How to Live an Unbalanced Life

Trying to balance work and life is a losing proposition. Here's a smarter way to think about sanity for the long term.

Rethink the mission.
Balance per se isn't a goal. "It's an afterthought, a way of describing the outcome," says executive coach David Zelman. Seeking balance is futile because it's an intangible and, so, impossible to measure. Better to set concrete objectives in areas important to you and plan concrete paths to each goal, Zelman advises.

Design a life of chapters.
Take your life for what it is — a rich and varied story defined by ever-changing circumstances and priorities. Work determines just some of those. The object is to achieve balance not at any one point, but over the long haul. Doing so means deciding what's important, then ordering your work and life accordingly.

Within each chapter, do what you're good at.
A small portion of what you can do at work accounts for most of your value. So focus on that, and cut out the rest. For Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength, "the issue is, if someone else can do it, I shouldn't." The corollary: Find capable colleagues who can pick up where you leave off.

Redesign continuously.
Work and life are like a kaleidoscope, with many pieces shifting all the time — and the chapters aren't always so distinct. "As my priorities change, I have to reevaluate," says Elizabeth Vandeveer, a vice president with the BOC Group, the British gas company. "I have to revisit what I'm doing regularly and justify it to myself."

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