I recently attended a work-life balance workshop at my office. Ironically, it meant me staying at work longer than usual and forced me to be late for my friend, Page’s, birthday get-together.
The workshop was well run and generated a lot of good discussion and ideas about how to find that elusive “balance” in life. But it also got me thinking more about the strategies we are often taught to employ to achieve greater balance in life, and how they tend to be Band-Aid solutions that fail to address the root causes of imbalance.
Unsettled, I turned to my giant chalkboard wall in my home office and employed a tried and true technique that always helps me sort through problems: when in doubt, doodle.
The resulting scrawling, erasing, scrawling, erasing eventually led to a visual representation of how I look at approaches to work-life balance. I call it the “Box Paradox”… or maybe the “Parabox”… I haven’t decided yet. Here’s what it looks like:
And here’s the challenge/problem: How do you fit these seven people into this box?
There are two options:
a) Squeeze them in
b) Make numbers 5, 6 and 7 lose some weight so they fit better
The box in this picture represents our personal capacity with its dimensions defined as time x money x energy. There are only 24 hours in the day, only so many dollars in the bank and only so many calories we can burn before collapsing.
The people in this picture represent the priorities in our lives. In this example, I’ve chosen:
- family & friends
- health (diet, exercise, sleep, etc)
- community (civic responsibility, environmental stewardship, etc)
- personal development (hobbies, reading, reflection, etc)
- stuff (material comforts, luxuries, etc)
- schedule (our “busy-ness” of social activities, committees, responsibilities, etc)
Numbers 5, 6 and 7 in this list are the big people in the picture because they are typically the ones that occupy the most of our “space” (time, money and energy); spending too many hours at the office, too much money on stuff and too much energy on an overstuffed calendar.
So back to the question. How do you fit all seven of these people into the limited space of the box?
I find that the most common response, including what I took away from the work-life balance workshop and what I often encourage in this blog, is Option A, squeeze them in.
We stuff the big boys into the box first and then attempt to squeeze the others around them as hard as we can. This manifests itself with advice like:
“Don’t have enough time to get a regular workout? Take the stairs at work or park on the far side of the lot to get more exercise.”
And, “Too much to do to go out for coffee with a friend? Multitask and invite them along when you need to go grocery shopping or to the Laundromat anyway.”
And, “Not enough money to go on vacation? Check out the local museums and events going on in your neighbourhood.”
All good advice in my opinion, but I think we too often consider A as the only Option.
It’s Option B, I think, that offers the best shot at real and lasting balance. Rather than focus on the box, focus on the contents, and trim the big pieces (numbers 5, 6, and 7) down so they all fit better.
Exploring options that allow you to work fewer hours, telecommute, etc will help you fit things like friends and family and time for yourself more comfortably.
Changing your attitude away from material definitions of success and fulfillment (big house, fancy car, nice clothes, expensive gadgets) will allow you to save more money and perhaps in turn allow you to pursue a job that pays less but you enjoy more, and to spend more money on taking that dream vacation you always wanted.
Learning to say no and purging your calendar will help you trim down your schedule and allow you to slow down once in a while and give the space you need for personal growth and development.
To sum up: balance is about fitting everything in the box comfortably. And simple living is a tool that will allow you to trim down some of those overweight bits to make it easier to get everything into the time, money and energy available to you. Finding squeeze techniques out of Option A is not a bad thing. But don’t forget to look at Option B as well to help you determine the root causes of your imbalance.
Funny stories. Good advice. Josh Martin is the author of the book “Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in balance from life’s absurd moments.” Click here to learn more and to purchase a copy.