Work-Life Balance. If you could somehow get that right, it would be the magic bullet for finally putting to rest all of your worries and stresses, right? (Cue the “Hakuna Matata” theme song, please.)
But what if we told you there was no such thing as this mythical “work-life balance.” It doesn’t exist. The term “work-life balance” makes two incorrect assumptions:
One, work and life are two opposing entities somehow involved in a massive game of tug-of-war. The phrase fails to recognize that work is a fundamental part of life. Mentally separating work from other responsibilities will only cause frustration. It becomes a matter of surviving the demands of both work and life, thinking that one has to win at the expense of the other.
Two, “work-life balance” assumes there actually IS perfect balance that can be achieved. Rather, balance is more of a juggling act. It’s a bunch of messy, moving parts, and at times it will feel out of whack. We just have to make sure it doesn’t stay that way.
Here are four tips for how to manage your responsibilities and relationships in a way that makes life a little easier to handle:
1. Define your values.
Of all of the things that beg for your attention, which are most important to you? Everyone has to make sacrifices at times, meaning your top priorities cannot always be first in your list of commitments. However, in order to protect the most important things, you must make sure those things win out most of the time. Guard the things you cannot live without.
One tactical way to identify what is most important to you is by looking at your checkbook and calendar. What do you spend money on? What activities regularly get your time? Be honest with yourself. If the allocation of your time and money does not reflect the person you truly want to be and the legacy you want to leave, it’s time to commit to investing in the things or people you value most.
2. It’s quality, not quantity.
Cliché, yes, but it’s cliché for a reason. It is important to make sure you are allocating your time in the most impactful way.
You can do this by identifying not only your values, but also the values of key individuals in your life. Figure out which things are most important to your boss and concentrate on those things. Strive for excellence, but don’t sweat the small stuff that doesn’t matter to them or your organization.
This trick applies to your home life as well. The 5 Love Languages book by Gary Chapman works on the idea that each person has a primary love language that we must learn to “speak” if we want that person to feel loved. Some people respond better to words of affirmation, while others just need a really good hug to feel loved. Don’t just spend idle time with your kids—connect with them through their love languages. Chapman says you can identify someone’s love language by watching how they choose to interact with others. If your child gives people they love little gifts all of the time, “receiving gifts” might be their primary love language. If you go out of your way to give them a purposeful gift, they will walk away from the interaction feeling loved and valued.
3. Communicate expectations.
No one likes to be constantly surprised—not bosses, not spouses, not friends. It’s not healthy in any relationship.
Sometimes these surprises are out of your control, but often they come from simply not communicating expectations well. It is so easy for people to create expectations that they do not even realize they have, and then become shocked and disappointed when those expectations do not match reality.
This frustration is easy to avoid with just a little intentionality. At the beginning of the week, pull out your calendar and have a 10-minute conversation with the people impacted by your schedule. If it looks like you might have to work late a couple of nights, let your spouse know ahead of time and explain why you will have to be late. If you are going to miss your kid’s soccer game, tell them in advance so they have time to process your absence.
In these conversations, be sure to highlight the times you are protecting in your schedule to invest in those individuals as well, and stick to those commitments. Nothing builds trust as quickly as consistently doing what you say you will do, so don’t make promises that you do not know you can keep.
It’s okay for personal stuff to take precedence over work sometimes.
Be candid with your boss and team about commitments you have made to family and friends—and don’t feel guilty for staying true to those commitments.
4. Be all there.
Life is not a battle; it’s a balance. When something needs your attention, don’t do it begrudgingly. Instead make a choice to be 100% invested in the here and now. Don’t divide your attention to the point you miss the value of the moment you are in.
If you choose to find joy in the moment, it makes it much easier to keep up the momentum for your next task. If you try to do everything at once, you won’t really get to appreciate any of it.
Finish the task at hand, allow yourself a moment to celebrate it, and move on.
At Milestone Leadership, we continuously remind each other and other leaders worth following, “It’s your life. Enjoy living it.”