Work-life balance is like the end of the rainbow – you know it’s there somewhere, and you can get close, but you can never quite seem to catch it. Maybe it’s a just a myth—an idealized concept that’s aspirational only. Even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos prefers the term “harmony” rather than “balance.” Some people eschew the thought altogether because your work is part of your life—why separate them?
Joanna Bloor, a futurist and “introduction expert” who helps position people in their careers, says that actual balance of 50 percent work and 50 percent everything else is unattainable because it assumes everything on paper will work perfectly in real life, which it never does. “I build what I’d like to call a ‘scalable life’ to maximize my time,” she says. “Time is actually the only currency with maximum capacity. By looking at how to scale my life, almost like a business, I can optimize and invest based on my personal goals. And yes, this optimization and investment process, figuring out how to scale my life isn’t a finish line, it isn’t a goal, there is no right answer except what a scalable life is for me and those I love.”
The first step she suggests for people feeling out of whack is to analyze what you’re doing and why. Are you trying to attain some artificial standard—or someone else’s—for how you exercise, keep your house, raise your kids, work or any number of other things that can fill your day? If you’re trying to achieve perfection, that’s something to look at and probably abandon.
Next, realize that your time is your product—exactly how are you spending it, and what is the profit and loss? So, in a very simplified example, let’s say you work for two hours and make $100 to buy a toy for your child. Or you can skip work for that time and spend it having face-to-face time with your child without interruption instead of buying a toy. What’s worth more to both of you?
“Our time is a product that should be bought and sold,” says Bloor. So if you’re taking time to clean the bathroom, do laundry or work on menial organization tasks, it’s worth it to assess if it’s better to pay someone to do tasks that don’t actually make you money and that take away from your pleasure. “I look at it like I’m a business… I figure out, what can I afford to outsource, and what do I want to outsource? And if I want to outsource more, how can I generate more revenue so that I can outsource? Where do I want to invest my time? And what is the measure of success for me, and not anybody else?”
“But There’s No Extra Time in the Day!”
Sometimes it feels like there’s not one extra minute in the day—how can you possibly add in exercise? Or letter-writing? Or meditation? For most of us, we actually can find time if we’re willing to look for it and make some shifts in our habits. Dr. Joanne Royer, a licensed psychotherapist, coach and the founder and owner of Change Agent & Associates, says a feeling of balance is doable. “It’s all about redefining some of your relationships and, more importantly, managing the thoughts the mind throws at you,” she says. “So, the great news is there’s nothing wrong with you, you are doing things right, its just a matter of redistributing the percentages at times.”
So if work is getting the highest percentage of your time, one exercise she recommends is to take a piece of plain paper and brainstorm all the things that are getting in the way of managing your time well. Then commit to taking 1% of that time back and putting it into a different “bucket,” such as family or wellness or volunteering. Try it for a week—and perhaps you can make that sort of assessment and prioritizing a habit.
You can also bake in some balance to your day. For example, Henrik Kjellberg, the CEO of Hotwire and CarRentals.com, swapped his car commute for a 32-mile daily bike ride, which gave him the added benefits of improved work performance and better personal relationships. Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, wrote about her balance strategy in Entrepreneur: Prioritizing what the most important activities are and blocking off time for them (for her, it was certain meetings and time with her daughter), streamlining her operations for maximum efficiency and business growth, and making specific goals so she wasn’t wasting time on other activities.
Finally, it’s important to know that balance looks different for all of us. Bloor, for example, is in business-growth mode, her husband is at sea, and she has no children or pets (“not even an orchid”)—and she’s ok with working insane hours for now. But one of her clients, a young woman thinking about starting a family, has a different track. Bloor helped her look at her professional trajectory and goals, how she was spending time in other areas, such as self-care, and then finally asked the questions, “Where are we going to need to reinvest time? Where do you need help?” in order to move to the next phase with minimal overwhelm and maximum productivity and happiness.