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.
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.
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.
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.