Finding Work-Life Balance, Passion and Peace 

There are lots of strategies and tips out there for finding work-life balance:  Set Boundaries!  Just Say No!  Set Priorities!  Take Breaks!  These tips are grounded in good intentions and hold some gold on their own but may also sidestep the deeper questions that cause the best work-life balance action plans to fail.  Here are some different ways of reframing the work-life balance equation to create change from within.

Where Do Your Power and Passions Lie? 

It is a popular saying:  “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”  For many people, this is a bit unrealistic – we pick jobs for many practical reasons that may not involve “following our bliss.”  Factors like pay, hours, commute and actual job offers are pragmatic realities that confront us – and may lead to jobs that feel less fulfilling and more constraining than we would like.  This can make the work side of work-life balance feel more difficult and we may have difficulty finding the right mix.


And yet, we have the power to shape our own reality. By changing how we view different elements of our jobs, we may be able to change the job itself, or at least how we view it.  Here are some questions and examples:

  • What problems are you solving when doing your job? Thinking of your job as a series of problems may sound a bit exhausting, but that’s generally what most jobs involve – solving some problem for someone else or society in general.  What types of problems do you enjoy and how could your work be approached in a way that focuses even more on that area?  Do you like concrete problem-solving that results in an immediate visible outcome for someone?  Or do you prefer abstract or conceptual problems that may have impacts that are not known now?  How do you define the underlying problems when an assignment is given to you? When you understand the “why” behind a job or task you find more interesting ways to address it – or helps you see faster or more efficient approaches that may save you time for better balance overall.
  • Who are you serving? Even the most straightforward customer service job – like selling someone a sweater or serving someone a meal – helps someone else achieve something.  Keeping focused on the person or people you serve – exercising empathy and getting curious about their stories – may help you find more passion in your work. It may also help you find ways to achieve the goal with greater effectiveness and balance.  It is easy to make assumptions about other people’s needs – which can add time where it is not needed.
  • How could you think about it differently? Fear of the unknown is a powerful force that can send us out of balance. Why are there so many blog articles written about saying no?  Because many people fear the consequences of saying no – losing power or position, disappointing someone, or even making them mad.  Thinking creatively about how work is done is uncomfortable for some – while many articles focus on creative thinking and innovation, the cost of failure can be perceived as high.  As a result, we get the mantra, “We’ve always done it that way…” Which really means the risk feels too high to change. However, change may be needed to find greater satisfaction, impact and balance.
  • What are the tradeoffs and opportunity costs? Every choice has a road not taken.  This is a good way to think about work-life balance.  For example, research shows that 30-minutes of walking or exercise a day has many health benefits that improve your ability to work, and even how long you live. And yet, so many people say, “I don’t have time to exercise.”  Well, those 30 extra minutes to answer emails – in some cases, simply because you feel obligated to respond or don’t want the email to pile up – reflected a choice that cost you an opportunity: the opportunity to be healthier and extend your life.Here’s an experiment – a few times a day, reflect on what you will do in one of the 30-minute blocks in the next 2-3 hours.  Could you reconceive your time blocking to make better choices that improve your problem-solving effectiveness and create impact?  Sometimes, our patterns and routines hold us back from seeing where we could make new choices that could lead to better balance.

Want to dive into this topic more?  Pryor’s half-day workshop, How to Balance Work and Life in Challenging Times, provides strategies to create calm and reduce stress while remaining mindful and productive.

Who Do You Want to Remember You?   

Building from the “Who are you serving?” question, it is helpful to remember that our time at work and in life is finite – in the long term, our existence is most measured by the people who remember us or benefit from our impact.  As with thinking about life as a series of problems, this can be a little depressing.  However, it can also be centering and can help us find ways to maximize our effectiveness and impact with the little time we have.

Many people want their families – especially their kids – to remember them the most. We generally can’t spend all our time with our kids, so maintaining a balance between work and life is crucial to give them the time we can.  It is also important to remember that modeling balance itself is a valuable lesson to pass on. Having your kids see you live life to its fullest – through work and life – with resilience has an impact that may last many lifetimes.

Here’s a story that one of our clients often tells…. Her father worked very hard in computing, even bringing his laptop to the pool to combine some work and family time.  While many people are shocked that he would do this, she found it very powerful.  Why? Because one day, when she was just 12, he used the pool time to explain how the Internet and networks work – which provided a conceptual framework that she still uses today in her late 40s.  She also appreciates that he taught her that work can be fun and a passion – even when there is a lot of email.  She saw his excitement for the work – and it became a core part of her work ethic as well.

Other people have embraced work – choosing to remain single and impacting the world through colleagues and protégées.  For these people, it is essential to respect that choice – and to understand that we all want to impact our world and be remembered in different ways.  Sometimes, work really is all someone has – so balance will look different as they navigate life.

Building relationships that lead to lasting memories requires emotional intelligence.  Pryor’s Developing Emotional Intelligence is available in both in-person and online formats to help you build the self-awareness and resilience to communicate more effectively.

How Are You Your Worst Enemy? 

When we do enjoy what we do, or even when we simply have been doing it for a long time, many of us tend to create visions for what we think we can or should do.  On a daily or weekly basis, these lead to many self-created To-Do lists. Here are some examples.

  • We make assumptions about what our boss or team or customer wants or needs, or about how a task should be done.
  • We allow our brainstorming thoughts about a task to take over without sufficient critical filtering – expanding it to be bigger than it needs to be without checking ourselves.
  • We don’t ask ourselves what the smallest or simplest solution could be – or what the easiest way out might be.
  • We fail to anticipate how long tasks will take or underestimate the distractions that are likely to impede progress.

For many over-achievers, or anyone who has done a job for a long time, making the scope or size of a task smaller is the opposite of how we were taught to think.  Doing a simple fact sheet instead of a full report? Doing a checklist instead of a full manual?  These can be new ideas for some people, and may feel like a failure. However, moving the goalpost and declaring victory is one way to maximize effectiveness and save the time that may lead to more balance.  Sell the solution with confidence, and it may well be celebrated more than you think.

It is also helpful to know how long a task is likely to take based on past experience to plan the day or week more realistically.  This can lead to better balance through better projections.  For example, another client we work with does a lot of writing. He knows that if he is writing original text, it takes about 1 hour per page. If he is editing preexisting text, it takes about 30 min.  By knowing these personal metrics, he can guess how long a project will take by how many pages he thinks are needed.  This helps him achieve more balance.

Clearly, work-life balance and time management are closely linked. Want to explore this topic?  Pryor’s Time Management for the Overwhelmed is a one-day seminar that can help you work smarter.