The work-life balance dream seems to recede farther into the distance as we pursue it. At least, this is what a lot of working people say. Many have lamented their failed attempts to divorce career from family, friends and leisure (or to marry them). Not a few have given up on the whole project, resigning to the fate of perpetually swinging and swerving about the extremes of toil and leisure without the slightest semblance of proper boundaries.
Could the problem actually be that the concept of a work-life balance isn’t rightly understood? We know that it’s about keeping work from eating up our private lives. We don’t want our jobs to alienate us from our friends and family, and we would be reasonable to prevent our familial relationships from disturbing our workplace productivity. But work-life balance isn’t about dividing hours equally between ‘work’ and ‘life’. The point of this concept is simply that we need to not let one encroach into (and disrupt) the other. The actual measures and time limits we set will depend on the peculiarities of our individual situations.
In spite of this clarification, there’s still a loud chorus of voices attempting to shout down the work-life balance idea. This school of thought insists that finding such a balance is only a question for people who aren’t in the jobs they love. The refrain from this camp is this: if your job or business is your passion, you won’t need a work-life balance. Your work will be your life- or at least a part of it. The very suggestion that work is something apart from life is itself erroneous, and indicative of a dislike for the job. Anti work-life balance campaigners proclaim that it’s this dislike that has to be overcome. Maybe you’re in the wrong job, or your attitude sucks. The solution? Get yourself together, or find a career that you won’t detest so much as to want time away from it.
There’s one problem with this though. Even people who are obviously madly in love with what they do appear to need the boundaries just as much as anyone else. Some of them don’t realize this early enough. They go hard on their passion, regularly work from sunrise to midnight (even into the next day), and think that the adrenalin rush generated by the race for deadlines is a substitute for letting their hair down. Then they burn out. Granted, work is part of life and an important one at that. But if it disrupts every other aspect, it could make a mess of a life- including work.
Why there’s an increasing desire for work-life balance
Two things have happened to make the thirst for balance much greater than it’s ever been.
First, there’s been a change in the desires of men and women. A great number of women are no longer fine with being housewives. They want a career. The idea of the financially independent woman has been lapped up quite enthusiastically. But the traditional roles women have had still remain; most of them struggle to find the balance between work and home-life. On the other hand, men are discovering that work isn’t what defines them; women are working too. So they need to find time to engage with the other things that make life worth living (like their wives, children and friends). But they’re torn between this need and the typical masculine role of being provider-in-chief. This means they still have to work hard. They can’t find the balance.
Another factor is technology. Telecommunication and the internet have erased the distance between work and other locations and groups in which life is lived. Company staff can (and have to) work on the go, receive emails and phone calls from their bosses,
colleagues and clients. “I’m not at work” is not an excuse that suffices any longer. Much good has resulted from this; work is easier, and productivity is greater. But it has also blurred the lines between work and other parts of life. Again, even those who love their jobs to bits aren’t always happy about this.
Tips for finding the right balance
Here are a few things you could do to keep yourself from being pulled toward the extremes of this issue.
- Strive for cumulative improvements, not perfection
Perfection is an ultimate ideal, not a temporal virtue. Stick to improving your skills, so you’ll be able to get more done in a shorter space of time. If you achieve this, you’ll have more time to spend on other things.
Do what’s important and most urgent first. You’ll have less pressure mounting on yourself if you do this. It’s what working smart entails.
- Have a wholistic future target
Yes, you’re working to have a better future. But you can’t lose your health and valuable relationships for this reason. If you keep this at the back of your mind, you’ll be more careful about organizing your daily routine.
- Free yourself from the devices
Set a time limit for attending to emails and texts. When you’re home or with friends, you might want to make it a rule to avoid work-related messages, unless you know they are urgent. Learn to say no until your colleagues know that it’s your personal policy to not get into work issues beyond the limits you set.
Perhaps the best advice on achieving work-life balance is to aim for achievement and enjoyment on a daily basis. Get things done, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself in and outside work.
Feature image credit: aexonic.com
Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.