Work-Life Balance is a Lie
I sold my house. I bought a campervan. I took my daughter and our dogs on a 6 month adventure around Europe. I cut down on my work. I made afternoons family-time.
And I still didn’t have work-life balance!
I was still busy, making dinner and supermarket shopping. I was tidying the mess and checking emails. I was arguing with my daughter and getting stressed about work. I was worried about a sick family member and grappling with whether this adventure was selfish and pointless.
My to-do list continued to grow and just moved from day to day. There were jobs to do on the van, and schoolwork to do with my daughter. There were ongoing travel arrangements to be made, and my own insecurities to deal with.
I was angry with myself. I’m meant to be the work-life balance lady. Yet I didn’t feel balanced at all. Then it hit me. There is no such thing as work-life balance.
Or rather, you can’t have work-life balance without a balanced mind. And my mind was not balanced.
It doesn’t matter how flexible your working arrangements are. We are told that, if we work fewer hours we’ll have more time. But my experience is that we fill that time with laundry and shopping and getting jobs done unless we’ve shifted our mindset away from the need to be busy and productive.
It doesn’t matter what time you send your kids to bed. This “incredible insight” was the BIG NEWS in an article I read recently - send the kids to bed earlier so you can have more time to yourself. I’ve tried it. It just brings the bedtime battle earlier in the evening or provides more time to get those little jobs done that you couldn’t get around to with the children in your airspace. Unless you have a different mindset!
It doesn’t matter whether you have a cleaner or not if you insist, as I did, on spending my “free time” moving piles of mess from one place to another, clearing surfaces and organising cupboards because you feel you can’t relax until it’s done.
What my trip taught me is that we’re obsessed with being busy, with being productive, with getting stuff done. We’ve lost the ability to really relax, to do nothing guilt-free, to see the pile of laundry that will need to be folded and say to ourselves “I’ll do that later. Right now I’m having a nap”.
We set expectations about how our home should look, how we should look, how organised we should be, how prepared we should be, how successful we should be, how together we should be that are inhuman. If we insist on meeting these expectations (or attempting to) we will be busy all the time no matter how few hours of work we do or how much so-called balance we create in our life.
The sense of balance comes from within. [tweet this]
You can have a full-schedule or a clear schedule and feel balanced. You can have a full-schedule or a clear schedule and feel totally out of balance.
What creates a sense of balance if it isn’t time?
Time doesn’t create a sense of balance if the mind is not balanced. So what does?
Breaking the association between busy-ness and value. If you believe that your value comes from being busy, that not-being busy is lazy and therefore somehow wrong, or that not being busy is a treat you deserve only when the work is done, then you will never have a balanced mind. Breaking this association requires noticing it when it pops up and influences how you’re choosing to spend your time. Question your beliefs about busy-ness and your value in the world.
Meditation and mindfulness, listening to the gut, listening to the body. The body tells us what it needs but we tend to ignore it. It tells us we are tired but we feel guilty about being tired so we keep going. When you listen to the body you may stop an activity before it’s complete because you notice you’ve lost focus on it. When you meditate you may get greater clarity about how you are and what you need. Connecting with yourself helps you feel more balanced.
Taking a break. The Yerkes-Dodson Curve suggests that, when it comes to difficult tasks, we achieve an optimal level of performance at a certain point of “arousal” after which performance suffers. When we take a break at that optimal point two things happen - a) We are able to return to the task after a break at the same level of performance and sustain that performance for longer and b) During the break we may have an a-ha moment where we make connections we weren’t able to make by “pushing through”. So taking a break to walk the dog, hove a shower, read a novel, watch TV BEFORE you’re knackered is better for you and your project than working until you can work no more.
Being present. Rather than just spending time with the kids or time watching TV or time getting stuff done, be present to whatever you’re doing. I’m washing the dishes. I can feel the bubbles on my skin. Look at the rainbows within the bubbles. Listen to the sound of the water going down the plughole. I’m not joking! We spend time on activities that have the potential to be relaxing and pleasant and fun but we’re not actually present to them. We’re thinking about the emails and the meetings and the argument we had yesterday and the one we’re anticipating for tomorrow. There’s no point working part time or workinig from home or having a take-away after work if you’re not really present to enjoy it. Unless you’re present to your life you won’t feel like you have balance even when you’ve done the things that “work-life balance” says you should do.
Doing nothing. This is the toughest. When you eat, just eat. When you drink your tea just drink your tea. When you look out at the view, look out at the view. Stare at the ceiling. Let your thoughts flow in and out. This feels so foreign and wrong that it’s got to be good for you!
Of course we want to work more flexibly.
Of course these 10 and 12 hours days are bad for our health and for the businesses we work for.
Of course we deserve to have lives where the different elements are blended better together without having to make huge sacrifices in some areas to serve just one area (our job).
But having more time will not create a balanced life. Only a balanced mind will do that.
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