I was speaking with a friend the other day about work/life balance.
He was lamenting that it seemed like balancing growing his business, being a husband and a dad, and taking care of his own physical/mental needs was really hard.
I can relate.
During the conversation, though, it occurred to me that maybe work/life balance wasn’t the goal. At least, not strictly speaking, as it pertains to time.
When I think of work/life balance, I imagine a scale, where work is on one side and ‘life’ is on the other. When they are in balance, each side is equal.
But that seems a gross over simplification to me.
And also inappropriate given different seasons of life.
As I thought about it, it occurred to me that maybe the distribution of time shouldn’t be 50/50. After all, there are more facets to us than simply ‘work’ and ‘life.’ Or, at the very least, those two facets of life have much more color than a binary work/life distinction would suggest.
For example, things like exercise and sleep are necessary for both good work and a quality life. Where do they fit in this distinction? Is the time spent with family distinct from the time you take for yourself in prayer, meditation, and the occasional Cobra Kai binge?
They should be.
Rather than focus on work/life balance, I prefer to focus on the distribution of how my time is spent relative to my core values.
It’s a pie chart – not a scale. There are multiple dimensions, not just two.
And the pie shifts each week or month, based on the most urgent demands. For example, when SuperWebPros was in survival mode, the distribution was 90% work and 10% for everything else.
That was the responsible thing to do; feeling ‘bad’ about imbalance would only make it worse.
Instead, I recognized that problem impacted several sections of the pie chart: family life, productivity, my spiritual life, etc.
During that season, though, I made an effort to make the slivers of the 10% really count.
The time I spent with Gabi was real time, playing with her instead of watching tv with her. My prayer time was shorter and more focused. I was comfortable slowing down the social life, but still tried to drop texts every so often to friends and family. I’d schedule phone calls as opposed to spontaneous hangouts.
I tried to make sure that I left work behind (as best as possible) when it was family time in the evening.
We all have multiple values and priorities. At different times, some are more urgent than others. Thus, I think 4 things are in order:
- 1. Be clear about what you value
- 2. Be intentional about how you use your time, recognizing there will be seasons when some facets of life require more urgent attention than others.
- 3. When you are able to give time to the neglected facets, make sure it’s quality time
- 4. Be kind to yourself when you get out of whack. You’re only human.
A great way to approach this is using Stephen Covey’s “Rocks” metaphor:
(By the way, this is a great experiment to do with your kids using real dirt and rocks. It’s messy, but fun. And then gives you shorthand for when their wasting time; “Are the big rocks done or are you playing with pebbles?” My poor child.)
Is work/life balance possible? I don’t know. But I do know, as the Scriptures teach, there is a time for everything:
“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Choosing to beat ourselves up over failing to his some ‘ideal’ distribution of time is neither holy nor helpful. Instead, it’s better to be clear about our values and allocate, proactively, our time accordingly, so we can dedicate ourselves to the things that matter most.
Over time, that distribution may tend towards something like a 50/50. But, if not, it’s ok because the pursuit of a life well lived and time well used will ultimately be worth it.
So, figure out your values. Schedule the things that matter most. Be present. Try again when you fail. Repeat.