There is no such thing as work life balance. The word balance implies equal distribution on both sides — work and personal life. That’s darned near impossible to do. I mean, really, how could you fit it ALL into just 24 hours a day? The world doesn’t need one more stressed out, unhappy person. You owe it to yourself to put some fun in your life and focus on YOU even if you can’t balance it, all the time.
How, you ask?
I like the approach of divvying up life based on what percentage of energy we use (versus time) for each segment: work, health, faith/spirituality, family, education, life maintenance, personal care, etc. Then you can overlap some of these segments to kill two birds with one stone so to speak.
Last week my husband and I did just that. We both work from home and have our own businesses, so we have a certain amount of flexibility. We can always work the other 12 hours a day! (grin) Besides, it was my birthday, and I’d been dying to get our kayaks back in the water. We went out for breakfast, then headed for Pikes Peak’s North Slope Recreation Area. What better way to spend a 90+ degree day than paddling around a cool mountain reservoir?
And paddle we did. About one mile down to the west end where we had lunch, then paddled our way back, battling the breeze and current intent on dragging us backwards.
“Doug, my arms are shaking and I’ve got blisters growing on my thumbs,” I called to him. “Keep paddling, you’re doing fine,” he called back. He’s such an achiever.
But what choice did I have? No one was going to scoot out there and tow me back. So I paddled till I reached shore and dragged myself out with help from hubby. It wasn’t the most graceful exit. I felt like a walrus trying to get out of that boat.
We hauled the kayaks up the hill two at a time, then he hoisted them back up on the SUV. There was some work involved and thankfully, he did the lion’s share of it. He lifted the kayaks up onto the roof of the SUV, then had to tie them both down. It takes work to have fun!
It was all worth it and we covered three life segments: personal care, family time and exercise— maybe more! We also enjoyed the piney smell floating on the breeze and watch fish splash and skim along the surface catching dragonflies and bugs. I thought to myself, there will be years ahead when we won’t be able to do all this. Right now we’re strong and active, but that will change in the years ahead. Better enjoy it while we can!
So I have a few points to make:
Some segments of your energy “pie” may be a necessity right now, like care taking or 10 hour work days, but that may change in the future. It took me over a decade to get back into a kayak. So don’t despair if life requires something of you now that keeps you from enjoying all your favorite activities. It may not be possible to change these circumstances. But maybe, for now, substituting a travel movie is enough of an experience to make you feel like you’re indulging in a virtual river rafting trip. Studies show that even watching fish in a tank is enough to lower stress levels. (This is why you see so many aquariums in dentist offices.)
Some segments take small amounts of time but require a great deal of concentrated energy, like exercising. I try to pick up my hand weights two to three times a day in between computer work, phone calls, etc. Standing at your desk while on the phone will also work and your voice will sound stronger and more energetic. Take the stairs once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a marathon and you don’t need to be a gym rat to build in exercise.
You also know best when your energy levels are at peak, so just like writers do, “write” when you feel most productive or creative. Momentum is a powerful tool and you can group high energy activities back-to-back to take advantage of the roll you’re on. Draw your energy pie on a white board so others can see it and take advantage of your best times to get more work out of you. Ha! I’m kidding with that one.
Build in rest time. One of the problems I had with a previous job was the “pedal to the metal” schedule all day, every day. There were no down times or lulls when you could regroup or catch your breath. I don’t work well that way, so it took its toll on me. Even soldiers in training get to rest ten minutes out of every 60, so build in buffer times during your day. Think of them as transition times. A great book to read on that topic is Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson.
Be willing to be in it for the long haul. Commit to a lifestyle or a behavioral trait you want to cultivate and maintain. You can make a lifetime commitment to health but have it “show up” in a variety of different ways that don’t require you to become a household name.
Ultimately, how do you want to be known by others? And what can you expect from YOU? We want people to see us as capable of following through, results-oriented, etc. In Paul Arden’s little book, It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be, he says, “Your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have. Without having a goal it’s difficult to score.”
He also wrote, we need to aim beyond what we are capable of. “You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. Try to do the things that you’re incapable of.”
And that’s where we’ll leave this. Strive to paddle to the end of the lake knowing you’ll have to paddle all the way back too. It also helps if you have someone urging you on, saying, “Keep paddling, you’re doing fine!