04 Apr Achieving The Work-Life Balance You Desperately Need
Throughout my career, I have struggled to understand how to maintain a work-life balance. This concept has felt to me like a pie-in-the-sky goal. However, I can now say that I am living with a work-balance of sorts. In my search for this balance, I have come across many empowering and thought-provoking books, people, and articles regarding the subject, and I would say a few main influences have helped me understand the balance I seek and ways to work toward it.
Put the Life Back in Work
In the book How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, the authors say that the first step to having a work-life balance is to put the life back in work. I have not always had the fortune of working for companies or within teams that feel alive and keep me excited about coming into work. However, even in those situations, I have always strived for this concept even before reading Schmidt and Rosenberg’s book. I have found it easy to put a little life into work by focusing on three things within my work environment.
1. Build relationships at work
In every job I have had and on every team I have had the pleasure of working with, I have managed to build sincere relationships. This goal has, in fact, breathed the life into every work environment I have been in. Being overly friendly, as corny as that sounds, is a great way to build relationships.
I keep the following principles in mind:
- Smile! If you are the smiling face saying “good morning” to everyone, you will not only stand out at 8:00 am, but make everyone’s day brighter, and they will remember you.
- Get to know people outside of your department. Make a conscious effort to understand how each team fits within the company. This tactic will help you build relationships within other teams as well.
- Attend team activities as well as company-wide events. Although these activities are normally optional, they are arranged to help you build these relationships with fellow co-workers.
- Stay out of the office drama. It can hurt the relationships you have built. If you find yourself in these situations, try to be the contrarian by offering an alternative and more positive perspective, as well as solutions.
2. Use lunches and breaks wisely
You will be tempted to just stay at your desk and “get things done,” but missed lunches and breaks will just add to your work stress. Use this time to re-energize and reconnect with life.
- Take a walk or participate in some kind of physical activity.
- Make a personal call—to your kids, your spouse, a family member, or a friend.
- Play some office games with other employees. Most modern offices have things like foosball, ping pong, and air hockey tables. So get involved… and make friends.
- Get a drink or go to lunch with someone, whether it is a co-worker or someone outside of work.
- Connect online. Even though many may disagree with me here, following friends, family, and co-workers on social media allows you to see what people in your life are up to.
3. Add some life to your desk
Keep your workspace from feeling sterile or dead by adding some life to it. I’ve seen people at the following items to their desks:
- Plants, a Zen garden, or fish
- Personal items, such as pictures, kids’ drawings, action figures, and personalized screen savers
- Personal accomplishments, such as awards and certificates
And yes, even a bit of clutter can help.
Studies show that these elements keep your creative juices flowing, which can offset the stresses you encounter throughout the day. If you are in a creative mindset, you can face challenges head on with solutions.
A Happy Compromise
While doing some industry research, I stumbled across Avinash Kaushik’s career manifesto, which offered me peace of mind. Throughout my life, I was led to believe that you should do what you love and that money isn’t everything. There is some truth to these statements, but, if taken literally, at least for most people, this belief would result in little to no income.
Avinash’s philosophy is that, to have balance, you need to find a way to overlap three things: what you are passionate about, what you do, and what companies value. The more each of these areas overlap, the more balanced you will feel. Overlapping these three elements as much as possible can result in the balance most people seek. As Avinash says on his blog, even a small overlap offers a happy compromise.
If you can achieve a total overlap, it would be nirvana!
A total overlap is close to impossible for most people, even Avinash. Yet, this philosophy helped me to focus on a happy compromise and find peace with that choice rather than chasing total nirvana. I realized I was passionate about many things, and what I do for work was one of them.
Luckily for me, the company I work for values that and pays me for it. It is not total nirvana, but a happy compromise and definitely a sense of accomplishment.
This Is Not the Work-Life Balance You Are Looking For
Of all the people I have encountered in my quest to find balance, Sheryl Sandberg impacted me the most. After giving so much to both my career and personal life, I felt I was at a breaking point. I came across Sheryl’s book, Lean In, which transformed my perception on work-life balance.
Her words empowered me by presenting the idea that I did not have to do it all to have it all. Sheryl states in her book, “So there’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance.”
I was shocked to hear this but also relieved at the same time. This quote helped me to understand that giving your all to one area of life is what creates the imbalance in the first place! Sheryl also says:
Long-term success at work often depends on not trying to meet every demand placed on us. The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately—to set limits and stick to them.
At first I thought she was only talking about setting limits at work but then realized that this statement goes both ways. I had to learn to make these deliberate choices not just at work but also at home. One of the most dissatisfying feelings is not doing what you say you are going to do in any facet of life.
Regarding this new outlook on work-life balance, I’m working to fully implement Stewart Friedman’s four domains of life philosophy. Friedman says:
“Work/life balance” is a misguided metaphor for grasping the relationship between work and the rest of life; the image of the scale forces you to think in terms of tradeoffs instead of the possibilities for harmony. And the idea that “work” competes with “life” ignores the more nuanced reality of our humanity. It ignores that “life” is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of work, home, community, and the private self.”
Merging these intersections is tricky, but you want to make these intersections as seamless as you can. I doubt that it will ever have a perfectly flowing intersection, and I am confident some areas will result in traffic jams and collisions from time to time. But it’s been a good visual for me to keep in mind.
My Conclusion on Work-Life Balance
I will admit that it is not as easy to find this balance because this “balance” looks different to everyone. However, I do hope that what I have found and learned can help others find the same sense of balance that I have found.
I have also come to the conclusion that the common view of a work-life balance does not really exist. Rather, to attain a balanced life, you need a little life in your work and, yes, even a little work in your life!