Finding the Sweet Spot: Achieving Work-Life Balance

Live a Dynamic Life

Finding the Sweet Spot: Achieving Work-Life Balance

August 2, 2019 Self-Care Success 0

I want to spend a little time today talking to you about this mysterious and elusive thing people refer to as work-life balance. I call it mysterious because if you gathered a group of 20 people you might get 20 different responses as to what constitutes work-life balance. I call it elusive because, much like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster or the fountain of youth, many of us search and search for it in vain. That’s not to say work-life balance is unattainable; it isn’t. So, I’m going to take some time today to share my thoughts on work-life balance and some simple (though not necessarily easy) things you can do to achieve and maintain it.

What is Work-Life Balance?

Trying to reach a goal (any goal) we have not clearly defined will generally result in failure and disappointment. Virtually all the explorers of the past had at least a general idea of what they were looking for before they committed time and resources to those journeys. There are, of course, exceptions to this but, this is the norm. So, let’s start by defining terms.

  • Work – In our context, work is what you do to ensure that you have the resources to have basic needs (such as shelter, food and security) met.
  • Life – For our purposes, life, is everything that is not work. For most people this will include spending time with family, friends, etc. It will incorporate time for recreational activities, personal growth, health, fitness and the like.
  • Balance – Finding a place (a sweet spot, if you will) such that objectives in both areas are met without sacrificing one or the other completely.

Simply put (again, my thoughts here), work-life balance is the place where we do what is necessary to meet basic needs while living a life we can truly enjoy. Life is generally neither all work nor all play. Your reality right now might be different, but it doesn’t and won’t always have to be that way.

Work is a necessary part of life but when it becomes the focal point of life, other things critical to the health of our families and our legacies tend to suffer. If you’ve never heard Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle, it just might make you think twice about work-a-holism. So, we need work to stay in its lane. Ideally, we’re building systems that eliminate debt and create passive revenue streams but, that’s a conversation for a later time.

Why Is Balance So Hard to Find?

The short answer is – because we overthink it or we oversimplify it. We overthink it by doing things like trying to jam too many outside activities into the time we have outside of work. Like it or not, your body needs time to rest. We oversimplify it by doing things like relegating life to the vacation time we take. Life is everything that is not work (but can also overlap the time we are at work). It is all a matter of perspective.

On one level, one can argue that finding this balance is as simple as basic mathematics. If you spend 9 hours at work (8 hours on the clock with a 1 hour lunch) and 8 hours asleep, you only have 7 hours left in which to live your life – during the work week at least. That said, a 9 hour day with no commute is somewhat rare these days. So, let’s look at some slightly more realistic numbers. In fact, let’s factor in a few other family details that could also cut into that time. For example, the amount of time it takes to drop kids off at school and pick them up (assuming after school care is involved). I’ve also factored in homework time (for you to work out in your own personal calculations should you choose to go through this exercise) because, often working parents find themselves checking, signing or monitoring homework.


Activity

Time

Work

9 hours

Commute

52.2 minutes – round trip (source)

Sleep (based on need) (source)

7 hours

Homework (elementary) (source)

25 – 30 minutes

Homework (high school) (source)

1 hour – 3.5 hours

School drop off/pickup

45 minutes (personal experience 😊)


So, if you work a 9 hour day, with an average commute, have at least one child (let’s say a freshman in high school) that you drop off and pick up (and review homework for 15 minutes) and you sleep 7 hours per night, you have 6.13 hours remaining to enjoy. For some people, this may sound like a prison (as in, not enough time to do anything). For others it will be just the freedom they need to realize they actually do have time to create the life they want. Again, it’s a matter of perspective. The time we have where we are not at our physical work location can be used however we want. So, we need to be intentional about that time.

Obviously, your numbers may be very different so, I would encourage you to take some time and do the math. However, don’t let the results scare you. We’re just assessing the situation. I’ve met plenty of people whose actual commute time is an hour or more who still find ways to balance. Going back to our numbers, we also need to factor in time to prepare meals, personal grooming to prepare to go to work, etc. Yet, even with those things factored in, this is still largely a matter of perspective. I think it’s safe to say that trying to find that balance, can be challenging but not impossible. Again, depending on your perspective.

The “B-Word” – No, Not That One

If you talk to most people about personal finances, you’ll get an, “Oh yeah, I listen to so and so’s principles of financial management” or, you’ll see a glazed over, slightly nauseous look on their face. Why is there such a huge difference? Perspective! Why did I shift gears into talking about money? Because, setting a budget (that’s the “B-word” here) and sticking to it is exactly the same principle. Oh, and this also works for eating, health and fitness and much more. The short version is, each of us needs to follow these simple steps to bring it all together.

  1. Figure out what you want (from life) – Having personal/family values and personal/family goals can be extremely valuable here.
  2. Assess the situation – Identify your current commitments and how much time they require.
  3. Do the math – Determine how much time you have left to do the things you want to do.
  4. Incorporate your goals – Go back to the things you want to do and determine how much time daily, incremental progress will require.
  5. Trim the excess – Find the time wasters that prevent you from living your life and meeting your goals then… eliminate them (ahem… **looks at social media and television**).

Things You Can Do to Reclaim Time

Well, just like finding money in the budget by eliminating of frivolous expenses (**looks at expensive coffee and 200+ satellite channels we don’t watch**) or space in the hose by selling stuff (do we really need a TV in every room), we can reclaim our wasted time. Here are just a handful of ideas:

  • Watch less TV (or none at all)
  • Reduce or eliminate other unnecessary screen time (video games, social media lurking, etc.)
  • Involve family in meal preparation
  • Delegate chores/responsibilities where appropriate
  • Maximize your commute time – think audio books and podcasts
  • Plan your day and your meals ahead of time (also helps the waistline – ask me how I know 😊)
  • If you have an hour lunch and exercise is important to you, think about going to the gym or walking around your building during half of it

What About Work-Life Balance?

Well, if you think about it, once you know what you want from life and you know how much time you spend doing things that don’t enhance for support those objectives, you know what you need to adjust. Is it possible this could lead to a job/career change, a move, going back to school or other significant adjustments? Yes, absolutely. Is that scary? Yes, usually… Is it worth it? That answer depends on what you want from life and how far you are willing to go to obtain it.

This seems like a good time to hit one of the biggest excuses for maintaining an unbalanced life – your job itself. I’ve seen plenty of people who insisted that the job they hated (and had been working in for years) was their only option. Really? That might be true if you signed a 30-year contract with a non-compete clause. It also might be true if you live in a developing nation and you are literally struggling to survive under an oppressive regime. Otherwise, that’s simply not true.

On the flip side, I’ve seen a number of people working a job they despised who chose to view their situation as temporary and they resolved to change it by planning, making sacrifices and taking chances. As you can imagine, the outcomes I’ve seen are vastly different. If you try to pursue what you want, is it possible you might fail? Yes. Does that mean you should give up? No, it means you should try again… The idea here is to build a life you feel is worth living, then to make sure you have time to enjoy it. Isn’t that worth a shot?

Before I close this, I want to give you a few tips on maintaining the balance once you find it. There’s more where this comes from but it’s a start.

  • Leave work at work
  • Be present with your friends and loved ones
  • Be intentional about every second of your life
  • Find people who live the way you want to live and get to know them
  • Never waste time wallowing in despair because you don’t have what you want… yet

The Bottom Line

What this ultimately comes down to is risk tolerance, perseverance and the audacity to dream big. Yes, there is work to do but if you are afraid to change your life for fear of ruining something you may not be satisfied with in the first place, how will you make your dreams come true? If you have the audacity to create crazy goals based on big dreams, how will you ever see them come to fruition if you don’t give it your absolute best and stay the course? Perseverance is key to your long-term success.

Achieving work life balance, like anything else, is going to involve some give and take. You are going to have to make some decisions about what you want, how you spend your time and what you are willing to do to have the life you want, now and in the future. So, what are you waiting for?

David Sims

 

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