When you hear the word “balance” what image comes to mind? Do you envision a set of scales with items piled equally on either side so that the trays rest parallel to one another? Is it another image that reflects some sort of symmetry? Probably. Yet, it’s this association that may make work-life balance seem illusive.
Balance, after all, is not necessarily about obtaining equal portions. The definition of balance has many facets. When it comes to the way we divide our time, however, we ought to take note that one option offered by Merriam Webster is more about proportion and harmony than equal division. In other words, work-life balance may look more like a see-saw than a scale.
Not a Power Struggle
Let’s be clear. The see-saw analogy is not to suggest that dividing your time between work and personal tasks is a constant battle. This is about recognizing that sometimes you may need to give more hours to one facet of your life than another.
The days leading up to a big deadline may require a bit more focus on the work aspect of your day than your time at home. When you're on vacation, on the other hand, your focus will be on fun, family, friends, adventure, relaxation, or whatever else you’ve got planned for your time off. It’s not about equal allotment of hours. It’s about proportion and harmony.
One of the biggest issues with the quest for “work-life balance” is that it implies we have a hardline division between different facets of our existence. We don’t. We have one life. We spend some of it at work and some of it not at work. We don’t have a switch we flip to turn on our professional self any more than we can leave behind the other aspects of life when we enter the office.
It Blurs Both Ways
Recognizing that work and personal facets of our lives coexist is important, and not so that we can justify looking in at our emails or responding to a text when we’re watching Netflix at night. This full-self acknowledgement is what opens the door to an office environment that allocates space for nursing mothers to pump breast milk during office hours or for a parent to catch their child’s school play on a Thursday afternoon. It’s what normalizes flex-time and hybrid work environments that give us space to be successful and happy both on the job and off the job.
Boundaries, Not Balance
Achieving harmony and proportion requires some boundaries. There will be blocks of time that you do devote to one facet of your life over others. It may mean everyone in your household turns off their phones when you sit down for a meal together. It may mean you leave the laptop home when you go on vacation or that you agree to only check messages at a specific time each day if you can’t fully disconnect. It may mean you simply don’t schedule time off or personal appointments during the busy week pre-product launch at the office. It might mean you set aside a little space in your day to close the home office door and focus on writing that novel you’ve been dreaming of or to study for the class you’ve finally convinced yourself to take. It may mean you schedule your lunch hour in your office calendar so that hour is claimed.
Happy People Are Productive People
Some of us pursue the myth of work-life balance in part because someone somewhere said we’ll be more productive when we reach this nirvana. Instead, we create stress and anxiety as we try hard to squish it all into 24 hours. Aiming for harmony and proportion, on the other hand, gives us space to allocate our time as we need to in order to achieve our priorities on a day-by-day basis and doing so can help us better manage both expectations and our stress-levels.
Embracing the full self instead of putting home-life and work-life at odds with one another can increase employee satisfaction and happiness. Why does it matter? Well there are lots of reasons. Here’s one: research indicates that we are more productive when we are happy.