There is no such thing as work/life balance. There used to be. At the beginning of my career, I could escape and remain disconnected from the office for whole hours at a time. Today, our personal lives are so intertwined with work that it is hard to separate. Everywhere we go we are tied into work. With smartphones, tablets, cloud access to data and social media, we can work at the grocery store, in waiting rooms, at the kitchen table. We are connected 24 hours a day. Managing it is not a matter of balance; it’s a matter of efficiency of time.
Technology: You Can’t Turn It Off
A 2012 study by British technology retailer Pixmania found that smartphones and tablets added an extra two hours onto our workdays; we work an additional 460 hours per year. That time comes from somewhere. It comes from your child’s soccer game, or from spending quality time with your spouse or friends. Or maybe it comes from skipping the gym.
Making it even more difficult is that when we are somewhere physically, we may be another world away mentally. If we are not healthy, for instance, we can be at work but not effective; unable to give 100 percent. Conversely, if we have a bad day at the office, we bring that home. It reflects on our relationships with our family or partners.
If you’ve bumped up against “work/life” before, you know you have to try to mentally separate the two because they are so comingled. But what can you do to keep your rotten day at work from marring dinner with your family? How can you keep your marriage difficulties from undermining your performance at work? You make the conscious effort to be present where you are and not let angst in one aspect of your life influence another. It takes practice.
Know What Matters, When
The key is to really understand your priorities. These shift from time to time. If, for instance, you are going through a stretch when the fate of your business is at stake and you have to work all day and all night to ensure it doesn’t go under, then it means you don’t get to go to all your kid’s practices and games. When work calms down (“calm” is relative!), then you can shift your priorities to your family, coach Little League, whatever.
What is important for you today? Whatever it is, focus on that. Shift your priorities in the right direction and try to devote your best energies to each one. What is the best you can do today? If the best you can do to achieve “work/life balance” is to work for 12 hours and spend 20 minutes playing with your child, then that’s what you do. Just make sure they are 12 hours and 20 minutes when you are completely there. Next week, that ratio may be reversed; take advantage.
Will it even out in the end? Who knows? It doesn’t have to “even out.” The idea of balance is that it is equal; that we spend equal time, energy, and stamina on home life, on work, on our health. That’s a losing battle. Work on what you need to work on; give what you can to the rest; and keep reevaluating and shifting your priorities.