Why Work-Life Balance Is A Load Of Crap

Juggling work and personal lives is a circus act we could all do well to drop. Here are three alternative ways to deal with the madness.

Imagine being able to take your career and personal life, set each down on the ends of a scale and tinker with both sides until some equilibrium was reached. Voila! Work-life balance. Sorry to say, but it's unlikely to happen. Simply put: There's no such thing.

The term "work-life balance" is a lovely little lie that's infiltrated our vernacular. Long touted by companies as a perk, these days it seems to do more harm than good, suggesting that if you work at it hard enough, you'll be able to find that sweet spot where each part of your life gets just the right amount of attention.

But talk to enough CEOs and entrepreneurs or pay attention to your own decisions throughout the day and it quickly becomes clear that we're never actually balancing work and life, more like scrambling to get it all done.

"Work-life balance has an assumption that those two things are 'equal'—that you can balance a certain amount on one side against a certain amount on the other, like you could with apples and oranges," writes Jonathan Raymond, chief brand officer for business coaching company E-Myth. "But your life and your work aren’t equal—your life will always be bigger than your work—so trying to balance them is a recipe for failure."

So what could a better term to help us navigate and manage the madness that is our work/life mash-up? Here are three.

Work-life boundaries.

Setting boundaries can help you feel a little more in control of the responsibilities that have a tendency to overtake your life. Maybe it's making the rule that you will never bring work to bed with you—that means checking emails, writing to-do lists, reviewing reports, whatever you find yourself squeezing into late-night or early-morning hours between the sheets. Just don’t.

Creating boundaries or rules about where work can be done won't balance everything out, but it can create a few safe spaces where you know you can go to unplug.

Work-life negotiation.

When you decide to work all weekend on that project you want to get done, you're also deciding to forgo other things in your life, like time with family and friends. But life won't always come at us in equal parts work, equal parts play. There will be those periods of intense deadlines or work progress when you won't see your family or hang out with your friends at all.

Be okay with those periods of concentration when other things in your life slide. There's no way they won't. The dishes might pile up and the dust bunnies might gather in the corners of your living room, but that doesn't mean you're letting your home life slide. It's just on hold for now. The trick is being able to negotiate the different parts of your life so you can take the time you need for each—however long that might be.

Body-mind balance.

Instead of trying to balance out your personal and professional life, focus on balancing out your health and energy. Are you getting up to stretch and take a walk when your mind starts feeling cluttered or overwhelmed? Did you eat a vegetable today?

We can't always control how much time we need to devote to our work and how much time our family and home life demand of us. But staying in tune with what your body might need at any given moment and acknowledging that will at least help you maintain better equilibrium in your health. All it takes is a little more awareness.

[Image: Flickr user hobvias sudoneighm]

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6 Comments

  • Fiona Craig

    I believe that it's less about balance and more about the choices we make. As a life balance coach I've done the whole juggle and found the best balance was starting my business.

  • paulrandpierce

    A misleading, alarmist title implying that having some kind of balance between work and life is "a load of crap", which of course its not. The author can try and change what people call it, but the goal is still the same. Some balance between both work and life have to be maintained, or one will suffer.

    The author even says "The trick is being able to negotiate the different parts of your life so you can take the time you need for each." Substitute "negotiate" with "balance" and it means essentially the same thing. So, go ahead and work on that project all weekend, at the expense of your home and personal life. But you'll want to counter that and get back into some kind of balance between the two, or else you're going to be very unhappy.

    Achieving some kind of balance via negotiating your work and life or setting boundaries is a great idea. What's a load of crap is using semantics to twist things around and make something important seem like its not.

  • I like the last one Jane. Focusing on your health and energy could do wonders for me! Awareness is also key to understanding when something is out of whack, very keen idea. As a millennial, I think it is on the company's to keep in mind the need for employees to eat a good breakfast, exercise, enable their employees to give the proper attention and time to their kids and pets. That sounds like a lot, but the best companies are offering healthy food, exercise options and child/pet care for their employees. That's the Future of Work right there!

  • Barclay Robbins Pollak

    Very well put Jane! A few months ago I started getting up a little earlier each day just so I could have a little bit of "me time." Now, I go to the gym and get in a quick 50 minute workout before my day starts. I feel more energized and focused. A small change has made a world of difference. My goal wasn't work-life balance. If it was I believe I surely would have failed. http://blog.tdsbusiness.com/tips-advice/work-life-balance-is-a-scam/

  • Rather than say there is no such thing as work-life balance, I think it is a matter of changing our mindset and perception on what 'work-life balance' really means. It is also about managing your time.

    For example, one of my colleagues. He comes in to the office by 9am after a morning workout, goes and works out again during lunchtime, and in the evening after a solid amount of work, heads out to hang out with friends. He balances his personal life, healthy lifestyle and strenuous work responsibilities.

    For me, I get in by 8.30-9am, work out after work, whether that is at 6pm or 8pm, then meet up with friends or spend time with my family. Before bed, I always ensure I read for about 30 minutes.

    At the end of the day, a work-life balance means different things to different people. Almost like that 'impossible trinity' at college: you can only do 2 out of 3 things - sleep, party, study. Total rubbish, since it is possible to do all 3. Just comes down to time management.

  • Leo Rosa Borges

    I'm not sure if I got this right, but this article painted a bleak picture of what life is to me. I felt there was no time there to do meaningful things outside of work. From what I understood, the article denied its opening statement that life is always going to be bigger than work – which I agree with. But by the time I finished it I felt it suggested your life is pretty much work and whatever you can fit into the little gaps. Did I get it wrong?