Upending the Work/Life Balance 

By Lawler Kang

Ever hear the term ‘work/life balance’? Ever feel that no matter what you do, you will never be able to balance everything to your satisfaction? How do you balance your 11.5 hours spent on average per day getting ready, commuting, working, and so on with your scant bookends of life and time on either side? How do you meaningfully interact with your kids, significant other, or pets more than a couple hours each day? Can you somehow TIVO your daily cycles, removing all mundane catch-up conversation and chores, to optimally maximize your time? Can you leave work and really leave it? You can't just enter the Dark and Gloomy Cave of Work and then return to the Bright and Blissful Garden of Life as it suits you.

The fact is that balance is not possible. Maybe if you believe in multiple dimensions or other breaks in our quantum time fabric, but in this reality, balancing simply doesn't work. Work is an integral part of life, not a weighty counterbalance to it. Imagine your boss casually sitting you down in the lunchroom one day to discuss your recent spate of late and tortured office nights and then screaming at you, "You idiot. It's all life!" The secret to upending the balance is upending your perspective on how you deal with its working parts.

The first thing to do is to toss the image of a balancing scale in your trusty shredder as the metaphor casts work in a completely inappropriate light. If work wins, life loses? Or if life wins, work loses? Huh? Is work such a bad thing? Perhaps if you perceive your means of income as merely a job, then yes, bring in the scales, and make sure your life-side weights are nice and heavy to really frustrate you while you watch the space of time collapse around every ticking second as your daily grind comes to a close.

Yes, the term work has certain connotations: a degree of difficulty, of challenge, and even sacrifice. It also implies achievement, advancement, and fundamentally something noble. How could our society and standard of living ever improve without work, impassioned work at that? Have you ever heard people describe what they do as "my life's job"? No. Portraying your commitment as "my life's work" carries a decidedly different nuance. The sooner you can approach what your life's work might be, the sooner you can leave that absurd and undefeatable balance behind.

Second, let’s banish the word balance from your daily vernacular and replace it with priority -- life/work priority. Balancing is how circus performers entertain. The success of your acts -- work, pastimes, kids, and so on -- is driven by prioritizing how you want to spend the time of your life. Yes, time is money, but infinitely more important, time is life. Although this distinction between balance and priority is subtle in nature, once adopted, its implications on how you look at, structure, and execute your life can be extraordinarily profound.

Next, you need to figure out what is really important to you. Make a list of the things that jump to mind as being important, by grouping or category to your life: for example, life, your working life, compensation, etc. Put some time and thought into these lists as the more entries you have, the more powerful will be your outputs. Once created, turn on your trusty spreadsheet program or craft a matrix that lists your entries along the top row and down the left column. Working left to right, and then top to bottom (ignoring those redundant cells), ask yourself: is the row entry more important than the column entry?  If it is, put a 1 in that cell, if it isn’t, leave it blank. One or zero, a simple binary decision.

For example, let’s say you started with Life as your category of first choice and you divided your Life into five buckets -- parents, friends, money, work, and kids --   which you listed in this fashion. The first question you would ask yourself is “Are my parents more important than my friends?”, followed by “Are my parents more important than how much I am making?”, etc. Once you have filled in all the cells, add another column to the right end of the matrix and add up your answers. Voila, you have a quick and not-so-dirty quantitative and relative rendering of what is important to you in Life (by the way, how are you allocating it vis--vis your results?.

Run the same routine for your working life and compensation, and again, however you want to define your entries - what is important to you - is up to you, not the Joneses!  Favorite entries spanning these two domains include: commuting less than 30 minutes to work, having a good boss, needing to wear a suit, believing in my company’s mission, ranges of compensation plans (high salary, low bonus - low salary, high bonus), the ability to work from home and vacation policies.

Your results may startle you, they may baffle you. They may be revealing of something deeply subliminal, they may merely reinforce what you thought you already knew. Whatever they are though, don’t ignore them. Affix them next to your monitor at work, on your bathroom mirror, or on the back of your cell phone. Don’t worry, they won’t bite, at least not physically.

Most importantly, develop plans to integrate them into your current living cycles. These plans can take days to years to implement; the degree of change you may need to make could require a little or a lot of planning and financial confidence. Regardless of whatever difficulties may appear, remember, balancing your life, and the time of your life, is bunk!  Being true to your priorities, whatever they may be, is a foolproof way of integrating your work into your life for at the end of the day, the day is over. It is all life.   

Read other articles and learn more about Lawler Kang.

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