One of the concepts that I see used frequently in the literature surrounding entrepreneurship, leadership and living authentically is a need for work-life balance. This is totally understandable both in a practical and theoretical sense.
From a theoretical perspective, a life that is unbalanced might give deep fulfilment in one area while leading to a huge deficit in another. What good is it to be wealthier than King Midas, but have no physical health or have a terrible family life. Practically speaking, a life that is out of balance will quickly spiral further out of balance in more than one area. Even as a motivational speaker in Sydney, I still find it hard to balance my life—especially when it is mixed in with other things that demand attention. It is rare to meet someone with the ability to compartmentalise sufficiently enough to not let deficits in one arena affect them in another. As such, we need to make sure that we strike a balance that effectively allows us to keep ourselves from dedicating too much to one area and, ultimately, neglecting others.
In order to do this, I have created a 3 step methodology that I try to implement whenever I feel like my life is starting to fall out of balance. It isn’t always perfect, but it has worked for me and helped to get me back in line with my core values and vision.
Clarify right now whether your focus needs to be on work or on your personal life
In a perfect world, we would be able to balance our work life and our personal life with close to no difficulty. Usually, we can, and the labour market has more recently begun to appreciate and understand the need for people to recharge and reset in their downtime rather than always being on the clock.
However, from time to time, a crisis will emerge that requires us to focus our attention on one of those two areas. In my line of work, when I have to prepare for a trial, a process that can take anywhere from a day to several months, and then appear at that trial, my entire attention and energy will need to be put into that task. This is because my clients deserve to have my full and undivided attention if their case is on the line.
Other times, personal crises will require my attention. For example, there was a time when one of my family members became very ill and I needed to drop work in order to take care of them and step up my support at home.
Usually, with support and solid structure, you can survive the impact of a single serious crisis. However, the challenge becomes more complex when you have two simultaneous crises. In those circumstances, it can become very stressful and you may easily become unravelled from your work-life balance.
I have learned a lot as a motivational speaker in Sydney and these are some of the things I personally do when circumstances become complicated. Before putting together an action plan, the first step you need is to ask this simple question:
“Where do I need to focus my energy on more at the moment?”
This is a process that is open to interpretation and can be conducted in many different forms, including by making lists, writing down pros and cons, or drilling down on the problem. Sometimes a different perspective can help, so alternative ways to ask that question may be:
- “Attending to which crisis will give me the most peace of mind at the moment?
- “What problem is going to lead to the most challenges if I don’t address it first?”
- “Where is my intuition telling me to put my time and energy?”
These questions will help open up a dialogue with yourself and allow you to negotiate a compromise that makes sense to you. Once you have decided, it’s time to tackle that crisis.
Understand the need for synergy
Both your work and your personal life are important and they exist in a symbiotic cycle. When there is harmony in your personal life, you will generally be more productive and effective at work. Similarly, when work is going well, there will be greater energy and resources for your personal life.
Work-life balance is therefore not so much a goal to strive for, but actually a means for achieving itself. By that I mean, by actively putting in the energy to get a work-life balance you are far more likely to have the resources necessary to create a more balanced and meaningful existence.
This manifests itself in a few ways, which we will examine through some made-up archetypes who go by the name of No Rest Rita and Does Nothing Nathan.
No Rest Rita, as her name would suggest, is someone who works to excess and doesn’t provide herself with sufficient time for rest and relaxation. She understands that those things are good for her, but she doesn’t know how to make the time for them and thinks that if she takes her eye off the ball for even a second, it will result in all of the success she has gained so far going up in smoke.
Does Nothing Nathan takes a very different approach to life and has a somewhat lazy and unfocused path through existence. He does some minimal work to subsidise his existence, but generally will not do anything more than the bare minimum and instead prefers to focus as much time as possible on himself.
As a lawyer and a motivational speaker in Sydney, I have always resonated much closer with Rita and, embarrassingly, even for a portion of my existence would probably have looked down with disdain at Nathan. As I grow older, I start to see that when one looks at the long term consequences of choices, Rita is just as likely to end up unhappy as Nathan is.
The reality is that at some stage, unless something happens, one of two outcomes will happen for Rita. Rita will either burn out/snap and be unable to continue at the pace she was at, losing the ground she has gained and falling further behind. Another possible outcome is that she continues, but never gains the benefits that come from rest and relaxation. Only by taking time out of the day-to-day hustle can we start to see strategies and ideas that will enable us to reach levels beyond the ones we are at.
For Nathan, the worst-case scenario is that he never starts to put the effort in that needs to be given and he fails to live up to his full potential. An unwillingness to put in work in your career may limit his resources and his ability to do the things that make him happy.
Both of these situations are exaggerations for the purpose of effect, but they make the point that we need both sides of our lives to be in balance. Many of the highest performing individuals in the world take regular time for relaxation and meditation along with a plethora of activities designed to keep them in good mental and physical shape. These people are tasked with activities that would far outstrip the responsibilities that we hold and yet they take the time for themselves because they must see the benefit.
You will never get the balance fully right (and that is okay!)
One of the best lessons I ever learned in the business, as a lawyer and as a motivational speaker in Sydney, was that close enough can be good enough. Many people will fail to get the balance right and will often feel bad or guilty for doing so. This guilt serves no purpose except to make you feel bad about trying to do a near-impossible task.
Modern life has caused an ever-increasing erosion between the lines of work and of our personal life. The availability of email and 24/7 phone access means that clients, co-workers and other people can get access to us even when we should be entitled to rest and relaxation. For many people, this is the price we pay for convenience.
Setting firm boundaries, creating technology-free times and practising mindfulness techniques like being present in the moment when you are with other people will help keep that balance right.
The most important thing to remember is that work-life balance—like all things—is a journey and not a destination, and as best described by the immortal words of the wonderful Dr. Seuss:
“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act’
Till next time