Work/Life Balance vs. Work/Life Harmony
There is a huge difference between work/life balance and work/life harmony. Understanding the difference will shift your mindset, release the pressure, and put the control back into your hands.
I hear it literally everywhere I go – from my friends, relatives, former coworkers, and past and current clients. It’s the relentless dissatisfaction with how work has a vice grip on them. How they can’t get done everything they need to get done. How they are constantly rushed from one thing to the next in their personal life because the squeeze on their free time is so tight. I never have a free moment to myself, some say. I want more time with my kids; I hear others say. And then others who have been pushed so hard by their organizations and feel so utterly out of control spew much harsher comments that I won’t repeat here for our readers, but I know you know what I’m talking about. A plethora of four-letter words all relegated in their employer’s or bosses’ direction – stemming from their stress, exhaustion, burnout, and frustration.
Turning things around is doable, but maybe some of the toughest stuff to do because it really boils down to reclaiming your power and control over a situation that you may feel you have very little power over. Reframing your mindset is the first step and one that is a prerequisite to creating the life you want. You’d never tell your child that he or she must be a slave to someone, so why would you apply that same thinking to yourself? We are going to focus on a couple of things here. First is how we frame up and get our minds wrapped around the juxtaposition our work and life have with each other – we are going to explore and pick-apart the phrasing. Once we get into the phrasing, we will layout the considerations and ideas you can start acting on to make real change.
Ditch the idea of having a work/life balance
The whole phrase of work/life balance implies the two sides are even, or that there is some split of 50/50 to be achieved between work and personal time.
Let’s just run the easy math. Assuming we sleep for 8 hours a night and the average full-time worker’s workday is 8 hours, that implies that we have 8 hours (or half of those hours we are awake) left to devote to our personal lives, right? Okay, stop laughing and rolling your eyes. The reality is that often we work way more than 8 hours, we might have a commute, we spend time caring for our own food and hygiene needs or that of our families and kids, we have other personal appointments, we help with homework, we might also be overseeing e-learning if we have school-aged kids, we have chores, and the list goes on. There is no stinking balance. It is hardly ever possible, and the whole notion of balance then becomes a setup for feelings of failure, guilt, and resentment. Having balance implies being precise. Ever try to balance a checkbook? Ever see a gymnast perform a routine on the balance beam? Accuracy and precision are requirements for both to make sure we don’t overspend or fall and break our necks. That accuracy and precision cause stress.
Refocus on the idea of having work/life harmony
So, isn’t it just semantics? No way. The difference is really very important because it’s in understanding those words that help create the mindset that we need to start seeing this very differently and as more of a possibility than ever before. Work/life harmony is about the integration of work and life into each other. Look up the definition of harmony, and you will find descriptors such as ‘interweaving,’ ‘internal calm,’ ‘agreement,’ ‘accord,’ ‘pleasing arrangement,’ and ‘simultaneous.’ This is a gentler approach that allows us to break from the perfectionistic manner we can tend to find ourselves stuck in. Does that mean that we now must become master multi-taskers? No way. That’s stressful, and we are not looking to sign ourselves up for more of that. It does do for us to open the door to more freedom and ‘permission’ to put boundaries around our time, set clearer expectations, and draw a new line in the sand (sometimes several times a week) to manage and handle our time better. When we talk about harmony, nothing is implied relative to how much time we devote to either work or life. By that small change in semantics, our mindset changes, and you can feel the tiniest bit of pressure release – and it only grows from there as you put control directly into your hands.
Calibrating your work and life for more harmony
- Do a mind dump. Get the thoughts and to-do lists that paralyze your action out of your head. Carve out time at the beginning or end of each week and dump all the things in your head onto paper. Do this for work and your personal life. You can prioritize from there.
- Put up a boundary or two as a start. What are the couple of things that you really wish you had more time for, the ones that always weigh on your mind? How can you put up a boundary around your time to give you space to do that thing? Learning how to say no to one thing to say yes to another can be challenging because we care too much about others’ thoughts. Don’t convince yourself that someone will think less of you if you want some time for something important to you before you even try.
- Start using your voice. It’s okay to have a voice and ask your employer for more time on a project or another set of hands to help. If the idea of this scares you off, then you continue taking it all on like a superwoman (spoiler alert – you’re not, no one is), and who suffers then? You.
- Be hella focused on work. Do your job and do it fantastically. Apply laser focus when it’s time to work so that you can get a lot done and quickly, giving yourself even more time for your life. It’s crazy how much time we can waste if we aren’t focused. Schedule fewer or shorter meetings. It’s surprising how much you can get done in a focused 30 minutes vs. a drawn-out 60 minutes. Block off your time on your calendar for thinking time and project planning time, even if it’s just 30-60 minutes a week.
- Give yourself more grace and ask for it more often. Don’t let a super hectic day at work where you barely saw your spouse and missed the kids most of the day impact how you feel about yourself. Asking for understanding now and then from your boss, spouse, or kids is normal, and you’ll likely get it.
- The sun always rises. The beauty of work/life harmony is that each day can and likely will look different. So, if you had a super hectic workday one day where you had little time with family, the next day, it might flip.
- Explore your beliefs and which no longer serve you. For instance, if you had a long-held belief that being a good employee meant doing whatever the company or boss asked you to do, stop and ask yourself how that’s working out for you. Maybe it’s time to change some beliefs if they no longer serve you. Maybe you’ll start to believe that being a good employee is someone who is candid with their opinion, asks for help, lets their needs be known, and does a kick-ass job.
- If you hate your work, you will not have harmony in the way you desire. You will dread any time you spend working – so if this is the case, it might be time to rethink how to fall back in love (or at least strong like) with your current job or explore other options. Trust me; it helps immensely if you like what you do and who you do it for.
- Minimums versus maximums. Do you have to get the whole house cleaned tonight? What about just cleaning a bathroom or vacuuming one room. Do you have to get the whole presentation completed right now? How about this hour focus on creating a template of your slides with all the points you want to make? Small bites keep things simpler, more doable, and gives you wins to build upon. And you’ll likely still get a bunch done but without the same level of overwhelming.
The name’s the game
The objective is that you don’t have to be perfect and devote equal parts of time to work and life. Rather, the objective here is to control what you can to ease the pressure, create more realistic expectations, and some more happiness. Harmony is in the name of my coaching practice purposefully because when I was really struggling with work and life, I just kept saying to myself I wanted to find a way to have more harmony AND success. I had to redefine what success looked like for me to get the harmony I really was longing for. You can too!