I recently conducted a survey of people in manager positions or above, asking about the challenges they were currently facing in their role.  The resounding response (c. 60%) was work-life balance. In addition, 52% of the sample also said that they struggle with getting everything done. It seems to me that it’s the one thing common to everyone these days. We are all striving and looking for a better work-life balance and this ‘nirvana’ is becoming ever more elusive especially in an increasingly ‘always on’ culture. Technology is making the lines separating work and home ever more blurry. The challenge is becoming more about “ratcheting back the always-on connectivity to, or intensity of, that work during “off” hours, based on where you are in your life or career” according to Gretchen Alarcon from Oracle (see article).

“c.60% of managers said that work-life balance was their biggest challenge”

The thing that strikes me is that we seem to effortlessly call out the fact that we don’t have a good work-life balance. Articulating what we actually want this longed-for balance to look like seems to be somewhat harder. If it is so important then surely we must be able to describe it. When I probe into this with clients I find that they are very quick to claim ‘work-life balance’ as their biggest challenge.  There also seems to be a quiet acceptance that there is nothing that can be done about it.  My clients also cite this as a core reason for demotivation at work. Much of my work focusses on helping others get clarity on what they want for themselves. For anyone with a work-life balance challenge, my first suggestion would be to get very crisp and specific on what work-life balance looks like for you.

Work-Life Balance can mean taking radical action

It took me a long time to realise that, for me, this meant so much more than making some small tweaks here and there. It literally meant taking radical action in the form of walking away from a job I’d laboured over for 16 years and setting up my own business. I realised that this was what I needed to do in order to have the life and balance that worked for me. It meant being my own boss, making decisions that were right for me and having the freedom to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Most importantly it meant focussing on my purpose and what lights me up i.e. shining a light on the magic in others and enabling them to make their dreams a reality. What opened up was the reality that work-life balance wasn’t the heart of the issue, it was just a symptom. It actually had more to do with being able to do work that I love to do every day. When you do that, the balance just seems to take care of itself.

Some of you reading this will know that I recently embarked on the Couch to 5K challenge. I have amazed myself that I’m now able to prioritise 3 runs a week. (I actually can’t believe I’ve just written that but it’s true.) This is now a priority for me because it’s something I want to do for myself and I make my business fit around that.

What is your version of Work-Life Balance?

I guess where I’m going with this is that more time needs to be spent on articulating what would make us truly happy. We all need to think bigger and bolder. We need to determine what radical act we would take if we knew we couldn’t fail. And to be really clear about how our lives would be different if we had the the work-life balance we crave. What would that look like for you? What is it specifically that you want for yourself and what does a good work-life balance actually look like? How important on a scale of 1 to 10 is achieving this balance? What are you prepared to take action on in order to make this vision a reality?

When I sat with the question ‘what do I want’ I realised that it wasn’t work life balance that was the issue. The key thing for me was that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. The demotivated feelings and frustration were rooted in the fact that my time was being governed by someone else.  This wasn’t giving me the freedom and fun that I longed for.

Starting my own business has meant that I now possibly work longer hours than I did before, the difference being that I choose when, where and how I work, in addition to who I work with. I’m in charge so to speak and that’s something that I was longing for in my life.

I also know that when I’ve had lots of things going on in my personal life, like when I was planning our wedding or when I was training for the Moon Walk, I found the time I needed for all the planning, preparation and in the case of the Moon Walk the lengthy training plan. I managed to do all of that whilst still doing my job that I thought gave me no work-life balance.
Everyone is different and what works for me in terms of work-life balance may not work for you. The critical part is figuring out what does work for you. What is the life and balance that you dream of?

If you don’t have clarity about what you want, how can you create it for yourself?

Having a crystal clear vision of what work-life balance would look like to you will help you to understand what is important to you.  This, in turn, will allow you to make better and more informed decisions about how you spend your time.

Working through the following exercise may help you begin to define that for yourself:

Imagine a time and place at some point in the future, say 10 years from now. Imagine that you have the perfect work-life balance.  You are entirely happy with the balance in your life. As you continue to imagine this life for yourself start to describe the things that you see around you. Where are you? Who is there? What are you doing? How do you feel? What do your surroundings look like? How are you spending your time? What makes this a perfect scenario for you?

Take time immediately afterward to write down and describe your vision in as much detail as possible.

Review and reflect on what you have written down. I recommend doing this over a period of days rather than hours. What comes up for you? What strikes you? How does this inform you?

It’s been said many times that you can’t expect things to change if you don’t do anything differently. What are you prepared to take action on in service of the work-life balance you deserve?

Work-Life balance is there for the taking – you just have to know what it looks like.

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Photo via int2k via Visualhunt / CC BY

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