From smartphones that allow us to check our emails long after the workday has ended, to wireless internet availability almost anywhere.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to leave work at the office. For many, this means loss of family time, inability to enjoy hobbies or other interests and may even have detrimental effects on health.
There have been many books written on the subject of achieving work-life balance, but the question remains whether such a balance can ever exist in today’s technology-driven, overloaded world.
Simply stated, work-life balance is a concept where you are able to prioritize your career with your lifestyle. However, it is far more complex than simply prioritizing.
In fact, very few people are able to create the perfect work-life balance. Although it is often women who feel they need to create the perfect balance between work and life, men also struggle with how to maintain their health, relationships and hobbies while also succeeding in the workplace.
The problem with trying to define work-life balance is that “balance” has different meanings for everyone. What one person may see as a balanced life may seem completely off-kilter to someone else, making it difficult to determine what, exactly, the term means.
Perception of Work-Life Balance
Most people have an internal image of what work-life balance should be. In a perfect world, work and personal life would be allotted equal time to work, hobbies and family, which would then lead to better health.
You would be able to walk out of your office at the end of the day, drive home and focus completely on your family as soon as you walked in the door of your home. In the morning, you would be able to arrive at the office and put family completely out of your mind so that you focused solely on your work that day.
The problem is that it is extremely difficult to compartmentalize your life in that manner. You may arrive home in the evening, but your mind is still thinking about an issue you are dealing with at work. This means you spend time thinking about solutions to the problem while you are eating dinner or watching television with your family.
By the same token, you may spend part of your day at work dealing with a family matter. It could be as simple as scheduling a parent-teacher conference or thinking about what you must pack for an upcoming vacation.
Although you may be able to compartmentalize your actual time, it is much more difficult to compartmentalize your thoughts.
Does Work-Life Balance Exist?
Some business people believe that work-life balance does not exist. For some, a sort of “sibling rivalry” exists between their home life and their work life. They find that they are not doing their best at home and they are not doing their best at work.
The answer for some of them is to separate the two worlds and those who are successful at that are able to turn work off when they ae home and home off when they are at work.
However, for the average person, it is difficult to actually live that way, which means that work and life must often intersect.
Juggling and Balance
One way to look at work-life balance is as a juggling act. A juggler must develop a pattern in order to successfully juggle multiple numbers of balls. They learn early on that juggling three balls has a different pattern than four balls.
In life, we also develop a pattern of juggling the important things in our lives.
In most cases, the average person juggles five different balls, trying to find a balance that will allow them to manage all five simultaneously.
People balance work, relationships, health, spiritual growth and interests on a daily basis. Sometimes, one of the balls will be within their grasp, another may be just above their reach while another may be completely out of reach.
When visualized as juggling balls, it is clear to see that life isn’t balanced at all. Instead, the key is to live life off-balance on purpose in order to develop a pattern that works for each individual.
Women and Balance
Work-life balance is often more important to women than men. It is instinctive for men to want to provide for a family which has historically meant they worked long hours and were often away from home.
It was the responsibility of women to take care of children and the home. This pattern continued even after women entered the workplace, so that women still felt the need to balance working with their family life.
Women often experience guilt for working full-time and especially feel guilty when they must work during family time.
However, by living life off-balance on purpose, women can learn to juggle their many responsibilities and reduce a significant amount of guilt when they realize that balance shifts between life needs on a regular basis. Dealing with those shifts properly is what leads to work-life balance.
The key to balance is understanding that life is never truly balanced, but a series of adjustments and corrections that lead to success. Some important things to remember include:
- Work-life balance does not mean equal balance – life is not like a scale where you put work or hobbies on one side and place relationships, health or spiritual growth on the other. Life is fluid and there will be times that work absorbs more time while at other moments relationships require more time.
- Balance varies over time – when you are single, your balance is much different than when you marry. Even after you are married, the balance shifts once you have children. You may have a career with a busy season when your job takes the most time. The key is to adjust your balance in order to keep things running as smoothly as possible during all shifts in your base.
- Balance is an individual thing – your work-life balance will be different than your siblings, your co-workers, your neighbors, even your spouse. Every person has their own set of priorities that must be balanced in life.
Although work-life balance may be illusive or even impossible as some experts say, there are ways to level the playing field and achieve enjoyment from all aspects of life.
The key is to understand that balance is fluid, that each person must obtain their own sense of balance and that there is nothing wrong with sometimes letting go of one thing temporarily in order to get a firmer grasp on another.
Although that one thing may be out of your grasp, you keep your eye on it so that you can grab it back as soon as you can, juggling your responsibilities in a pattern that works for you.
What are your thoughts? What are some techniques you use to create balance in your life?