How do I find work-life balance?
The short answer is you can’t, because true balance doesn’t exist. But don’t worry. You can find a better fit between work and the other parts of your life. The time and physical boundaries that used to define when we worked and when we took care of everything else have all but disappeared. This new flexible work and life reality can overwhelm us, but it can also provide a powerful opportunity — if you know how to harness it — to be your best, on and off the job.
Work-Life Fit, Not Balance
The first step is to change the language you use. Balance implies a 50-50 split between time and energy spent on your work and your life. This almost never happens. However, when the goal is to find work-life fit, or the fit between the unique, always-changing realities of both your life and work, then suddenly the possibilities are endless. Instead of focusing on what isn’t happening, you can tweak and reset your work-life fit on a day-to-day basis and at major life transitions.
Tweaking Your Day-to-Day Work-Life Fit
It never ceases to amaze me how the smallest thing can make the biggest difference in your well-being. Getting to the dry cleaner before it closes. Eating a healthful meal. Finishing a report without constant interruptions. Here’s how you can make sure you can accomplish many of these small but meaningful work and personal priorities on a regular basis:
Regularly sit down and map out your work-life fit. Almost everyone thinks about what they have to do for work in the coming week, but far fewer consider their meaningful personal priorities. Break those to-dos into tasks that can be scheduled.
Keep a combined calendar with all of your work and personal to-dos in one place. There are many ways to combine your calendars using web or paper formats so that everything you want to get done is displayed together. You will think twice before accepting a meeting invite. “Oops, that’s my son’s science fair. Can I see if we can pick another time?”
Intentionally leverage any available workplace flexibility. Maybe you can occasionally work remotely. Use the absence of interruptions to finish your team’s performance reviews, and take the time you saved by not commuting to get to the gym.
Resetting Your Work-Life Fit
What happens when tweaking your work-life fit isn’t enough? You need to make a formal change—a reset. Here are some steps to follow:
See the possibilities between all or nothing. Too often, when a change in circumstances makes the way you work unmanageable (e.g., your spouse relocates, you have a baby, a parent gets sick), you think your only option is to quit. Before you do, explore whether you can work remotely or shift your hours, take a different position with responsibilities more aligned with your new realities, or become a project-based consultant. Your supervisor will welcome a thoughtful proposal before you walk out the door. Trust me!
Redefine success to match your new work-life fit. Consciously redefine success related to money (you might make less), prestige (you might not be on all the coolest projects), caregiving (you might not be the only person who takes your mom to her chemo treatments), and advancement (you may not get the promotion right now) so that you feel good about the reset you need today.
If you decide to take a break from work, have a plan. Volunteer with the intention of learning a new skill. Go to industry conferences to keep your network and knowledge current. Take an online class. It will make the transition back into the workforce much less overwhelming.
Finally, taking control of your work-life fit with strategic intention can also benefit the bottom line of your business. When we train employees to use the work-life fit skills and tools as part of a high-performance, flexible work-culture launch, supervisors consistently report performance improvement. Balance may not exist, but when you intentionally tweak and reset your fit in today’s flexible work and life reality, everyone wins.