What does it take to achieve Work/Life Balance? (is it even possible?)
Frankly, no. It's not possible - and we are causing ourselves untold frustration and disappointment while we keep trying to achieve it!
Why do I say this?
Well, think for a minute about the phrase itself -
There's two key problems with this.
It suggests that 'work' and 'life' are totally separate. That as human beings, we can keep these two aspects of our lives as two discrete components, never ever letting them overlap or touch each other.
What rubbish! We all know what happens at work impacts our life outside of work and vice versa.
(And even worse, this phrase suggests there's no 'life' at work. 'Life' is something that only happens outside of the hours we spend generating an income. Jeepers - that's depressing, isn't it?)
It also suggests that we can package up all the aspects of 'work' and all the aspects of 'life' - and then put these two boxes at opposite ends of a set of scales. We tweak and fiddle and adjust until the scales are level (or balanced).
Then we hold our breath and pray nothing ever changes!
If one of our kids or parents gets sick and needs help - oops! We're out of balance!
If we have to put in some extra hours to reach a business deadline - oh no! Out of balance!
See what I mean?
So the first step is to STOP attempting to achieve 'balance'!
And let's call it something else - something more realistic, truthful and attainable:
Happiness with how we spend our time
A key to this is to reflect over a longer period of time than simple a day or a week or so. Because within each day or week, there are bound to be unforeseen events that we simply couldn't plan for. Things that catapult up the priority list and require us to adjust our plans.
Maybe a month is a good starting point. Ask yourself ...
Within the past four weeks, overall, am I spending my time the way I'd like and prioritising the things that are important to me?
If the answer is 'no', then Houston, we have a problem. And it's not going to go away all by itself. It's time to get back into the driver's seat of your life and start steering along the path you really want to travel.
Here's five strategies to get you started ...
1. Think Big Picture
Reflect on the past month. Ask yourself the question: "Have I lived according to my priorities and do I consider my time well spent?"
If the answer is 'no', grab a sheet of paper and quickly (without analysis or judgement) jot down all the reasons for your answer. What did you spend your time doing that you wish you hadn't? What important things slipped by the wayside?
Then look ahead to the next month and plan how you will avoid these traps in the coming weeks.
2. Examine other people's expectations of you
Often when we feel unhappy with how we've spent our time, on reflection we can see that we have been driven to meet others' expectations at the expense of our own needs and wants.
Are the expectations other people have of you reasonable? Is there room for negotiation about any aspects of their requests? Do you need to be more assertive and express your boundaries more clearly?
3. Know your Not Negotiables
One reason we can succumb to saying 'yes' to others a lot of the time is that we aren't yet clear on what is truly, deeply important to us. We simply bounce from responding to one request to the next without considering how this will impact on our time and energy reserves.
Your Not Negotiables are the things you place a high priority on for yourself. It might be ensuring you get X number hours of exercise per week, arriving home in time each Thursday to take your child to their sports training - or even taking work home a maximum of one night a week allowing you to have important time for family, friends and your own relaxation.
Once you know what's truly important to you, it becomes easier and easier to say 'no', draw those boundaries for yourself and negotiate agreements that can work for everyone involved.
4. Use Creative Negotiation
Stop thinking 'Win/Lose'. Typically in negotiations, both parties approach the situation with a mindset of one party will 'win' exactly what they want, and the other will 'lose' all they desire.
Yet there are often at least a couple options that will satisfy both parties.
For example ...
Your boss wants you to work late tonight to complete a report they need by 9am tomorrow. You want to leave work at 5pm to keep your commitment to meet a friend for dinner. A possible solution is to take the work home with you and complete it after dinner with your friend. Another option is to come in early the next day to complete the report before 9am.
Moving from 'Win/Lose' to 'how can everybody win?' might just lead you to some really useful and practical solutions.
5. Become a detective
Go on a quest to find wasted time you can reclaim for you.
Reading a book or listening to a podcast while commuting puts that time to better use than worrying about the day or fretting about deadlines.
Get conscious of exactly how much time you spend on social media - and if it's bringing you the dividends you want.
Watching TV can certainly be relaxing and enjoyable - but sometimes it's worth asking yourself 'is watching this better than XYZ?' (The XYZ could be reading a book, calling a friend, enjoying a hobby ...)
Once you start getting fully aware of how you are allocating your time each day, I'm confident you'll find some pockets here and there where you can invest in more satisfying and pleasurable activities.
Remember ... it's your life, your time - and YOUR bus you're driving!
I recently attended a three-day women’s festival that I attended for the first time in 2016. It’s never the same the second, third or umpteenth time around is it? First of all, there’s that ‘first time newness’ that we can only get once. “Wow! Look at that!” “Goodness, that’s amazing!” And so on … because we are seeing things through fresh, first-time eyes.
In our subsequent visits, while we look for that same magic, but logically know it will be different than our beloved ‘first-time’. We then start to notice what’s not there that we liked the previous year(s), and lament “But I really liked that!”
So this year, I decided to focus instead on what was new, different and intriguing. And that’s how I came across The Release Tree.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it. (I’ve seen this attributed to Dan Millman)
Courage is resistance to fear. (Thanks Mark Twain)
Courage is mastery of fear. (Mark Twain again)
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. (Kelly Clarkson made this line famous in her pop song)
In other words, grit your teeth and move on regardless. Tough it out. Toughen up.
A lot of people who know me say I’m one of the most tenacious, determined, “courageous” people they know. And I’ve always kind of liked this. I’m proud that I ‘hang in there’, dig deep and find my way through challenges.
My father (bless you, dad) had a saying that went something like this: “The real measure of a person’s character is how they handle adversity.” And I liked this too – for most of my life.
Whenever I was going through a tough time, I’d remember my dad’s words and think ‘keep going, Sandi – you’re developing character. People will admire you for the fact that you’ve made it through all this crap.’ And so I did keep going (though I’m not sure this really earned me brownie points in the admiration-from-other-people stakes).