Thom K. Cope and Sandra Jones
There is a movement among young adults in China referred to as “Lying Flat,” which means rejecting a traditional lifestyle of careers, marriage, parenthood, and homeownership. Instead, those lying flat pursue a restful, minimalist lifestyle that prioritizes experience over possessions.
Initially, the concept of lying flat may seem alluring: escaping the stress of a demanding career in exchange for quality time with oneself sounds like a much deserved break after decades of sacrifice, hard work, and discipline. Yet, for a type A person who has been driven to achieve, lying flat would probably get boring, and fast.
The answer isn’t all or nothing, it is balance. Work-life balance may not be handed out as often as employers suggest, but it can be achieved. The secret is that it is created by the individual through prioritizing and setting reasonable boundaries and realistic expectations.
Prioritize. Not all “emergencies” are emergencies. If you work in a service-driven industry, the urge to respond to a client immediately can be irresistible. But is prompt service always the best service? It is a slippery slope. If you are typing out advice on your phone as you board a plane, are you really focusing on your client’s needs? Or are you checking boxes? Prioritizing true emergencies that require immediate attention from non-emergencies that is an important first step to creating work life balance.
Set Internal Boundaries. Admittedly, it is sometimes impossible to set external boundaries, like when deadlines conflict with family events and vacations. Periods of intense workload can extend for weeks or even months at a time, and it is not possible to put work on hold. However, even during these times, it is possible to set internal boundaries that will help, at least, improve work-life balance. What are internal boundaries? Being mindful about what you are doing and what you are thinking. You cannot be productive in line at the grocery store (aside from an occasional light bulb moment), so give your mind that time to rest. Notice the people around you and resist the urge to let your mind race about work matters, including reliving conversations, critiquing yourself, or worrying. All of that is wasted time and energy that depletes your mental resources.
Another important internal boundary is to put your phone down. Checking email, scrolling through news, and other online activities divert your attention away from those around you. Repeatedly checking email may offer momentary relief, but every time you focus on your email, you are wasting time that could be spent on the “life” aspect of “work-life balance.” If you are eating dinner, do not have your phone next to your plate so that you can review emails as they come in. Instead, be present with those around you for 30 minutes and notice the simple enjoyment of eating a meal. That 30 minutes of downtime will pay dividends when you turn your attention back to work because your brain will be rested.
Set Realistic Expectations. No one likes to be ignored, but a simple response acknowledging a client’s inquiry and setting a realistic timeframe for your response is acceptable in nearly all circumstances. Invite your client to let you know if the question is time sensitive. In the rare instance where a client’s inquiry is more urgent than you initially assessed, you can reprioritize. Generally, however, clients understand that you have other clients and demands on your time and will be willing to wait a reasonable amount of time for your attention to their matter once you have established rapport and earned their trust.
These are some small habits that, if implemented on a daily basis, will improve your work-life balance without costing you the career you worked so hard to achieve.
Sandra makes some salient points. But really can there be a true balance between your work and non-work life? Are we saying a 75% emphasis on work and a 25% emphasis on home life is a balance? Does it have to be 50-50? That is my dilemma: What is the ratio?
We know that there really is no such thing as multi-tasking. It’s really serial tasking. You cannot do two things well at the same time. For example, when you are on your cell phone and driving, have you ever wondered how you arrived at your destination? Obviously you were concentrating on the call and distractedly driving.
So too with work and life. Did you know that the Conference Board research group found that around 50% of the nation is dissatisfied with their job. Are you 100% engaged while at work or are you worrying about your child having to wear (or not) a mask at school? Are you at work planning your weekend or a vacation? Conversely, when at home are you thinking about the myriad things going on at work? When your significant other or someone cuts into that train of thought, are you seriously annoyed? Of course you are because, at that moment you weren’t at home, you were at work and interruptions are annoying.
So I submit to you that there is no such thing as work/life balance. You have to make choices between two priorities and work will win out most of the time. Unless you can completely divorce yourself from one or the other, such as climbing to base camp on Mt. Everest, you can never completely get away from work when you are home. Nor can you completely get away from home when at work. With the pandemic, how many of us have had a “staycation?” Fun right? Same routine you have when you are going to work. On your “staycation” did you think, this is no different than my routine when I’m headed to work? Maybe you got in a nap in between thinking about work. But really, where’s the balance? So my advice to you is to shift your focus to the priority at hand. Don’t worry about balancing your work/life situation. Your own decisions on what’s important to you at that time will dictate your “balance.” Be well.
My theory is that if you are conscientious at work and at home, there is really no way to separate the two. In other words, you will have to make choices. Do you attend your child’s swim meet (pick an event), or do you get that report out because it’s due tomorrow? There is no balance! The report is due; your child will have to swim on their own. In our legal world, I suggest to you that deadlines rule, and your home life takes a back seat. Again, if the Statute of Limitations is running, you better get that lawsuit filed; your personal life is on the back burner. Where is the balance in that? Do you take your laptop with you while on a family vacation, so you can “check in” at work? Where’s the balance in that?