We all want balance. But, when it comes to actually achieving it, we question ourselves, compare our lives to other people’s, and end up frustrated.
Through years of observation, trial, and error, I've landed on six insights that have helped me define and sustain my version of work-life balance. I hope they’ll do the same for you.
1. The quality of time matters more than the quantity.
I used to try to structure my time so that I had chunks set aside for each activity. An hour for writing, an hour for client projects, an hour to spend with my kids, etcetera. What I’ve learned from others (and has been borne out through my own experience) is that I may not want or need that amount of time for each activity each day.
I might write the best blog post ever in 15 minutes. I might have an incredibly meaningful, memorable experience with my family in an hour. Shifting the focus from quantity to quality eliminates the pressure. My goal now is to have regular quality time with each of the priorities in my life, and not to stress about how many hours I've spent on each thing.
2. There is no “right” way to structure it.
It isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Your version of work-life balance is unique to your situation and needs. For example, if you travel for work, you might need to make a few days a week all about your professional priorities and make the others all about your family. The defining characteristic of balance isn't an equally distributed number of hours; it's an internal sense.
Maybe you don't feel that unless you do yoga every day, or maybe you only need one class a week to stay centered. To compare is to despair. Don’t covet or try to emulate someone else’s formula. That’s proof you aren’t listening to yourself.
3. You will never feel balanced if your work is inherently draining.
I put more focus on “work-life balance” when I’m doing something I don’t feel energized by. When that is the case, the goal is actually to spend as little time as possible doing the thing that you hate, and as much as possible doing the things you enjoy. Regardless of how much you minimize your work, you will never achieve balance that way.
When you’re passionate about your work, it becomes an integral part of your life, rather than something that detracts from it. If your work makes you better, you won’t crave time away from it in the same way. I strive to feel as if my work is one of the many uplifting elements in my life. If it doesn’t feel that way for you, try making some of these mental shifts.
4. It isn’t a static concept.
You don’t get into crow pose and stay there, perfectly balanced, in perpetuity. Your needs will adjust, as will the environment you’re in. Your children’s needs will change drastically over time. Your romantic partner may be more or less available, depending on what is going on in his or her life. Sometimes you’ll need more sleep, more exercise. Adaptability and awareness of your own feelings are crucial.
Check in with yourself about what you need daily, and adjust as needed. If you feel joyful, engaged, stimulated, and connected, chances are you're pretty well-balanced, regardless of how your hours are allocated.
5. Boundaries are good only if they feel good.
Some theories espouse imposing strict boundaries on time and technology. In my case, I know that if I'm passionately engaged in something fulfilling, I will only be frustrated if I’m forced to stop doing it because of an arbitrary “boundary.” It's all about what feels good. And, to me, what feels good is firing on all cylinders in every aspect of my life — professionally, personally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
6. It’s all in your head.
What most of us really want when we talk about "work-life balance" is to be able to free our minds. We want to be fully present with our kids, in our yoga class, so we can soak up every juicy minute and let it empower us in other aspects of our lives. Ultimately, most of our life experience is dictated, filtered, and perceived through the functions of our mind. So, if you’re struggling to disconnect, these mindfulness exercises can make a huge difference.
There are only 24 hours in a day, but there are trillions of neurons firing in our brains. And, with intention and repetition, they can be directed. The next time someone asks you how you achieve work-life balance, tell them it's all in your head.
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