Is It Time to Throw Work-Life Balance Out the Window?
After presenting a workshop recently, an audience member asked me how I achieve work-life balance. I hated to disappoint him, but the truth is that I don’t.
We’re taught that work-life balance is the optimum outcome — a perfect mix of hard work and play, with as much opportunity to rest and recharge as to absorb ourselves in the tasks that will propel us up the ladder.
I don’t know about you, but that model has never worked for me. And honestly, I don’t want it to! I no longer strive for balance. I go for flow.
You know what flow feels like: You’re completely enthralled with whatever you’re doing, whether it’s writing a report or playing with your kids. You’re present in the moment. Time doesn’t stop, but you’re no longer aware of it.
I found that when I focused on balance I became preoccupied with what I needed to do next to maintain equilibrium. My world was a black-and-white series of tasks. When I’m in flow, my world lights up in Technicolor.
So how do you get to this seemingly magic state? By doing less, not more.
Know where your time goes
You’ll never get in flow if you don’t know where your time goes, so begin by tracking your time for a week. How much time do you spend with your family and friends? How much time you spend working? How about the time you spend doing things you don’t want to do? How many hours are spent working on projects that bring you a sense of accomplishment? You can use an online time tracking service like Toggl or Harvest, or you can simply use a spreadsheet or a good old pen and paper. The important thing is to be honest. If you spend two hours a night watching “Seinfeld” reruns, mark it down.
Determine how you want to feel
Knowing your desired outcome is key to making good decisions about your time. Do you want to spend more time with your friends or create more space for building your business? Which of your interests are hobbies and which bring you real fulfillment? Which areas of your career serve your goals and which are pure busywork? You’ll need to understand what you want out of your life before you take the next step.
Ruthlessly edit your time
Take your tracked time and look at it with a critical eye, keeping your desired outcomes in mind. Categorize your time using these questions:
What can I give up?
What can I eliminate?
What can I delegate?
What routine tasks must I do every day?
Here are a few examples from my own life.
I used to wash my hair every day, then take about 45 minutes blow drying it and styling it. I decided to see what would happen if I gave up that daily process and instead did it every third day. Not only do I save 90 minutes over the course of two days, but my stylist says my hair has never been healthier.
I quit watching live TV years ago. I was spending hours on it, sitting through the same commercials over and over again, and wondering where my time went. If I watch TV at all now, I use a streaming service that dispenses with commercials altogether so I can make the most efficient use of my time.
I recently hired a cook to drop off healthy meals once a week because I was finding it difficult to do so myself. The cook receives employment doing something she loves, and I find more time to do the things I’m passionate about. Thanks to social media and services like Postmates, you can quickly find someone to help you with just about any errand or time-consuming task that doesn’t fit your priorities right now.
Exercise is non-negotiable for me because it keeps me mentally and physically fit. Your non-negotiable might include reading your child a story before bed every night or enjoying a cup of coffee by yourself in the morning. Whatever your non-negotiables are, make them a routine so the actions that bring you the most health and happiness are part of your everyday life.
Find Your Flow
Once you have gone through the process of giving up, eliminating, delegating, and making priorities routine, you’ll discover that you’re left with the activities that really spark your senses and challenge you in meaningful ways. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t course correct. Every time you want to add a new project or hobby, go through the editing process again. The goal is to find the right rhythm for you, not to struggle to balance competing interests.
How do you feel when you’re in flow rather than trying to find the perfect work-life balance? What are the strategies you use to find it? I’m interested in hearing what works for you, so please let me know in the comments below.