If your goal is to have better work / life balance you’re going to be very disappointed.
Work / life balance is not a goal
I should explain.
You’re busy, I get it. You have a professional life, a personal life, a social life a family life and who knows what other lives you’re leading (hopefully no secret ones). Jamming all that stuff into a normal day or week is tough. I get it.
So you set the aim of getting better work / life balance so it’s easier to do all that stuff. You’re going to leave work on time. You’re going to set aside Saturday mornings for family time. You’re going to get up earlier in the week to go running. You’re going to say no when you’re asked if you can take on just one more little project.
It sounds like something that’s worth doing, doesn’t it?
I asked on Twitter recently whether it was a good idea to separate your professional and personal lives, because I noticed how not-separated my own professional and personal lives have become. They’re one and the same.
And while I wouldn’t tell you to follow me just for the hell of it, here’s what keeping them separate is really achieving:
- It compartmentalises your life into boxes. Compartmentalising your life gives you a compartmentalised experience; it means that you’re different things to different people and that you deliberately lay out a structure for your life to fit into otherwise it generates an exception (i.e. conflict, stress, frustration).
- It conflates the idea of “being happy” with “being in control”. “If only I had better work life balance” you tell yourself. You brain craves control and certainty and would love you to have a place for everything and everything in its place. The dopamine hit you get from putting boundaries around things is a reward for what your brain considers to be increasing certainty, and can easily be interpreted as happiness or success when it’s little more than exercising control.
- It establishes rules for things that don’t need rules. Work / life balance requires that you establish rules for what to do, when, for how long and with whom. That goes over here, this goes over there, who in the hell put that there? You start to create a rule book to govern what should happen and then how it should happen. But that rulebook is a fiction that weighs heavier the longer you carry it.
If you’re working on getting some work / life balance in order to have better work / life balance then there’s likely to be trouble ahead. Work / life balance is NOT an end point or a destination. It’s a strategy.
Employ balance as a strategy in a bigger game
You can use it as one tool out of many to help you engage with what really matters to you, making it easier in the short term to do what you need to do in order to get done what you want to get done.
It only serves a purpose when used as a strategy that gets your soldiers in a row long enough for you to make a dent in something that matters to you.
Use it for 3 to 6 months, then revisit it to see what role it’s playing (i.e. enabling vs disabling, integrating vs separating) and then either reset it, change it up or get rid of it.
Do not keep work/life balance in place without paying attention. That way lies a separated, frustrated life that will lead you somewhere you never intended.
Integrate, don’t separate.
What do you think?