BY CHRISTINA GREENBERG

 

Internet searches for the term “work-life balance” generate pages and pages of results. There have been innumerable articles and books written on the subject with tips on how to achieve it, and which companies or countries offer the best balance between a healthy personal life and a successful professional life.

I’m not convinced there is such a thing as work-life balance. And maybe that’s ok.

Think of your life as a four-legged stool; each leg represents an aspect of your life – family, friends, work, and health. When you focus on one area of your life, the other areas can suffer, and the stool can be forced off kilter. The idea of work-life balance means that all areas are treated equally, and the stool stays level. But is this truly realistic?

We’ve seen women who seem to be able to do it all effortlessly.  We look at her and by comparison we may feel like a failure in our own lives.  Our children aren’t as well-behaved, our vacations aren’t as glamourous, and we don’t throw “Pinterest-worthy” parties.

First tip: stop comparing yourself.  That’s never a good idea in any aspect of your life. I am as hard on myself as the next woman and I work hard to identify these negative thoughts when they surface and change them into positives.

Second, determine what work-life balance means for YOU. Not for your sister, best friend or co-worker – how you define it. Maybe it’s time that we all just relaxed and gave ourselves a break. “As many experts have pointed out balance is not about building an impenetrable wall between your personal and professional lives but finding ways to connect and integrate the two.”1

 

Stress vs. control

When I think about what work-life balance means to me, at its core it’s a feeling of being in control of your life and your time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. The difference between feeling your hands are firmly on the wheel and whether you are caught in a tailspin is how you choose to spend those hours.

When you’re under stress, ask yourself what it means. Are you working late and concerned that you’re not at home to tuck your kids into bed? Or are you home with a sick child feeling anxious that you may not be able to finish an important report on time?  Think about why you feel this way.  What messages have you received in your life that would contribute to this?  What would you say to a friend if they shared their stressors with you?

 

Set your goals

Determining your life goals can help you feel more in control. For example, if you’re trying to advance your career, it will be necessary to put in extra hours, so be aware of the fact this will be where you spend most of your time – if only temporarily – with less focus on other aspects of your life.

If you’re starting a family, your career may be put on the back burner for a few years while you spend time at home with your little ones, returning to work when they head off to school. Or, if your career is taking off, maybe your partner will go on maternity or paternity leave so you can put in the time you need to get the promotion or win your dream job.

Sit down with your partner to talk about your goals and put a plan in place. The biggest obstacles are often the conflicting demands of career and family, so decide who will do what. Schedule time with family and friends, your children’s activities, date night and other important events and stick to it. If there are occasions or people that are not contributing to your goals, know that it is ok to decline these invitations – you have other priorities for your precious time. Revisit your plan monthly or quarterly to ensure all is going well and make any adjustments.

This phase of your career or your family is what you need “right now” and know that you can adjust the balance of your “four-legged stool” if your goals and needs change.

I have two daughters and scheduling my time is easier now that I am an entrepreneur than it was when I was working in the corporate world. Still, it’s difficult to attend all their activities. My family handles this by sitting down together and identifying which events are most important to them. They choose their favourites and those go into my calendar. We set expectations together, so everyone is in agreement.

 

Be in the moment

Women are used to multi-tasking, but it’s actually more efficient to focus on one task at a time. When attending your kids’ soccer games or dance classes, be fully present – leave work behind, turn off your mobile device and give them your full attention. Do the same thing when having dinner with the family, reading the kids a bedtime story or during family movie night.  The email will still be there in an hour, but scoring that amazing goal only happens once.

 

Commit to your health

When life gets busy, exercise is often the first thing to go. But you can’t maintain control of your life if you’re not healthy and feeling at your best.  I know it’s difficult to get to the gym or a yoga class, so look for other ways to stay fit.

I find walking is great exercise and it’s easy to incorporate walking in small ways throughout my day – driving to the far end of the parking lot or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. My office is on the third floor of a building with no elevator, so that last one is easy. Going for a stroll with your family or partner in the evening lets you spend some quality time together while getting in a workout.

Having said all this, though, I’m still not sure I believe in a work-life “balance”.  It’s very difficult to see your work-life and your home-life as being balanced; one is always pulling you away from the other.  Can we really achieve a balance?  And if you can’t, are you left feeling guilty for not being able to?

 

Maybe a better term might be “harmony”?

Merriam Webster defines harmony as:

  1. the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.
  2. the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole
  3. agreement or concord

A pleasing and consistent whole.  To me, that’s a much better way of thinking about how your work-life and home-life blend.  They don’t have to be in balance, they just need to work together to create a life that you find pleasing and consistent.  At some points, work will require more focus, and at others, your world outside of work will be more prominent.

But whether you call it harmony or balance or even if you think it’s a myth, you can find ways to reduce stress and take back some control over your life. With a little planning and the support of your family, not only can you achieve your goals, but also relax and enjoy your life.

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What do you think – is there such a thing as work-life balance? Is the idea of harmony more appealing to you? have you accomplished it? How do you handle it in your family?