For years, I would hear people talk about the importance of having a “work-life balance,” yet I wondered just how do I achieve this?
For some, the word ‘balance’ is juggling a 70-hour workload and finding that hint of “me-time,” to step away from the screen and squeeze in a workout. For others, ‘balance’ is taking a trip overseas every six months to recharge and start again.
For a CEO, ‘balance’ is having the right second-in-command to keep the business operating smoothly. For an entrepreneur, a freelancer, or a start-up business owner caught in a fast-paced hustle, perhaps ‘balance’ at this point, is an idealistic concept to keep chasing.
For a single parent working full-time, ‘balance’ could be as simple as having the workplace flexibility to start at 10am, so that they’re able to drop their child off at school. Alternatively, this could also mean finishing earlier and having the time allowance to spend time with their kids before putting them to sleep each night.
And for the rest, let’s cut to the chase – you’re probably thinking “I find it impossible to live a balanced life,” and let me tell you, from our countless conversations with individuals from all walks of life, from CEOs and startup founders, to freelance journalists and musicians, we can confidently say that you’re definitely not alone.
So, What Does the Word ‘Balance’ Mean?
If circus-themed visuals of a tightrope walker or a master juggler comes to mind, this would be for good reason.
First, let’s take a look at the definition of the word ‘balance’. In technical terms, ‘balance’ is something an individual loses where a uniform distribution of weight is not present, which causes them to fall. Balance is what allows a person or an item to maintain an upright and stable position.
Now, if we look at ‘work-life balance,’ the definition of the term significantly varies based on perspective. When researching work-life balance quotes and articles, there is one quote in particular, which evokes the very circus-themed visuals we alluded to earlier.
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.” – Brian Dyson, Former Vice Chairman and COO, Coca-Cola
Now, if we were to compare a balanced lifestyle to that of a circus, say ‘Cirque du Soleil’ for example, the grand illusion is all the same; performing even the hardest of tricks is made to look easy, it’s effortless.
We all know one person, either a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend, whose Instagram account is one luxurious post-after-post of their grand adventures sailing through Europe, taking selfies with the latest iPhone, and modelling designer accessories, yet here we are, sometimes thinking to ourselves – “why doesn’t my life look like (or even somewhat near) that”?
Well, we need to ask ourselves, is this really the truth, or are we again, under one big illusion? This brings us to:
Does the “Perfect” Work-Life Balance Exist?
That comes down to YOU, and only you. Each individual you meet will have a different story to tell, a unique upbringing, varying early childhood influences, socioeconomic factors, and of course, a separate journey.
When determining the “perfect” work-life integration, it’s important to understand that what’s considered the perfect balance for an entrepreneur working three jobs, would be an entirely different perspective to what a CFO balancing work and family for example, might consider the ideal life balance.
In the same way each individual is unique, so is every workplace; and enabling your idea of balance isn’t always a priority for every employer.
En route to achieving a work-life balance, you need to be able to truthfully self-reflect and analyse your journey in order to recreate a better future. Keeping in mind, there are those who can handle a heavy workload with finesse, perhaps a workload capacity groomed from working at a young age or simply putting their career first, while there are others that will experience burnout in that same situation.
These people might much prefer a corporate environment to a fast-paced startup company for example, whereby having work-home balance is a higher priority than spending nights working overtime. This is where it comes down to you. You need to be able to truthfully self-reflect and analyse what your values, priorities, and goals are in the grand scheme of things; not just as a short-term target, but as a lifestyle that you can healthily maintain.
“When I think about work-life balance, I don’t imagine it as a perfect day where I got to spend the exact right amount of time having an impact at work and snuggling with my kids at home. I never achieve that. But over the course of a month, or a quarter, or a year, I try to make time for the people and experiences I value.” – Jane Park, American Professional Golfer
Having said all of that, it’s not about perfection – it’s about perfecting your routine. When walking that tightrope that we call ‘life’, this is why it would be far more realistic to replace the word ‘perfect’ with ‘well,’ as it’s not about having a perfectly-balanced life, it’s about balancing your life well. Part of this, means being able to truthfully self-reflect and analyse as to what’s weighing you down.
Understanding Stress and Imbalance
According to Safe Work Australia, a monumental 91% of workers’ compensation claims each year, are directly linked to work-related stress, which is statistically deemed the number one factor when reporting a mental health condition.
The primary cause pertaining to this 91% is in fact, ‘work pressure’. Time and time again, we make the common mistake of believing that employers have a duty of care to protect our health and wellbeing; the Australian government instead stipulates, that the onus is on the employee to look after themselves. So, what does this mean for you?
It’s time to start prioritising your health. We often regard stress as a negative experience, though stress is in fact, a natural response that the brain first, then the body, activates when you worry, feel overworked, or threatened. However, when we repeatedly activate this stress response, we can indeed, cause a variety of health issues within our bodies.
“The calm and balanced mind is the strong and great mind; the hurried and agitated mind is the weak one.” – Wallace D. Wattles, New Thought Writer
To better understand how stress works, we need to learn the main types of stress: Stress (this is the primary form, also known as the ‘fight-or-flight or freeze’ response), Acute Stress (this is short-lived, and often following a conflict or argument), Episodic Acute Stress (this is a frequent form of stress, often present in those suffering from PTSD, anxiety, or constant worrying), and finally, Chronic Stress (this is the most harmful, often occurs when an individual is losing hope).
When we don’t exercise enough, eat healthy or take clarity breaks to recharge our mind and body, it becomes a lot simpler to experience stress where this imbalance is present. A main reason why work-life balance is harder to achieve for women, is because studies show that women battle stress far more frequently than men. Irrespective of gender, class, or age, every individual needs to invest in personal stress management.
How to Effectively Set Goals and Save Time
If you find yourself feeling like there’s barely enough room to breathe in-between your workload each day, then you may not realise that ineffective goal-setting is one of the leading causes of stress.
As humans, we inherently feel inadequate or unaccomplished when we don’t achieve what we set out to do, but if you’re setting unattainable short-term goals – you’re instantly setting yourself up to feel disappointed.
When setting goals, you need to first ask yourself: Are these short-term goals or long-term goals? If a goal is short-term, then you need to break it down into a weekly list of objectives that you can gradually complete.
If a goal is long-term, then this should comprise a series of short-term goals. On the other hand, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and simply don’t know where to begin but realise you really need work-life balance, then one of the most renowned strategies for this, is to just write it down.
“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” – Pablo Picasso
We’ve spoken to hundreds of successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and founders, and the one thing that all of these individuals will have in common, is exceptional organisational skills. After you’ve established both your short-term and long-term goals, your vision and of course, your values – it’s the perfect time to start kicking goals!
As discussed earlier, to breakdown these goals, you need to set a series of short-term goals with attainable timeframes according to your schedule. If fitting in an hour at the gym everyday is a priority, then stick to it. You need to plan your time according to the lifestyle you want, not the other way around; prioritisation is key, and the vast majority of prosperous individuals, irrespective of their background, will start their day with a to-do list.
A to-do list is not a list of five-year objectives to achieve within eight hours; it’s simply a list of “small wins” that you can tick off for the day. These small wins will not only help you to progressively achieve your bigger goals, but they will also help to keep you grounded; to provide you with a clearer vision, and most importantly, to prevent procrastination and feeling unaccomplished.
Workplace Zen: Inspiring the Utmost Productivity
They say a messy workspace is a messy mind, and this might be an observation you could agree with. It takes a special type of person to feel exceptionally clear-headed when surrounded by overflowing stacks of paperwork, empty pizza boxes and dirty coffee cups. When clearing your workspace each day forms part of your daily routine, we can assure your future self will thank you for it (the next day).
Whether you work from home, within an office building or rent a workspace, it’s essential to set-up a workstation that inspires the utmost productivity. This isn’t to say that having a clean workspace will do that, though designing or altering your space to suit your individual work rhythm – definitely will.
“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” – Douglas Conant, Former CEO, Campbell Soup
Small, medium and large-sized enterprises alike, are fast adapting to a modern workspace: An open office plan, windows, and standing desks. While some workspaces are farther along this adaptation than others, it’s an invaluable opportunity to proactively make adjustments to your workspace as an employee.
If this means that replacing your chair with a yoga ball for example, will help you to do your job better, then it’s worth expressing this to your employer. After all, what kind of employer would prevent an employee from delivering their maximum output possible?
On the other hand, if you work from home or have your own space, you have the complete luxury to redesign not just your workstation, but also your entire environment. By simply adding a few plants, you can help to alleviate stress, while having an open plan is said to encourage communication and collaboration.
In the same way that we strive to attain Zen within ourselves, we can also work toward creating Zen in our workplace; after all, a full-time employee will spend just as much time at work as they do at home. To attain a complete work-life balance, we need to stop having a “do your job and go home mentality,” and instead, practice our values and exercise our passions diligently throughout all aspects of the day. This is when work will truly no longer feel like a job, it’ll become a purpose; the true key to success.
Practicing the Art of “Me-Time”
You are your biggest investment. When you don’t invest enough time or energy into your company, you start to see problems; this is the same scenario for your mind, body and soul.
This is why practicing the art of “me-time” proves one of the greatest investments for benefitting all areas of your life, because how are you supposed to be the best version of yourself for others when you’ve neglected to first look after yourself?
“Until you value yourself, you will not value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.” – M. Scott Peck, Best-Selling Author, The Road Less Traveled
I know it’s a life goal often easier said than done, but it is worth practicing each and every day. Practicing “me-time” isn’t about treating yourself to a luxe new purchase here and there, it’s about making time for the things that bring you joy and contentment.
This could be as simple as reading a book under a tree, going for a walk by the beach or just switching off your devices for an hour and having a coffee in the sun.
You might be thinking, “How do I even find the time?” but it’s not about finding the time – it’s about making it, which is why it’s okay to say “No” to a meeting or a personal commitment; it’s okay to put yourself first if it means you’re on your way to becoming a healthier, happier and better person.
Creating Your Own Definition of Work-Life Balance
If you live to impress others, then you will never truly be satisfied. When you finally attain that job or company you’ve worked endlessly for, people will ask you about when you’ll find the love of your life. And when you do find that person, people will ask you when you’ll get married. And when you’re married, people will ask you when you’ll have kids. Do you see a pattern here?
After all, we will never really live up to society’s expectations nor will we meet the demand to do it all at once. This is why being content is the true key to happiness.
It’s not about where you’ll be in five years, it’s not about what you’re working towards – it’s about now, the present, and how you embrace that; it’s about accepting and believing in yourself, trusting the process, and of course, stopping along the way to give yourself a pat on the back – it’s about progress, not perfection – there is no such thing.
This is why, the ultimate key to work-life balance lies within you, and now it’s time to create your very own definition.