The Complexities of Life in Finding Work-Life Balance

For many people, the “work” side of work-life balance is somewhat more defined than life. While it may be hard to manage a myriad of tasks and shifting priorities, work is generally time-bound and there are some boundaries, if one is disciplined about it and communicates expectations with others. Back-up coverage may be possible, shifts or work hours can be managed and many jobs come with leave or sick leave.

The life side is another matter – it tends to need to cover the following activities:

  • Getting ready for work and commuting time, time taken for lunch off the clock
  • Family activities with kids, Including homework oversight, bedtime activities and meal prep and eating time – it can also include emergency pick-ups for kids when they fall ill at school
  • Extended family care, including – for many these days – some level of elder or parental care
  • Self-care, including exercise, hobbies, relaxation time, medical needs and spiritual pursuits
  • Volunteering or other service activities
  • The logistics of life, including cleaning, cooking, shopping, home upkeep
  • Sleep

Given that work, getting ready for work, and commuting, easily take 10 hours – and sleeping is supposed to clock in at 8 hours – on a good day, that leaves only SIX hours for LIFE on most working days. That’s a lot to juggle.



Tips for Maximizing the Impact of Life

Some articles have questioned the term “work-life balance,” saying that is better to think about work-life flow or integration – finding ways to ease between and combine activities that serve both. Others note that balance is better conceptualized as shifting over time – there are weeks, and even months or for some, years – where work will be all-consuming with less time for other activities.  Other time spans may include reduced work focus – or even some time off – to focus on life.

Here are some examples of integration – or a more fluid ebb and flow between work and life.

  • Today’s workplace offers more opportunities for remote work or more telework days. This is often accompanied by some flexibility in timing as well – allowing for short breaks to meet school buses, prepare snacks, or make doctor appointments. Many people are now seeking or negotiating these flexibilities – even when they may include trade-offs with respect to long-term career development opportunities.
  • Having a mobile hobby, such as drawing or puzzles, can provide a useful way to bring life into work. One client we know brought his passion for art and poetry into the office – and his team now regularly writes rhymes to mark specific successes and creates art during offsite events.
  • Some people find talking about a work problem with family and friends useful in gaining a new perspective – done in moderation, this can help others deepen their understanding of different types of work, and develop empathy for the work challenges of different jobs. It may even lead to new networking opportunities or referrals that feed into work.
  • Talking about your work in an age-appropriate way may even help your kids think about what they may want to do in the future. Many adults recall first learning what their parents did for a living – and recall it as an important part of recognizing that their parents had their own interests and skills outside the home.  And just trying to explain a problem to a child or someone not in the situation may help you talk your way to a solution.
  • Skills developed at work or through new assignments may also reveal a new interest in a hobby or may get carried into volunteer activities in the community. For example, someone who wants to get into supervision may choose to be a mentor or lead a group project for a volunteer group. One senior manager we know even writes blog articles like this one as a side project – it helps clear her mind and process her own challenges at work, while hopefully helping others.

Sometimes, managing “work-life balance” seems like a chore unto itself – finding mutual points of connection and fulfillment between them may generate more energy and completeness.

Using Work to Support Life

For many people, work colleagues become friends over time, and can offer a form of support that makes life just a little easier.  Here are two examples that we have seen in the workplace.

  • ChildcaRe is a challenge for many working parents. More experienced parents are often willing to share tips with new parents about ways to find reliable care.  And once everyone is in elementary school, parents often find community and mutual empathy in talking about the challenges of today’s school system – with frequent teacher work days, and children needing to be picked up any time they have a dripping nose.
  • As workers grow older, many share the quiet challenge and fears related to the care of aging parents and ultimately may share the grief when one or both die. In workplaces that are particularly open and connected, we have seen people share their experiences and challenges at a very deep level – bridging levels and separating groups across an organization in very personal ways.

Some may find these types of sharing unprofessional – but when done in mutually supportive ways, it can actually build trust that directly benefits projects.  Knowing your story makes it easier to feel like you have my back when things go wrong on a work project.

Finding Meaning in the Moment

Sometimes, the balance isn’t between work and life – it is about the pace and cadence itself.  This means slowing down to see both the forest and the trees of work and life, and to manage more effectively based on the insights.  Here’s where the traditional tips for work-life balance can come in handy.

  • Take Breaks: Regular breaks throughout the day help you step away and back – even for just a few minutes. To add meaning, though, don’t just scroll through social media on the phone – instead, really pause to make the moment count to refocus on what’s most important. If 10 minutes of thinking saves you 10 hours of work because you thought of a better way to do something, then that was time well spent.
  • Evaluate Your Physical Space: Having different spaces for different activities can help your mind switch between activities. In other cases, the “bring your hobby to work” space integration advice above may make more sense. It is important to be thoughtful about which activities are best integrated into a space, and which are best held separately. And add a plant.  You can never go wrong with a good cactus or spider plant by your side.
  • Recognize Your Barriers to No: It is common advice to “just say no” to better achieve balance. This is likely to be more successful if you analyze the meaning that doing so has for you when you are hesitating to do it. Most people do things that make them feel good – so figure out how saying no will make you ultimately feel better, rather than guilty, fearful, or left out.
  • Take Care of Your Gut: It is increasingly common knowledge that eating a healthy diet takes care of your gut – and all the good bacteria and immune support system that live there….. So if you want good “gut instincts,” then it helps to take care of all of those bacteria that help your intuition thrive – thinking about the bacteria in your gut as your “hive mind” may help provide the meaning that inspires you to take care of it more.
  • Practice Gratitude: This is another piece of advice that can often sound somewhat fluffy, and yet really works.  At the end of each day, try to “inventory your impact.” Who did you help or touch – either directly or indirectly?  If you can’t think of anything, picture the customer of your service or product, or a colleague you spoke with, and think about how they were helped by your work or words.  And if you still can’t name anything, ask the question: what will you do tomorrow to change that?

Next Steps with Pryor

Pryor has a number of training offerings that can help you further deepen your skills in building work-life balance. Here are some resources to consider: