Striving for work-life balance can make you feel guilty, interfere with your natural rhythm, and dampen your spirits.
It implies that you devote equal time to work (e.g. career, ambition, business travel) and life (e.g. family, health, leisure travel). It sets up a false dichotomy between work and life.
When you dislike your work, when you consider it separate from your life, and when it doesn’t reflect your core purpose, the most you can really do is aim for balance.
When you enjoy your work, when you’re passionate about it, and when you find meaning in it, go for blend. Integrate your work, your health, your family, your friends, your playful pursuits, your creative endeavors, and every other aspect of your life into one symbiotic whole. Then attend to what matters the most right now.
Balance is an elusive goal. Life is messy. Work spills over into the home. Personal issues affect your productivity. Priorities don’t always fit neatly into clearly labeled buckets. The perfect business opportunity can arise while you’re sipping mai tais.
Blend, however, is within your reach. It doesn’t lead to a superficial distinction between work and life. It lets you integrate work and play so there is more flow in what you do and less friction between what you think you should do and what you want to do.
Here are some ways to create the ideal work-life blend:
1. Do meaningful work. Focus on work that capitalizes on your strengths, gives you a creative outlet, and moves you in your desired direction. When your work energizes and nurtures you, it’s not that you won’t choose to take a beach vacation in Tahiti to renew and relax. It’s just that the need to escape from meaningless/mundane work won’t be the driving force.
2. Respect your own natural rhythm. Instead of keeping a rigid schedule for when work ends and play begins, cultivate flexibility and fluidity in your day. Just because you work after 5 pm or on weekends doesn’t mean you’re a workaholic. Having an unstructured day in your week or taking a walk in the park during office hours doesn’t mean you’re a slacker.
Take a nap on your lunch break. Stay up late on a Monday evening to crank out the blog post while your baby sleeps. Work on the big project from 10 pm to 1 am if that’s when you feel most creative.
Don’t burn the midnight oil and end up skimping on sleep, skipping meals, or neglecting relationships. But know that the normal 9-to- 5 schedule might not jive with your natural rhythm. Negotiate or keep flexible work hours whenever you can.
3. Make technology work for you. Technology allows you to work from virtually anywhere at practically any time. Set boundaries if you feel pressured to stay open and available for business 24/7.
Apply technology to your advantage. Use email, IM and teleconferencing to collaborate with others and get stuff done without face time in the office. If your best ideas tend to come up when you’re away from your desk, step away from it. Take your lap top to the coffee shop or go to a quiet library to meet the deadline.
4. Know that every choice involves trade-offs and opportunity costs. When you choose to play with your child, you will have less time to complete the big task. When you opt to work late, you’ll need to cancel the dinner date you had planned for that evening.
Immerse yourself fully in the task that you choose to do. Set aside your preoccupation with what you’re not doing and where you’re missing out. If you don’t enjoy your choice or if you don’t think it’s your highest priority, why did you go with it? Do something more valuable. Or stop complaining. Let go of the internal busyness.
Own the choices you make. When you choose to focus on a certain task, activity or thing, you invariably make trade-offs and incur opportunity costs. Say no to nonessentials so you can say yes to what really matters.
For more pointers on the work-life blend approach, watch these two interviews from Jonathan Fields’ online video series entitled The Good Life Project:
Brad Feld On Maker Mode and Living Well
Mitch Joel: Time to Ctrl Alt Delete Your Life (24:22 to 30:50)
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Photo by: TheFoodJunk