Earlier this year I booked a flight to Washington, D.C. because I wanted to spend a weekend away celebrating my birthday with my husband. When I nearly missed my flight, I felt close to experiencing my first ever panic attack. I had just completed a particularly hectic work week, juggling multiple clients with unrealistic demands, keeping in touch via mobile and stationary devices and meeting a few 24-hour deadlines. I needed that getaway but more important, I needed to get away from the frenzied, deadline-driven, unbalanced work environment I had created. Balance. If only I could learn how to adopt it. As I boarded my flight I resolved to commit this year to finally finding a work-life balance.
I dedicated myself to researching the topic, watching several videos and clips from so-called experts devoted to helping me on this mission. I lost sleep, convincing myself that more hours in the day would help balance out my work and personal loads. I reduced my work hours in an effort to make more time for family and the domestic chores that I had given up on. Invariably, I found that regardless of how I rewrote the equation, I could not solve the problem. And I’m not alone.
The Fallacy of Work-Life Balance
Recently, businesswoman Ivanka Trump explained how maintaining a work life balance is impossible. New America Foundation CEO and former U.S. State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne Marie Slaughter authored an op-ed titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” that focused on the impossibility of managing high profile work and family life three years ago, sparking a widespread debate on work-life balance. It’s no wonder that in an era of advanced technology where we can perform our work responsibilities from the comfort of our homes, the lines between home and work become increasingly blurred.
The good news is that as the job market picks up, companies are touting ways they promote work-life balance among their benefits. From floating holidays, to remote work options, to flexible hours, to rotating days off, employers realize that the idea of a traditional office environment with established hours no longer appeals to job seekers who have embraced work-life balance culture. So how exactly do we master maintaining a balanced load? It’s certainly a process, but these tips have helped me even the scales:
- Manage what is on your plate first. Don’t unintentionally add to your workload. When helping your teammates on a work assignment, make clear to them what they can expect from you and where your help begins and ends. Adding unnecessary tasks to your workload will only tip your scales further apart.
- Plan your ‘me’ time early. Before you get into your busy week, take note of all the things you’d like to accomplish from a personal and selfish perspective. Even if you can’t get to all of it, putting yourself first will make a busy week feel a little more balanced. To quote Gisele Bundchen, “You have to fill your cup so that everyone can drink from it.”
- Learn how to say “no.” You don’t have to accept every invitation or work assignment. You know what your priorities are and if something comes up that will tip your scale off balance, you can respectfully decline.
- Drop time wasters. This is different for everyone, so identify what is unnecessarily draining your time and energy and remove it all together.
- Make lists. When you aren’t reminded of everything you need to do, it’s easy to get trapped into satisfying only one part of your life, and many times that is work. As a bonus, crossing things off your list just make getting things done more rewarding.
- When you can’t do it all, identify what you can move off of your load by outsourcing.
- Set a bedtime. Losing sleep has many negative side effects, among them weight gain, heart disease and depression. Your body deserves to rest and recharge.
- Take a vacation. Removing yourself from your day-to-day routine can offer more clarity in areas of your life that you may not focus on otherwise.
- Take a moment to evaluate your work-life balance. Every couple of months, review your priorities, compare them to where you are spending your time, and determine if your own balance equation needs rewriting.
- Don’t feel guilty. Humans are not supernatural. We are stretched thin and are doing our best to make it all work. Balance is a shaky concept. Literally. Don’t get wrapped up in failing to meet unreal expectations.