Living a Balanced Life
Reconsidering the idea of work life balance – a case for flow, mindfulness and personal choice.
Work life balance. It’s a term we use and hear on a regular basis – be that in the interview process, as part of a workplace culture or value, or as something we personally aspire to. But what does the concept actually mean and can we really define it for anyone other than ourselves? Further, when we personally use the term, do we take the time to understand what our intentions are with it? Broadly speaking, there have been many cases for redefining the term, or reconsidering it as work life integration or harmony, among other concepts. And for many Europeans, it’s thought of simply as life balance.
While we each have our own personal perspectives on every concept and value–and certainly workplaces define them for their unique cultures–many are more commonly and broadly defined (e.g. honesty, integrity, communication and teamwork). How we personally achieve balance with work and life, on the other hand, is something no one can really define for us. Further, as many Europeans (for example) understand, work is a significant part of life, rather than being separate from life.
Consider, for example, the stereotypical CEO or executive who is connected 24/7 by all communication means. Or the social worker who visits families at varying times of the day, and cares deeply about the children s/he supports (thus, thinking of them often). Or the social media specialist who needs to consider and span various time zones and prepare content several times a day. Perhaps each feel continuously overwhelmed or have difficulties with their spouses/partners, friends or families who want more of their time. Conversely, perhaps each have found a way to navigate or organize/integrate the work they do in such a way that reduces their overall stress level.
As we become increasingly connected with more and more conflicting demands, there’s little doubt that many people feel pressured and overwhelmed. On the flip-side (as is often well represented by the millennial generation), many have also found a way to have “flow” with all aspects of their lives. For some, this is what achieving balance, integration and harmony in (not between) work and life is–rather than balance being about work stopping at 5:00pm and life starting at 5:05pm.
Whether flow, integration, harmony or balance is the goal (and whichever is your chosen term), we encourage you to reconsider the concept of multi-tasking. The very idea that we can do many things at a time is flawed. While we may think that multi-tasking allows us to have greater balance, in fact, it can significantly reduce it. While there’s no doubt that many of the roles we do (at work or otherwise) require juggling and continuous prioritizing, we cannot carry out more than one complex task at a time–certainly not well.
The other critical key is mindfulness. If we are truly focused on what we’re doing in the moment–in every moment–flow is much more easily achieved. While driving or walking your usual route to work, how often have you suddenly found yourself wondering how you got to a certain point without realizing it because you were simply on autopilot? Where was your attention during that time? Were you solving a work problem, rehearsing a conversation you need to have, repeating a heated discussion you had at home, preparing your grocery list, scheduling your weekend? All of the above? Or perhaps you don’t even know because you were so lost in your thoughts. When we do recall, oftentimes this so-called multi-tasking simply makes us more stressed out and anxious. Now consider once again where your attention was while you were, for example, driving 100km+ on the highway with other large vehicles doing the same all around you. Mindfulness is key.
There can also be an important symbiosis amongst what we do/learn at work and what we do/learn from our personal pastimes, hobbies, and families. Many sports, for example, focus on so much more than the physical exercise. They involve trust, teamwork, communication, setting goals and milestones, learning how to effectively take risks, overcoming fear, managing success and failure, dealing with diverse personalities, and so on. It’s not difficult to see how each of these aspects apply in the workplace, nor how these aspects apply to other past-times and hobbies, or even to navigating family matters. If we choose to view work as work and everything else as life, we may miss out on the opportunities to apply what we’ve learned in one area to another. It’s also important to consider how each impacts the other, such as how stressful situations at home impact how you work, and vice versa. Or conversely, how a major achievement at work can positively impact you in all other aspects of your life.
This all being said, it’s not our (or anyone’s) role to define for you what balance (or whichever term you choose to use) is. Nor is it an employer’s role to ensure life balance for their employees–provided, of course, that you adhere to employment standards regulations and are reasonable/have integrity with your expectations. If you wish the concept to be part of your organization’s culture however, you can integrate flexibility in such a way that it allows employees to make some of their own choices, so long as they meet performance expectations. Ultimately, it’s about being a steward to your employees and helping them define it for themselves. This in turn not only benefits them but also your organization, in terms of having fulfilled, engaged and productive employees.