Work-Life Balance: Fact or Fiction?

Work-Life Balance: Fact or Fiction?

It’s your leadership coach Dr. David Arrington and I help leaders and teams work more effectively. Today what I want to do is I want to help you find work/life balance.  That's a huge expectation for a blog post, I know. What I want you to understand is that you can achieve work-life balance, it’s just hard work.

Spoiler alert, work-life balance is not something that just happens, it's something you have to work for every single day. It's something you have to fight for. It's something you have to make a priority. You will hear people like Tony Robbins, or Jeff Bezos say saying that work-life balance is a myth. You'll hear other people saying it’s something to work toward.

It’s something that you have to fight for and work for every day. If you're a success at work but a failure at home, it's an across-the-board failure. A Pew Research Center study found that 53% of working parents with children found it difficult to balance work and life. Understand that you've got to work hard at creating work-life balance. it just doesn't happen naturally, it's not going to happen organically. Balance is the function of intentional focus and prioritization.

What is Work-Life Balance?

Researching definitions for this post, I read dozens of definitions but none felt definitive. That’s okay, I enjoy taking abstract concepts and making them tangible. Fundamentally the idea of needing work-life balance, is a reaction to a changing corporate and societal landscape and the realization that life existed after 5 PM.

For decades companies spoke about their employees as “family”. There was an understanding and expectation that middle-class success meant working for the same company for 30 years before you retired with a gold watch, a pension, and great healthcare coverage.

Those social contracts were broken and others were rewritten. The layoffs of the 1990s (IBM 1993 - 60,000 employees; Sears & Roebuck 1993 - 50,000 employees; AT&T 1996 - 40,000 employees) taught an entire generation that the organization man model was gone and if they wanted a fuller life they would have to create it themselves.

The layoffs listed were the biggest layoffs but not the only layoffs. Companies were no longer family, they were “just businesses”. And please remember that the 100% employer paid pension was replaced by a 50% matched 401(k).

Creating Work-life Balance

With that bit of historical context, my definition for work-life balance is finding fulfillment in both work and at home without completely sacrificing either. When you can be fulfilled at home and at work you can say you have achieved work-life balance.

1. Making Yourself a Priority

What does “make yourself a priority” mean? It means that most of us are burnt out and we have only a few coping mechanisms. We're regularly working 40, 50, or 60 hours a week and when we come home we’re exhausted. We're binge-watching Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or your streaming provider of choice,  we're not exercising, we're eating at the wrong times, we're not reading, we aren’t spending time with our kids.

You remember all of the pre-flight safety briefings when they say if we should lose cabin pressure and a mask drops from the ceiling, make sure you put yours on before you help someone else.  That’s what you have to do. You have to put your own mask on before you can help anyone else.

If you are rattled, frazzled and running wild at the beginning of your day, your day is just going to be a continuation of that.

You have to take care of yourself before you can help anyone else. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be time to take care of yourself, much less anyone else. Let’s see if we can make some time for the most important person in your life… you. Here are a couple of quick ways you can take care of yourself:

  1. Start journaling. Easy, right? It's something I avoided and a lot of men avoid it. But it can become something really beneficial. You can look back at where you were, what you were thinking, and what you were doing. A journal is like a personal time capsule. It also helps to get your thoughts out on paper every day so you can be more focused and productive. 
  2. Meditate. You can also meditate. It’s very simple you can sit back and just be still. I know I lost most of you right there. Lol, There are a lot of different apps out there to help you journal a lot of different apps out there to help you meditate. This will give you that quiet time to help you center yourself and get into a good space before your day runs away with you. 
  3. Exercise. Make time to exercise. Seriously. Dust off your Total Gym, or your elliptical, or your Nordic Track. You don't have to go to the gym to exercise. You can even exercise at your desk and during your workday. I go to the gym every single day because I know I'm not getting any younger. And since I'm not getting any younger that means I'm getting older, shocking I know.
    I'm still eating the same amount of food I'm still taking in the same amount of calories and if I'm not exercising those calories have nowhere else to go but around my waist that ain't happenin on my watch!
    Before I got back into the gym, I would walk about 3 or 4 miles a day. The only time I didn't walk was if it was 30 degrees or under because, why? Getting some exercise and fresh air in your lungs will boost your mood, take away some of the overwhelm and stress and help you work out some frustration as well. A win-win-win. 

If you lose an hour in the morning, you will spend the rest of your day looking for it. -Richard Whately

It's been said, that " If you lose an hour in the morning, you will spend the rest of your day looking for it." How true is that?! Even if it means you have to wake up a little bit earlier to journal, meditate, or go to the gym even when you don’t want to, you can get yourself together before your day is off to the races and in many cases off the rails.

Gaining control of your morning is one of the most effective and predictable ways to get your entire day under control.

2. Make Your Interests a Priority

When I was younger, when I first started out at my first job. I wanted to be perceived as a go-getter and high potential employee. I would pack up my laptop and folders, stuff all of that into my bag and I would take all of it all home with me for the night. This is back when thin laptops weighed 20 pounds! I was taking all that home and I'd spent eight hours at work and then I'd come home and spend another hour or two working on the same things.

When was I spending time with my family? My family would want my attention, but although I was physically home I was still at work. Seriously? Over time I figured out this was a waste of time because I was spending all my time at work and then when I got home I still wasn't present with my wife and my new baby.

So, eventually, I started leaving all of my work at work. I wasn't answering phone calls. I wasn't checking email. I wasn't doing any of that. When five o'clock hit I packed it up, shut it down, left it on my desk and went home to spend the whole time with my family. That way I was able to be my best self when I returned to work the next day.

When you leave work at work and pursue your personal interests after work it can be refreshing and help you to be more focused at work the next day. You've got to create a healthy barrier between work and home. You should make your interests a priority after hours since you make work a priority eight hours a day. The hours you work when you are at home, you work for free. Just like the vacation days you don’t take. Yeah, you always hurt the ones you love.

If you can help it, don't let work invade home because home rarely gets to invade work. It's a one-way door. You can make better choices. If you don't have kids, make your hobbies or your friends, volunteering, or whatever your after work priority. If you want to spend time volunteering at a homeless shelter, volunteering at an animal shelter, or you want to spend time mentoring at-risk kids: whatever your passion make it your priority.

Make these interests a priority by putting them on your calendar you communicate that it’s important to you and it becomes an event you can't miss. Over time other people’s priorities will try to crowd your priorities. In our family we have movie night, we have taco night and we spend a lot of time together because I want to make sure that my family know that they are my top priority

3. Be More Effective At Work 

Research from demonstrates what we all knew, most employees waste some time at work. One of the interesting insights was that 28% of employees waste 2 or more hours per day at work. That can easily add up to 10 or more lost hours at work every week. That could mean wasting almost 500 hours at work every year. That's a lot of time wasted.

The $64 question is where do we make up those lost hours? The answer: after work on our time.  Make sure those eight hours count. You're in meeting after meeting, you're talking to people, you're doing this and that. Make sure you are getting the right things done when you have time to get down to work.

Cutting distractions and getting focused is difficult in almost any environment. Add to the normal level of self-inflicted distractions, drop-by meetings, emails, phone calls, bathroom breaks, and you can look up at the end of the day with more on your to-do list than when you started. Here are some tips on regaining control over an ever-expanding to-do list.

  1. Take an inventory of your day. How many meetings are you in? How long did they take? How many conversations did you have? How much time did you spend daydreaming you were anywhere else. You want to see where your time is going. Plan to document your work life for 2 weeks to get a clear picture of how you are spending your time.
    The time that's lost at work is made up for at home.  Then who loses, home loses, your priorities lose, your fun time, your free time, your relaxation time, all of that loses out because your time at work is not being spent effectively.
  2. Identify areas for improvement. Review your inventory to see how many hours you actually spend on things that are important and I think it's going to surprise you. Now you can see where your time is being spent and you can make adjustments.
  3. Reclaiming your time. You can put up a Do Not Disturb sign that tells people what you are working on right now is really important. That alone will cut down on a lot of useless chit chat about the basketball game, the football game, or what happened over the weekend. And this way you won't be spending your weekends on catch up work.
    Use a timer to keep yourself on track. I set a 30-minute timer and when it goes off I set it again. This way I stay constantly aware of how much time has gone by and usually can’t lose more than 30 minutes.

Work-life balance is something to be fought for. It’s important enough for you to make a few small changes to make a reality.

Until next time, 

Make Today Count

Key Ideas

  1. You have to work for work-life balance.
  2. You can have work-life balance.
  3. Work-life balance is the result of intentional choices you make beginning with how you start your day.
  4. You have set your priorities or someone else will set them for you.

About the author 

Dr. David Arrington

David a husband, father and the principal of Arrington Coaching. He and his team work with leaders, teams, organizations, and entrepreneurs. He regularly speaks and writes on leadership development, team alignment, and peak performance.

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