Work-Life Balance? Or do we want something else?

By Marianne Renner: Leadership Coach, Speaker, Author

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot from people who tell me they want help with the familiar old problem of work-life balance.

One client literally said to me recently, “my job is sucking the life energy from me.” Sadly, I hear a version of that theme quite often.

But when people say they want work-life balance, usually what they’re really saying is that they are overwhelmed, burned out or dissatisfied at work, and that other important areas of their lives are neglected. We’re not so much looking for balance, as we are seeking deeper fulfillment and satisfaction in all areas of our lives. We want deeper relationships, more meaningful work, the opportunity to use our talents, the ability to grow and contribute to our families and to our communities.

The term “work-life balance” really is erroneous if you look at it closely. It implies that we have a life and then we have this thing we call “work,” which is completely separate from our lives. In reality, work is part of our lives – it is one of many facets that can bring us a sense of fulfillment, purpose, contribution and growth. The key is not to work less necessarily, although that may be true in some cases. Rather, the answer is in finding ways to increase satisfaction in our work.

Our lives consist of work, family, personal growth, physical health, friendships, spiritual growth and financial health, among other things. So if we are to take the concept of balance on its face, we would see a 24-hour day divided roughly into seven segments of our lives. “Balance” would mean devoting roughly 3.5 hours daily to each of those areas. Clearly, that’s not reality. So the idea of balance is deceiving.

What we need to focus on, is how we want to live our lives, what’s most important to us, and what can we do to increase our level of fulfillment and satisfaction in these important areas. The answer is different for each of us.

So rather than trying to solve the work-life balance dilemma, our strategy should be to design the life we want and establishing clear priorities to make that happen.

The three key ingredients to this process are: prioritize, plan and act.

1. Prioritize

Does designing the life we want mean we can have EVERYTHING? Of course not. There are only 24 hours in the day, yet the possibilities of what we could do are endless. A deeply enriched and meaningful life is not about getting everything we want. Rather, it’s about choice. It requires prioritizing what’s most important.

You cannot be an Olympic gymnastics gold medalist and president of the chess club at the same time. Saying yes to being the Olympic gold medalist means saying no to other things that are less important. I’m not implying that work and personal life are at odds. I believe it absolutely is possible to have a meaningful professional life and personal life as well. This is why the next step is critical.

2. Plan

The next step is to create a plan that supports our priorities. What are those things we will do that get us to what we want. What are those things we will stop doing that distract us from our ultimate goal?

Achieving satisfaction professionally and personally requires hard work and commitment. It doesn’t happen by accident, so the plan helps give us focus and accountability.

The plan doesn’t have to be a major life-changing overhaul. Small, daily tasks can make a huge difference.

For example, what’s the plan to improve family relationships? Perhaps, it’s to have more intentional, meaningful conversations with the kids.

I have a friend who changed the daily conversation with her 9-year-old son. She stopped saying, “how was school today?” Just what do you think was the answer to that question? “Fine.” She now asks him to tell her one high point and one low point of his day. NOW, there is a meaningful conversation taking place.

3. Act

Finally, we take action on our plan and follow what we set out to do. We commit to moving projects forward at work or to stop attending meetings that aren’t productive.

This all may sound like a lot of work. It is. But compare the price to the value that will be added to your life.

Download my Goals with PURPOSE worksheet to begin creating your purposeful life.

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