Sentiments around “work-life balance” have always been divided. Some argue that the term itself implies a binary relationship (‘work” having a more negative or chore-like connotation, whereas “life” is positive), but really, is it so simple? We now live in a world built on a foundation of productivity, where it’s all too easy (and, more often than not, encouraged) for us to define our worth by the volume of work we’re able to accomplish in any given day. But, I would argue that the value we assign to our lives and, by extension, our mastery of work-life balance, should come down to how well we’re able to prioritize the aspects of our lives that we enjoy most, whether they’re professional or personal.
The global pandemic has changed the way we work, blurring what was already a hazy divide between life and work while raising questions around the long-term impacts on our mental wellness. But, we’re now hearing that upwards of 86% of remote workers in the US are actually satisfied with current arrangements; 47% are even “very satisfied,” even if that means “having to work from their bedrooms or closets.” For the first time in perhaps a long time, Americans have control over their day-to-day, including the ability to prioritize the aspects they enjoy and to be mentally present during the moments of their life that matter the most. So, why did it take a global pandemic for us to realize this shift?
Our broken idea of productivity
Up until just a few years ago, our approach to work-life balance left little wiggle room for unforeseen or unique life circumstances. “Work” was characterized by the traditional 9-5 corporate desk job, set in a shared physical office space. And “life” might’ve referred to an evening at home with the family, or a night out for drinks with friends.
At some point over the past decade—coinciding with the advent of the internet and the culture of connectivity—productivity emerged as a trend. It became a self-defining characteristic among working professionals, eventually progressing into an obsession with optimizing all aspects of life, and a firm commitment to the “hustle” culture. Cut to the explosion of various productivity techniques like “inbox zero,” the pomodoro technique, and single-tasking, as well as software programs, all of which claimed to help us complete our tasks faster, just in time for us to cram more work—at the expense of life—into our days. What resulted was burnout.
This is the reality for a staggering number of Americans that are already working as time-strapped entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, gig workers, and business owners. But add to this that the pandemic has inspired 59% of millennials in the US to get a side hustle once it’s over, and you get a glimpse into just how devastating mass burnout could be for the American economy and workforce.
More emphasis on “life” in “work-life”
Today’s digital workers have more software tools at their disposal than ever before. But, they’re also clocking in more work hours without seeing the ROI to their productivity.
As an entrepreneur and workaholic, my journey toward a more enjoyable life-filled work-life balance took a long time. I needed a shock to my system and a chance to relearn. That shock came from losing the valuable help that executive assistants provided. For years, they took care of the tasks I would’ve otherwise procrastinated on, like scheduling or accounting, allowing me to focus on the critical areas of my business and freeing up much needed time for my family. In my assistant’s absence, I traded my sense of personal fulfillment for professional noise and eventually, burnout.
The feeling of productivity is an elusive one. But to have any hope of catching it, we need to eliminate the noise, distractions, and literal paperwork that’s slowing us down and preventing us from being even more successful in our lives (not just our business). By offloading time-consuming tasks through delegation—whether to team members, assistants, or even to new AI technologies that can automate them, like my company, Charli AI—we regain the ability (and mental energy) to prioritize the parts of our lives that bring us the most enjoyment.
Delegate and forget about it
The pandemic, and this time of prolonged remote work, has proved that our effectiveness as employees and founders is not defined by the number of hours we physically spend at the office, but by the quality of work we produce and the quality of the life we live.
Through delegation, we can minimize the noise that’s at the heart of so many employees’ burnout. Fire-and-forget is about delegation in the truest sense; even the back-of-the-mind tasks that can consume valuable energy are offloaded. In exchange, we’re given the ability to focus wholeheartedly on the things that are most important to us, personally, as well as professionally.
Despite the jarring effects of COVID-19, the world’s swift transition to remote work could have some lasting positive impacts. It’s allowed us to break down the glass walls that previously separated our work and personal lives. It has inevitably brought more life into our professional, albeit, virtual, settings. Even the constant videoconferencing calls are making us more empathetic to the personal demands that we and our colleagues deal with on a daily basis, which are often overlooked because they’re simply out of sight and out of mind. But, more importantly, it’s also continuing to shape conversations about productivity, and what a healthy work-life balance could look like down the line.
Kevin Collins is the CEO of Charli, a first-of-its-kind conversational AI-driven productivity manager, for desktop and iOS, that’s designed to automate admin work and help workplace professionals put more life into their work-life balance.