Work Lives Are Hectic, Is Balance Possible?
I’m going to start with a little story of my frustration.
This year, as I have done before, I planned to finish all my client work by the end of November to focus on my business (and website) in December. Things didn’t quite go to plan.
It was the last full week of November and I still had project updates to do, that’s ok – I’d give myself the first week of December for clients and then get down to MY work. But, then the girl got ill (not seriously, thank goodness) impacting how I spent my day, just an hour or so here and there and it affected my balance. After ten days it’s a full recovery, and the girl is back at school – “let’s go” says the brain, “er… no” says the body “let’s go back to bed”. Because – of course – this is when I start feeling pants.
You’ll recognise the story – or your own version of it – because it happens so often. Planning is great, but what about the things which just happen, which we haven’t planned for but can’t avoid.
What does Work-Life Balance even mean?!
People still talk about work-life balance as if these are things that you can balance.
As if work and life can be separated.
Or as if they are the only two things you’re dealing with.
I don’t think that’s helpful…
I can’t remember where I came across the four burner theory but it resonated with me. The idea is, you have four burners (or hobs) to manage and only a fixed supply of energy (gas). If you try and balance the four burners, each will only get a limited supply of gas and not seem particularly effective; but if you want to put extra energy into any one burner, the others will necessarily get less.
In your life, these burners can be labelled as Work, Family, Friends, and Health. Trying to balance them all we often feel we’re not really achieving very much in any of them, but when we push ourselves to excel in one area we naturally find we’ve neglected one (or more) of our other priorities.
I get so frustrated with people who push the idea that we should be able to “do anything”. While we might have access to so many more opportunities than were available 20/30/40 years ago – if we try to do EVERYTHING – we’ll likely do most of them quite badly and burn out.
It’s not just about time
One of the problems with talking about balance is it seems like we should be able to quantify things – but our lives don’t work like that.
If you need to work seven hours a day and spend at least seven hours sleeping, there’s not enough time left to get an even balance between family, friends and health. Even if you assume your sleep time is enough to cover the ‘health’ aspect you’re left with ten hours to focus on family, friends and anything else you need to do. But, of course, there are weekends… that’s the time for family and friends – or is it.
Because it’s not about the time; it’s about our energy.
Some things take more energy than others – physical, mental, or emotional energy.
For some people (introverts) spending time in a social situation – even with family – can be far more draining than time spent alone. Some people find that time spent doing sport gives them a boost while for others it is a struggle.
I’ve spent time this year with coaches trying to understand myself better. I’m far from clear now, but I am learning the importance of that understanding. There are things I do which, are not only easier for me, but actually give me energy; there are other things I enjoy but which are draining (thanks Nic).
All this makes the idea of balance even more complicated, so here are my four confusing contemplations
1 How Well Do You Know Yourself?
Because, when all is said and done, no one else’s list is actually going to work for you.
What are the things you need in your life – and why? What are they giving you? I’ve been telling myself for years I need to be fitter and while there’s no denying that, I also don’t like going to the gym. The only exercise I’ve ever stuck with are the things I enjoy – running gives me time to myself to listen to my music, Body Combat classes give me a chance to punch and kick accompanied by loud music and Personal Training sessions give me a chance to gossip along with the exercise (and accountability too, thank you, Sally).
So it’s not just about knowing what you need but knowing yourself well enough to understand what you like (thank you Jo).
I’m not sure we usually give much thought to what we individually want or need. As children we’re told what to do, when we get jobs the same thing happens, in relationships we’re encouraged to keep someone else happy. Some people say this is a particularly female thing… as mums I know we often feel we’re putting everyone else’s needs before our own. But it’s also true that men have often been brought up to think of themselves as the provider and recently I’ve heard the phrase “happy wife, happy life” quite frequently (sometimes even from my husband!). As we’re all sharing more of the responsibilities now, we are also sharing the stress.
So, while you’re busy looking after other people as well as your business, have you given any thought to what you want and need? Are there choices you can make which will actually help you replenish your energy?
2 Planning is Great, But You Can’t Plan for Everything…
You might already know, I do love a plan (I talk about it quite a lot Success is All in the Planning, How to Focus and Get Stuff Done: Simple Tips that Work for Me).
But – as the story which opened this blog shows – there are some things we can’t, or don’t, plan for. So, what’s the point?
- To plan well, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve (that’s a hard one to learn)
- A plan helps you create boundaries – because it’s your plan and should include the things which are important to you (not everyone else)
- It should have some flexibility built in – however that works for you
So when you have your plan, use it and enjoy its flexibility, but when it stops working for you make sure you know how you’ll deal with that too. This brings me to…
3 How Do You Feel About Saying No?
I’ve never found it easy to say No; I even wrote a blog about it Just Say No.
I am proud of the times I’ve said “No” to (potential) clients… No, to their deadlines. No, to their pressure. No, to their work. I can honestly say I’ve never regretted it and I’m pleased that, through great timing and great support, I’ve been able to learn really useful lessons about the benefits of saying “No” for my business. If this is something you struggle with, I urge you to work at it.
However, I still haven’t got the hang of other times when I need to say No.
I’m rubbish at stepping back from ideas – that great opportunity, interesting inspiration, or fun collaboration…
I am lucky to have a wonderful network of awesome individuals. A single conversation can provide a list of potential opportunities or improvements for consideration. And I love a list!
But lists take time, and energy, to deal with and I can’t do everything.
I need to get better at knowing which things to move to my ‘Possibly One Day’ list, which things to cross out as not worth my time… maybe even which things not to write down in the first place.
Another thing that can make it hard to say no is the possibility of quiet. (I don’t mean in your business, that worry of saying no to a client and then running out of work and therefore money; that’s a very real worry and goes back to my first point here.) This is about your life balance.
Have you ever considered the possibility that you fill your time with tasks because you don’t know what you’d do when there’s nothing left on the list?
I was talking with a friend recently about what makes people “work too much”, there are external factors like pressure and culture, positive internal pushes like passion and drive, but also more negative pulls to avoid difficult feelings, relationships, or emptiness – thank you Sheryl).
I think this consideration pulls us back to number 1. The better we know ourselves, the better we will understand which things will benefit us positively – within a work environment as well as in other areas of our life.
4. Small Steps Will Make a Difference
When your to-do list takes up half a notebook, you will still feel achievement with each item you tick off.
You may find you’re worrying about how much is still on there, but – when you have time – perhaps you’ll be able to go through and cross out everything outdated or unnecessary.
So, What’s the Answer? Can We Have Balance?
This blog post is not a “How To…”, I certainly wouldn’t suggest you turn this into a To-Do list. It’s more a chance for me to give you some things to consider which might help.
Think about what YOU need, not just what you need to do. And if you’re not sure, talk to someone who can help you work it out (I’m loving Sheryl’s idea of a silent retreat The Power of Silence). I’d love you to share your own experiences of getting to know yourself better.
Think about your boundaries, does your planning include rules (for yourself and the other people in your life)? And, have you booked in the things which are important to you?
Practice saying “No”, and – remember – it’s ok to take life one step at a time.