I achieved a life goal at the age of 27, my dream job: Professional Writer. It was my first salaried position and I dove into work with all the excitement, passion, and determination you would expect in such a situation.
I quickly discovered how unsustainable it was to channel so much of myself into work. I was told there was balance to be found. It was my introduction to the mythical concept of work-life balance, and I become obsessed with finding the right balance.
I set goals to achieve balance, and boundaries to keep my life compartmentalized. This time was for work and this time for personal life. I felt frustrated when my worlds were out of balance — which they always were — and I rarely felt satisfied with the balancing act I was performing. Sometimes I was successful at compartmentalizing, and sometimes not.
The following facts make balance unsustainable:
- Sometimes projects need to cut into your personal time to get finished before a deadline.
- Sometimes you have to take a personal call during work hours.
- Sometimes you have to work on a Saturday.
- Sometimes you have to be available to the office while you’re on vacation.
Blend over balance
Many of us struggle to find balance between our work and personal life, in a world that is so interconnected. As a result, many of us are constantly looking for tips on finding the “perfect balance.” I read countless articles and numerous books and continually asked people their methods for achieving balance. I even partnered with a mentor who I thought had good balance so I could ask her advice on the matter. In my quest for balance I came across a transformative idea: it’s not about the balance, it’s all about the blend!
Instead of an arbitrary, unsustainable balance I started working towards a healthy blend of work and personal life. I’ve achieved a delicious work-life blend using this recipe, and I’m so much happier than I’ve been in the years I’ve spent searching for balance.
The 3 ingredients to my work-life blend:
Every time someone tells me to write down my goals, I secretly roll my eyes. I think it sounds cliché. But I do it anyway, because it works. Inevitably, when I pull out my lists of goals (yes, I have more than one list), I am surprised to see a goal that I had forgotten about. I am also surprised by how much closer I am to achieving some of my goals than I’d realized.
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The simple act of writing down your goals and looking at them occasionally makes your brain work towards accomplishing those goals. Writing down your goals gives you focus and gives you something to work towards. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to know how close you are to getting there.
I’ve come across the concept of engagement explored in various ways… You may have heard it referred to as mindfulness. Try to attune yourself to your engagement level. The way to attune yourself to your engagement level is to think about something, make a decision about it, then take an action, and then move on.
What finally clicked for me was a concept in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. Allen suggests you try to give things the appropriate amount of attention. Giving the appropriate amount of attention is the key to your engagement level. It will help you decrease the time you spend worrying and will help you be more in the moment.
Focus on your satisfaction level instead of an arbitrary balance that is ultimately unachievable. Satisfaction is how you are able to maintain long term efforts towards your goals. Satisfaction is different than happiness. Sometimes pursuing a goal is challenging and it rarely brings you happiness at every step. But, you can feel satisfaction at every step as you pursue a goal. Strive to increase your satisfaction in areas at work and in your personal life while maintaining the areas where you already feel satisfaction.
For example… Let’s say your goal is to increase your fitness/be healthier. You plan on the following broad steps towards this goal: exercise more and eat healthier.
Engagement comes into play all the time with goals. Making choices like having cream puffs for dinner instead of the healthy meal you’d planned may make you happier in the short term (after all, you didn’t have to cook and cream puffs are delicious), but it won’t bring you satisfaction. As you make choices supporting your goals you feel satisfied about your progress.
When you are home after work is a great time to practice your recipe for a delicious work-life blend. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you satisfied with what you accomplished at the office today?
- If so, great! What is an action you can take that will help you feel satisfied at home today?
- If not, is there something you could do at home that would bring you more satisfaction about work?
Once you’ve identified if there’s something you can do at home to increase your satisfaction about your work day, decide whether to take action or not. Then, give it the appropriate amount of attention.
Your action may be working for an hour on a project, sending an email, or deciding that you’re done with work today. Once you’re satisfied with what you accomplished for your work, ask yourself about an action you can take that will help you feel satisfied at home today.
I challenge each of you to strive towards a work/life blend instead of striving for balance. Write down your goals, pay attention to your level of engagement, and measure your satisfaction in order to find and sustain a more satisfying work/life blend.
Comments on The 3 ingredients to achieve the perfect work-life blend
Thank you for this! I have been struggling to find a balance because I constantly feel like I have too much to do in my personal life and work life. So even when I accomplish things, I’m weighed down by the overflowing list of things I still have to do. I love the idea of blending rather than balancing because the two lives do overlap. Staying in the present (not worrying too much about future to-dos) and finding satisfaction in what I have accomplished rather than what I have not accomplished sounds like a great plan. Challenge accepted! 🙂
This is great. “Blend” makes so much sense because the thing is . . . I like doing work, and I like responding to emails when I receive them, even if it’s nighttime (I’m also a professor who chooses not to keep a real “office” because I’d rather work in my living room or a coffee shop than in my actual office . . . ). But I do still need to make sure I leave enough time for non-work things that I like and that are important to me, while not losing sight of work-related goals. Thanks for the tips. They are really helpful and useful!
I attended a useful workshop on productivity a year or so ago, and the best thing that came out of it was a statement of purpose for my work-related life. With the help of the facilitator, I managed to create one sentence that incorporates much of what’s important to me in both my life and my work. I have it typed up on my desktop so I can see it all the time. It still rings true and inspires me – sounds cheesy, but I seriously love that sentence.
This is such brilliant advice! I haven’t connected with a post on OBHL this much in a long, long time. Light bulb! You don’t balance, you blend. Suddenly I can see where my crazy life might actually be more manageable and fun.
I’d say the three key ingredients to achieving a work-life blend are
1.) For employers to offer paid family leave
2.) For salaries to rise in accordance with inflation and for underemployment (and correspondingly low pay) to decrease
3.) For employers to offer vacation time on par with European nations
So basically, if you think it’s your fault that you don’t have work-life balance, or you think it’s somehow on you that you work and work and work and never get anywhere, it’s not. At some point, while obviously you should always look for things you can do to ease bad situations or circumstances, the real change has to come from company culture and the employer class.
I so agree with you. I don’t believe that we should accept that work HAS to impede upon our personal time. We can and should have an expectation that work/personal life boundaries should exist and be respected by employers.
As someone that loves work, I admit that work usually made its way into my personal life, especially as a graduate student. I made it a point to keep one day off a week (to the shock of my peers) but I felt it helped me keep sane. After grad school, work came and occupied a lot of space as well. What really changed my work-life balance was having a child. While this may sound crazy to some, the idea that time is limited and that there are tons of things to do really takes new meaning once there is a being that depends on you nearly 24/7. So I managed to negotiate flexible work hours after maternity leave and over time figured out a schedule that allows me to blend work and playing with a baby. Changing jobs and having time for myself are other, much more complex sideline stories. Cheers!
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