Work Life Balance is an illusion
I often get asked as a solo business owner how do achieve work life balance. My answer is I don’t and you shouldn’t either. I am not saying that you should spend your entire time working. Let me explain.
The word balance means “a situation in which different elements are equal”
That to me implies that you are constantly rushing from one thing to the other, trying to make things equal, stealing time from one part of your life to equal the other parts.
I often felt like I was juggling different parts of my life just waiting for them all to fall in a heap – and they usually did – then I would feel like a failure and beat myself up for having missed a family event or not spending enough time with friends due to an important business meeting etcetera. Not to mention well-meaning family and friends who would say things like, you have to stop and smell the roses, life is too short you will miss all your kids’ big events, to add to the guilt feelings. I felt I was always in a lose-lose situation. And from what I have read on facebook pages and in forums I don’t think I am alone.
But then during one of these “feeling like a loser” episodes I realised that life rarely balances out, and if it does its only for a short time before someone or something comes along and adds another “thing” to your to-do list, school activity or friend’s party to attend and you are again playing the balancing game. So I stopped balancing and started instead work life prioritising – this is what I did:
I accepted that all parts of my life are important and that just because I do not give them equal time does not mean I value or love one part any more or less than the other parts. This really helped with the feelings of guilt (no it did not happen overnight and I had to constantly remind myself of it at first).
I began setting priorities for different parts of my life. Writing this blog is an example: for the next two hours I have prioritised writing this blog, so I told my family “hey guys for the next two hours I will be busy writing my blog and after that we can ….” and then I try and get rid of as many distractions as possible, so I shut down the internet and e-mail and put my phone on silent. So when my son rushes into the office with a “mum, I need…” I have learned (was not easy, yes it did take time) to not react; rather I say I have 40 minutes left of working on my blog and then I will give you a hand. And this is the kicker – after that 40 minutes I have to stop, regardless of whether I have finished the blog or not. I can hear people saying but what if you’re on a roll then do a brain dump, write all your thoughts on a piece of paper and come back to it later. And this for me takes away the feelings of guilt: you see I have done “work” and now I’m doing “family stuff”.
And the same goes for family time – if you have prioritised a trip to the movies then just do that. Don’t be sending emails or texting friends. Get back to people when you are prioritising that part of your life.
Now I can hear people saying that’s easier said than done; there are emergencies and other things that crop up, and I don’t want to be rude to people, all those things do happen and you can’t just stop something you have been doing for years and do something new overnight, so here are a few tips and tricks I used and still use when things get busy or those old “not good enough” guilty feelings rear their ugly heads.
When someone says to me something is urgent or I fall into the habit of thinking it’s urgent, I visualise a big stop sign and ask myself this question: If I do not deal with this straight away will anyone be hurt, maimed, or die? Will the earth open up and swallow me whole? Or will it begin to rain fire and brimstone? (I know that’s a little sarcastic, but you have to have fun after all). So far the answer has always been “no” to those questions. I then make a note of a time that I can do whatever the “urgent” thing is. It may be in 10 minutes’ time or it may be tomorrow, but by doing this you give yourself some breathing space and get rid of the rushing from task to task feeling.
Make notes – this helps with being present. When I first started life prioritising my mind would be going a hundred miles an hour about all the things I was not doing in other parts of my life, which led me to feeling guilty about not doing them. So now I write things down. For example, before leaving my office I do a brain dump on a piece of paper of everything in my head that is work related. If while I’m out with the family a friend calls I say I’m out with the family doing …, I will call you back. And then I put a reminder in my phone to call back. Likewise if all of a sudden I remember that I need to do something, I set a reminder rather than run off to do it.
And of course I use my trusty imaginary stop sign. When your head is reminding you of all the “stuff” you haven’t done or you get the guilts about what is still left to be done, visualise the big stop sign and remind yourself of what you have done, why you are doing what you are doing, and that you will get to the undones at the allocated time and then they will be done.
this is an example of a conversation I would have with myself – I would say to myself “Right now I am at the movies with the family because I have spent two hours writing my blog and tomorrow I will spend time invoicing clients.”
As with all new techniques and changes in mindsets it takes practice and time, but this shift in perspective has really helped with my feelings of guilt and overwhelm. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
PS I have a number of other blogs or business, productivity, leadership and life in general that I would love to hear your feedback on at http://backyourselfcoaching.com.au/blog/