Trying to get a Work-Life Balance? – It helps to know that there’s no such thing

Rob introduces me to his colleague who is just starting out in the working world. I am introduced as the person with the ultimate in work-life balance. It is a complement, it also does not make sense. The concept is built on two false premises, quite impressive in three words.

Firstly, there is no balance, it is a fallacy, at least not in the way it is envisaged. It assumes we can reach a point where we are balanced and stay there, a type of homeostasis. There is no stasis, it is more like being on a balancing board, always compensating, trying not to overcompensate.

Secondly it assumes there is a work life split. It assumes when we walk through one door we become a work person and then walk through another, we are a life person. We are not two separate people. Work is part of life, not something separate.

Focus shifts at different times

Our conversation moves on, Rob’s colleague is explaining how he doesn’t fit in. He is not motivated by money in the same way as his colleagues. I wonder to myself, how many really are, or are they themselves just trying to fit in, meeting set expectations.

Once the colleague leaves, Rob remarks that he is concerned that after hearing about my 4 day working week that he will try short-cut the result. I remembered that when I started out, I focused on studying and gaining experience, I knew I needed to develop career capital to make myself valuable to the market. This is in the form of experience, a footprint (evidence), a network and in-demand skills – all this wrapped up in my carefully cultivated reputation.

We are constrained by time

We have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of focus in this constrained time. What can be done, is defining a target lifestyle more holistically and then looking where our focus is at the moment. We can make our decisions against this target. We may not be able to achieve it, but without a clear target lifestyle we are just guessing.

At the moment, my focus is on life beyond the work environment, with a particular emphasis on personal development. Of course the personal development concepts feed into my work environment, the concepts learned make me a better person, a better person makes me a better entrepreneur and a better employee. Towards the end of the year, my focus will be on entrepreneurship and then over Christmas, my family. The focus is constantly shifting.

Finding balance or closer to it

“The trick is to find a day job that pays decently, doesn’t make you want to vomit, and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time.” –  Austin Kleon

Lauren said she wanted what I had. She had been trying for 3 months, I said it took me 3 years, that was a lie, it was more like 10. I know everyone has their own journey and I hope that my experiences can help smooth the journey for others.

So, some of the things that can be explored sooner, rather than later in the pursuit of better balance:

  • Slowly free up time – set defined starting and leaving times to leverage Parkinson’s Law. Don’t make staying late the habit, it just results in less focused work.
  • Live off less – being more frugal paradoxically gives you more happiness..
  • Reduce your commute. Frequency, duration, comfort.
  • Invest in yourself – it pays the best returns.
  • Go to a 4 day week or one of the alternatives

Read more:

7 Insights from a Successful Job Hunt

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