Work-life balance. What a strange phrase. As if “work” is something that is distinct and separate from “life”, that the two are mutually exclusive, that there is a need to allocate critical resources (like time) between “work” and “life”, and that some sort of trade-off between the two must take place. One day someone will explain to me how and why the phrase originated.
But in the meantime.
One thing is clear:
If you treat work and life as mutually exclusive things, then you should not be surprised to have a work-life balance problem
Me, I like to think I’m on holiday all the time. And, as a result:
- While I’m on holiday, there are a number of things I have to get done. And it is important that I get them done as efficiently as I can, so that I can enjoy “the rest of my holiday”.
- While I’m on holiday, there are a number of things that happen, things that I have to respond to. And it is important that I respond to them effectively, knowing how to prioritise them when they compete for attention, how to manage conflict between them. As long as I have a clear view of my priorities, I can enjoy “the rest of my holiday”.
- While I’m on holiday, there are a number of things I think about, things that I discuss with the people I’m on holiday with. It is important that I have these discussions, because something very important depends on the outcome of the discussions. How to stay on holiday. As long as I have an answer to that question, I can enjoy “the rest of my holiday”.
Being on holiday is not a physical thing. It’s about where your head is at.
You can be doing your best to imitate a rotisserie chicken while on the beach somewhere, but if your head is in the office then that’s where you really are. if you’re on the slopes and all you can think about is how to solve the noises that emanate from your home heating system, then that’s where you really are.
You can be doing your best to imitate a “suit” while in the office somewhere, but if your head is in bed then that’s where you really are.
Being on holiday is a state of mind.
And the opposite of “being on holiday” is “not being on holiday”. Which is not to be confused with “being at work” and “being at home”.
if the only time you’re away from stress is when you’re on holiday, then maybe you should act as if you’re on holiday all the time. You will make better decisions that way. And if the only time you’re able to function properly is when you’re at work, then maybe you should act as if you’re at work all the time. Horses for courses.
Here’s one way to look at things: I have my personal life, and I have my professional life. They are not mutually exclusive, they overlap all over the place. People you know professionally can and do become your friends. People you know personally can and do become your colleagues. This is not wrong. It’s normal.
If I am at work, and I get a call from my daughter saying she’s at Waterloo Station, all shaken up, the victim of a mugging, then I drop everything and go to her. Because that takes priority over whatever else I am doing at the time.
In the same way, if I am at home, and I get a call from a colleague saying there’s been a major problem with a project and it’s all hands to the pump for the weekend, I drop everything and go in. Because that takes priority over whatever else I am doing at the time.
It’s a question of priorities.
Sometimes it’s not that simple. If my daughter calls me from Waterloo and I am in San Francisco at the time, then I can only “drop thing” virtually and vicariously. I have to respond to the stimulus according to the known constraints. I’m not going to get on the first plane back willy-nilly, I’m going to ensure that someone I can trust goes and meets my daughter, and remains responsible for her until she’s safely at home.
And if I’m in Jamaica with the family when the project call comes in, I’m not going to get on the first plane willy-nilly either. I’m going to find something that works within the known constraints.
So it’s a question of priorities, but clearly in the context of known constraints, both temporary as well as permanent. There is no point getting hassled about things you have zero ability to influence. It’s like getting upset because it’s raining. Or not raining.
I think “life balance” (as opposed to work-life balance) comes down to three things:
1. Be the same person at home and at work.
2. Have a clear view of your priorities: one list of priorities, including items from all parts of your life, principally made up of your family and work commitments, but explicitly including your values and beliefs, your community, your own dreams and aspirations.
3. Be consistent and transparent to others about how you prioritise in the event of contention or conflict.
That’s what I try. I don’t always succeed, but that doesn’t mean I stop trying.