What is Work-Life Balance?

The phrase work-life balance suggests you can balance work and life. Everything can be in equilibrium. Time with family versus money in the bank can be in perfect harmony.

Notice on the scales below; time is on one side and money on the other. So time with family balances out with money made from work as long as they are on opposite scales. This particular model demonstrates that they can never overlap, they must always be separate.

Time vs Money Scales Work-Life Balance is a Myth

  • I wish I could have better work-life balance!
  • I wish I didn’t have to work so much!
  • If only there were more hours in the day!
  • Why can’t I manage my time better?
  • How can I improve my work-life balance?

Work-Life Balance is a Myth

Sound familiar? The exclamations and questions above assume we could actually manage time and balance work with life. I wrote recently about the Time Management Myth (yes, that’s a myth too!) and explained that we cannot manage time; we can only manage what we do with the time that is available to us.

Firstly, the perception of an employee’s work-life balance is different to the perception of an entrepreneur’s work-life balance.

An employee goes to work, does their work and comes home after work. The perceived imbalance comes from either working too much at the workplace or being forever contactable outside of work; thereby upsetting the scale of 2:1 (16 hours personal time, 8 hours work time).

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So they try to work less or look for more money – not exactly putting things back in balance, is it?

An Entrepreneur’s life is rarely in balance anyway, so we’ll work from that premise. Traditionally, more time was spent on the business than anywhere else, creating more of an 8:1 ratio in favour of work. Entrepreneurs will often forgo personal time, meal times and sleep time in order to have some kind of family time.

Making Good Decisions

Back to our myth: Work-Life Balance.

As an entrepreneur, did you set out to work 18 hours a day? Every day? Every week? Or did you decide that’s what is required to get the business up and running? How is that going for you?

Making good decisions about your day, week or month is key to ensuring you’re on track with your goals. To make good decisions, you must plan for your whole day (or week). This means that you need to plan for every waking hour (unless you plan to do some lucid dreaming). These waking hours include work and life. For example, you may need to take a child to the dentist or a football game after school. You might have to schedule a work Skype call for 9 pm some evening to accommodate a client in a different time zone.

Now our work and life are intermingling and our scales above are redundant!

It’s 2016, not 1956!

Before the American civil war, most people worked on farms or were self-employed. The lines between work and life were blurred, even back then. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people began to work away from the home/farm. They became industrial workers. By the 1800s the average manufacturing workweek was nearly 70 hours a week! It took a Great Depression and 2 World Wars to reduce the workweek. Source: Douglas (1930), Jones (1963), Licht (1983).

In the 1950s when more and more people worked in offices, we began to separate work from family or home life. There were other factors such as the husband being the main breadwinner and the wife managing the home. However, during these years, work and the rest of “life” became mutually exclusive.

The husband had a pretty balanced life as he concerned himself with working, staying in his job and providing money for his family. This improved the quality of life for the family. When at home, everything had been done around the house. His slippers, pipe and dinner were ready and waiting.

The wife also was well balanced. Her work was in the home, integrated with her personal life and dedication to her husband. The core difference here is between balance and integration.

Then women went out to work.

Half of all women in America were working by the mid-1950s.

women chatting from 1950s

Fast forward 60 years and the role of the family, work and the provider has completely evolved. This created new challenges and threw the perceived work-life balance out the window.

The only thing that has drastically changed between 1880 and 1995 in a worker’s day is the hours they actually work; dropping from 8.5 to 4.7 hours (average day over the course of a year). Source: Fogel (2000). Since the 1970s, working hours dropped faster in Western Europe than the US. While the US working hours dropped 10.7%, Western Europe dropped by 21.8%.

After spending 150 years reducing our working hours, work then became harder, longer and more stressful before it became smarter. 8-hour shifts shifted into overtime and promotion. This added responsibility and stress to the role. People began to seek out a better balance in their lives, trying to lessen the control work had over life.

But now we have less work to do, we make more money and have more holidays and flexibility. Is the rise in happiness comparable to the rise in freedom? I certainly don’t feel it is. We seem to think happiness comes from things or people (external factors). I know that happiness comes from within and is a state of mind, not something that happens to us.

In today’s world with the growth of entrepreneurship and independent thinking, attitude towards work has evolved. Now with the addition of increased availability, access to IM and constant contact, we seem to have lost the connection between all the things we do during our day, not just work and life. We also seem to have lost the ability to single out the important aspects of our lives.

I appreciate work-life balance is just a term, just words. However, anyone in coaching, sales or indeed any profession, will understand the impact of words on our psyche. Work-life balance suggests we have to keep it in balance, which suggests that they can become unbalanced.

Work-Life Integration

Rather than constantly looking for balance, I challenge you to seek work-life integration. As a business owner, you can appreciate how often the two intermingle and get mashed up. When planning your week, you must plan for both! You cannot ignore a child’s dental appointment just because it is set for 3 pm. You don’t want to refuse a Skype call with a client in a time zone 8 hours behind because it’s “life” time!

Here’s how it works

You plan your day, week or month ahead.

  • First, add the most important tasks you need to get done, whether they are work related, family related, health related, etc.
  • You then add the next important tasks to your planner.
  • You continue in this manner until you have your time planned out exactly as you would like to spend it.
  • This helps you achieve your goals.
  • So where is the separation now? Where is the balance now?

You have successfully integrated your working day with the rest of your day!

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Work-Life Integration is key to successful goal setting

It’s what gets stuff done and makes us happy bunnies at the end of a hard day integrating work and life.

Do you have a system or hack to integrate your day that provides that feeling of being well-balanced?

Share in the comments below.

If you haven’t already, check out the blog mentioned above Time Management is a Myth!

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