will be 100% even.
There will be seasons of life where work will carry more weight and seasons of life when life will carry more weight. Your time is always devoted to one side or the other and it will never be split evenly. While this is most certainly true, I still believe work/life balance exists. I do believe there is a way to balance how you spend your time versus where you spend your time.
Your work is your job, it’s your career, and in almost all cases, it will aways be there. Whether you work for an employer or work for yourself, the work itself will always be there to do. Life doesn’t have that same luxury. Life is everything else that happens for you outside of the work being done. It’s when you have time for your friends and family. When you get to go on vacation and have a little fun. What COVID has shown us, though, is that life will not always be there for us. I challenge you to think about redefining work and life as it pertains to YOUR LIFE. I can’t define that for you as you and I leave different lives.
Here’s the question I want you to ask yourself. Do you look at things you have to do outside of work as work? I’m talking about the cooking and cleaning, the shopping for the household, events to attend, etc. If you don’t see these things as work, then deep inside you, you think work/life balance is a possibility too. That burnout I had led to me practicing lots of self-care and personal development. I explored who I was and what I really wanted out of life. Looking back, I can actually be grateful it happened because it led me to have a career in coaching. Here’s what I did then and what I want you to do now to help you have more life in your life.
- Set Boundaries – When you set boundaries, you put imaginary lines between you and the thing you don’t want to do. When I was in corporate, I set a boundary that said I would never miss my train to go home. I promised myself I would leave at a set time. If I stayed even just five minutes late, I would be home extra late and not be able to enjoy my time with my husband and my pups.
- Say No More – I started to say that one word sentence a lot more. If I was invited for a drink after work, I would pass because I would miss out on time at home. If I was asked to do a special project at work, I would evaluate it before responding. Start saying no more and you’ll find your true priorities come to light.
- Organize Your Schedule – Before my burnout, I was trying to cram everything into one day. On the weekends, I would do all the laundry, all the dishes, all the housework…you get the idea. It was not fun. It was too much! I would end up spending eight hours working around the house without any of it being fun. I limited the amount of things I would do each day in order to add in some more free time. All I could handle was one to two extras each day and that was ok.
- Define your priorities in life – Notice I didn’t say work. I don’t want you to even think about work when you do this part. What do you want OUT OF LIFE? What do you want for you and your family? Your children? Your relationships? Think about life as it stands today and what your ideal life would be like. Yes, you have the liberty to dream because those dreams can become realities.
Remember, work is almost always going to be around. There will almost always be something for you to do. You’re life isn’t so privileged. Enjoy it while you can, friends.