This phrase – work life balance – is easy to say, but what does it really mean?
What does it mean to you if you have it, or more commonly in our frenetic world, don’t have it?
As an over-driver, for years and years I yo-yo’d between control and overwhelm / overdrive. My ambitious ego would confidently take on responsibilities, embark on projects and commit to social events. Then all hours of my day, week, weekend would be booked up and I’d get panicky and resentful about lack of time for me. So, I’d reign myself in, block out DAY OFF in my diary for a few weeks and enjoy the breathing space for a while. For a brief time, I reclaimed my enjoyment. Then, I’d get tempted by other alluring opportunities, fill my diary and begin the cycle again. For me it wasn’t that either work or life were dominating, the phrase referred to the balance between scheduled and free time.
Having coached many high achieving people, I know this pattern is common. Many don’t get as far as periodically protecting time for themselves, they just push on relentlessly from one over-full week to the next, absorbing the effects on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing as well as the impact on relationships, effectiveness and day to day experience.
I’m always busy
Here are some real statements from clients about work life balance;
“I have to be supremely on it all the time to make this work”
“To have a gap feels like a waste of time”
“I’m far too work oriented with a complete lack of other interests, I don’t have time to develop them”
“If I’m lucky, I shoehorn in the things I like to do. If not, I just don’t do them. I’d love to go for a swim without clock watching”
“It’d be great to have time for spontaneity like going for Sunday lunch or the cinema on impulse.”
“I haven’t got time”
Sound familiar? Chances are if you’re reading this then you can relate to some of this. I’ve coached more than 1000 professionals over the last 10 years and how to achieve and maintain work / life balance whilst also getting things done has been a consistent theme.
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It doesn’t have to be like this
What I now know in practise in a way I used to know only in theory, is that work life balance is a choice. It doesn’t feel like a choice when you face a to-do list as long as your arm and are perhaps in overdrive. When your calendar is booked up for weeks ahead and you are the lynch pin to the many responsibilities you have on your plate right now. However, it is a choice and you have the power to slow down and create more time for you and the things you are currently missing out on, the moment you choose to.
This is simple to say, less easy to do. The prize is worth the effort; more moments of enjoyment, and arguably more health, wealth and happiness.
Yesterday a client arrived at our coaching session with a gift for me and what turned out to be a work life balance story that illustrates this beautifully;
After many years of a work life balance dramatically skewed in favour of work, this client is valiantly reclaiming her life. She’s shifted from “I haven’t got time” to “it feels nice to have time to just be”.
The gift was some “wooden roses” a.k.a. Cedar pine cones. My client found them near her home on a path she’s walked often over the14 years she’s lived there. Always in a rush or thinking about work, she’d never noticed them before.
Just before she found the pine cones she’d been thinking about a prayer by St Therese of Lisieux -"Please pick me a Rose from the Heavenly Garden and send it to me with a message of Love".
She told me “to me a rose symbolises the fact that what is essential is invisible to the eye.... and I missed out on discovering so much fragile beauty beneath my feet because I didn't pause long enough to see it”.
When one rushes from one commitment to the next, always focused on work, the subtler, deeper, perhaps even juicier aspects of life can be missed. The wooden roses in this story could represent lots of things, a connecting conversation with your teenager, getting lost in a novel, drinking in a beautiful sunset, an after-work stroll with your partner, pottering in the garden on a sunny day, catching up with a friend or cultivating a hobby or interest.
Start re-claiming your work life balance now
Reclaiming a work life balance that works for you is possible. It starts with a decision to do so backed up by a powerful reason, your own WHY. The next step is to begin to push back on some things that are taking up time but not delivering value. Scan your day to day life, you’ll be able to identify what these things are for you. Once you decide to reduce the amount of time you spend on them, identify how you’re going to action that.
Social media is a good example. The average weekly time spent on social media by 35 - 50 year olds is nearly 7 hours and 50-plus year olds use over 4 hours. Decide what your boundaries are. Maybe it’s a curfew - no digital after 7pm. Maybe you limit it to 15 minutes a day. Maybe you do a digital declutter and remove contacts/groups/channels that don’t serve you.
The key is decision plus action = results. Start small but start, and keep your WHY in mind.
These simple steps will help you get started and, I’m not leaving you here. Here's a helpful resource for you to start moving in the direction of more satisfaction - my guided visualisation exercise. Click here to access the free video and take 5 minutes to give it a try, as a first action step.