Whether you call it work-life balance, fit, or integration, this buzz word-slash-problem exists for many of us. Striking the right balance between work, ambition, and life in our country’s current culture isn’t easy. High expectations and never-ending demands leave many questioning their abilities and priorities at work and at home, while it falsely challenges others to find the perfect solution to allow them to be everything to everyone. To help “solve” work-life imbalance, apps and routines are popping up everywhere, claiming and aiming to help organize, streamline, and reduce tasks to grant more time for the things that matter. The only problem is that technology isn’t the fool-proof solution and routines often restrict flexibility. In work-life balance, one size doesn’t fit all.
So how in the world are we supposed to achieve this so-called balance?
While I certainly do not claim to have all of the answers to achieve work-life balance (I was once told that I have good work-life mixture, not work-life balance!), over the past decade, I have learned that imbalance cannot be corrected without changing expectations, redefining priorities, and remaining (or instituting) flexibility. It is hard work, but these few points may help you on your journey towards achieving work-life balance:
QUIT THINKING OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE IN TERMS OF A DAILY ROUTINE
For most people, each day looks a little bit different. Thus, trying to define a daily routine to instill balance in your life will most likely lead to failure. Think about your commitments and priorities. Define what time-interval works for you. Set goals for those intervals and realize that you have to be flexible to allow work-life balance to take shape over time. At different points throughout a week or month or year, work may need to take precedent. At other times, family, friends, leisure, etc. will demand more of your time. That give and take is part of achieving balance.
TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR WORK-LIFE BALANCE STATUS AND FUTURE
While companies are trying to find unique and creative ways to support work-life balance (you should definitely see what programs and initiatives your employer has in place!), they are not the sole answer to common imbalance. YOU have to define what work-life balance means now and the potential for what the future may hold. Define and redefine as often as you need and bring together the tools you and your organization have to create your best version of work-life balance (see how some millennials are viewing work-life balance and taking greater ownership).
FIGHT THE TYRANNY OF “URGENT“
This is my new life motto. I am tired of always putting out fires and reacting to situations, aren’t you? When we are constantly reacting to the urgent in our lives, we do not have the opportunity to prioritize appropriately, risking the chance of greater imbalance. Allow yourself the time to reflect and respond needed for your lifestyle. Align your priorities with your goals and be proactive. It is remarkable the change you will see in your work-life balance when you fight the tyranny of urgent, trust me!
LEARN TO SAY NO
I’ll be honest, this is one area in which I continually struggle. I never like disappointing people, and when I say no, I feel like I am doing just that. But in reality, you are simply prioritizing. I try saying no in alternate ways, such as “unfortunately, I’m not able to at this time, but keep me in mind for the future” or “how about next month/year/semester?” This is for work, home, community, friends, all aspects of our lives.
With these four practices, along with many others available from greater experts than I, I am confident you will see a shift towards greater work-life balance. Remember, resetting expectations and redefining priorities is hard work. Yet, putting in that work has the opportunity to reduce burnout, re-energize one’s self and achieve balance. Work-life balance is a constant give and take and is entirely possible!