The term work-life balance has never seemed quite right to me. I am not alone in disliking the term, though whereas others have trouble with the word balance, I have trouble with the duality implied by the term work-life.
First, it does not strike me as beneficial to think of one’s paid work as separate from the rest of one’s life. Attempting to disassociate myself from my professional life certainly never did me much good, for example; it only ended up reinforcing whatever unhappiness I was feeling about my job. Second, though one might think of one’s job as one thing (which, by the way, as a freelancer working at several gigs at once, I don’t), it’s pretty hard to think of the rest of one’s life as just one thing. What does my life outside of my paid work include? There’s my family, friends, writing, Zen practice, running … and, of course, plenty of (unpaid) work that needs doing. Everyone else’s lives, I’m sure, are similarly variegated. Thus work-life balance is such a misleading term. So much more than just two things need to be balanced!
At the end of August, I challenged myself to publish a post every weekday in September. As you might have noticed, I did not meet this challenge. After two weeks, it became clear that one post every weekday is just too much for me right now.
This experience of too much pointed me toward a term I like much better than work-life balance. What am I seeking? Maybe not work-life balance so much as the right amount. The right amount of paid work. The right amount of family time. The right amount of writing time. And so on …
Three Ways to Find the Right Amount
Although I have not quite found the right amount of much of anything, I do believe I am making my way there. And on my way, I have gained some wisdom about the search.
- Prioritize needs — both your family’s and your own. And, as a corollary, understand that your needs include more than just food, clothing, shelter, sleep, and so on. For example, I need to write — every day. No one likes being with the anxious beast I become when I am not writing regularly.
- Develop a routine — daily, weekly, or both — that’s designed to help you meet your and your family’s needs. The less I have to think about what’s for dinner tonight or when I’m going to write the next draft of a poem, the better. Also, given a routine, I know how much time I have to give to the various parts of my life, and I can easily make adjustments, if necessary.
- Allow yourself to experiment. I never regarded my post-every-weekday challenge as a commitment so much as an experiment. This way of thinking about it allowed me to shift gears when it became clear that posting every weekday wasn’t working for me.
What tips would you add to this list?