As we gear back up to full speed after summer – a season when some of us tried to slow down a little – the question of “ work-life balance ” is again top of mind. Google this phrase and you’ll find an avalanche of tips, posts and articles on how to achieve this often elusive goal.
Some argue that, on the thin wire of today’s multiple demands, it’s a balance that can never be found. Huffington Post, for example, recently noted: “In the ninja world of corporate you make work, life and family choices and the ratio in which you make the choices has its consequences. You or your family pays the price or enjoys the benefit.”
The equation for how professional and personal obligations are managed and where time is spent is rarely uniform. It can vary significantly depending on who you’re talking with – a millennial, a baby boomer or someone in between. Perspectives and priorities typically shift with our life experience.
A friend suggested that I weigh in and share my philosophy on this topic. As an entrepreneur, a husband, a father, a board member and a community builder, I’m often striving to balance my life between work and home just like many of you.
Why is it true that turning to a busy person for help usually gets better results than going to someone whose schedule is free? Is it because busy people can instinctively, and efficiently, do more without overloading their commitment plates? That they’ve learned how to manage their time, and nurture their personal relationships, nimbly? Or is it because they are too stubborn to allow someone else to do “that job” because “no one can do it like me” – forgetting that every time you say yes to something, you are saying NO to many more things?
What’s the secret sauce then? And more importantly, how do we know where to focus and at what times?
I believe it’s knowing what creates stress for us versus what creates sanctuary.
For some, balance is a “black-and-white” equation. They work in high gear months on end – and then flip to the other side to tend to home and family priorities. Some executives I know take the whole summer off to catch up with their families. Down time is, in a sense, considered sacred. Technology is off limits.
For me, balance is more like a philosophy; there are times I need to be OUT of balance so that as a whole I can be IN balance. Like many entrepreneurs, I rarely mentally disengage from work entirely. In fact, some of my best ideas come when I’m relaxing with my family. However, that doesn’t mean that I live on my voicemail, email and texts because I can let go and trust my team to take care of things when I am out of the office. Equally, when it’s needed I can put the time into the business where it’s needed, focusing on the right areas of the company without pause. I can only do this because I take the breaks when and where I need them. For me, not listening to my body and disconnecting when it tells me to creates stress, and that would include staying overly connected.
In my view, keeping the tenuous balance between work and home is really a state of mind. It doesn’t have so much to do with the volume of work, the degree of family pressures or the extent of volunteer commitments. It has more to do with overcoming the perception that we are stressed – and the escalating fear that something will go wrong if we fail to devote enough time to each arena of ourselves. The more stress we let in, the more we lose the balance we are trying so hard to achieve.
Detonating stress means knowing what’s most important in each moment. It means investing energy where it’s most needed. And above all, it means communicating – regularly and honestly – with the key people in our lives, taking the time to voice our expectations and listen with an open heart to what others expect of us. This ongoing exchange is what helps us make the right choices and find our best balance in the exquisite business of life.
What do you think?