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Does work-life balance exist?

We all hear so much regarding work-life balance. Does it exists? How can I achieve it? Can it ever be achieved. We asked the question on Elpha and searched through Reddit and Google scholar. This is what our findings directed us to. Learn to build better boundaries

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So, what do you think? Is there something like work-life balance, or is this a made-up term by wellness coaches to make you feel like you are not doing something right? I’m not sure. I think there is work-life integration or work-life health, but balance? Can you ever have all your life areas in balance? For me, this sounds like stress, like trying to keep too many plates running simultaneously.

It’s all in your mind

I like to begin by acknowledging that thinking about work-life balance is a privilege. Not everyone can say This life doesn’t suit me and act upon it without risking their health, finances, or even life.

The term work-life balance first appeared in 1986. It generally refers to keeping the demands of work and life in equilibrium. This means that your work responsibilities and your non-work responsibilities should be equal. This leads to the question: What should be in balance? The hours you put in? The mental power that work and life takes? Or the energy you get out of working and living?

I don’t think focusing on hours alone is enough. A recent study on subjective well-being showed that around 2 to 5 hours of free time is ideal for feeling happy. But, digging into the paper, I noticed that free time hardly explained your mood. In other words, yes, your well-being is optimized if you have around 2 to 5 hours of free time, but you can’t explain this happiness by free time. Other, unknown factors explain the level of well-being. By the way, I’m not suggesting that you need to optimize your free time. You are a human being, not a machine.

Working towards a healthy integration of work and non-work areas of your life requires first and foremost skills. You need to have the skills to reflect upon your choices and decisions and notice how they impact your life. In a world where quick answers are preferred, this is not an easy skill to master. Our course Restory will help you get better at reflective writing.

On how to achieve a healthy work-life integration

I’m not 100% happy about the title. The word “achieve” bugs me. It sounds like you can achieve a healthy work-life integration, and once you have realized it, you are done. But no, you need to keep going. That creates this picture of a treadmill: Achieving work-life balance is like a treadmill you can never leave.

Now that doesn’t fit at all with the idea of work-life balance. It shouldn’t feel like a drag or something cumbersome. Sustaining your work-life begins in your head. Your approach towards working and living influences if you have a healthy work-life integration or not. It’s all about your mindset.

While every human has to develop their own blend of work and life, some general human tendencies make it harder to have a sustainable work style and lifestyle. Here are three of them:

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO):

FOMO is a big thing in our modern lives. It’s not just fearing to miss out on work opportunities, but also on having fun with your friends, going to an untouched island, or being part of a new trend. But this fear is masking a deeper problem: You are not in touch with your personal values and regret your choices.

Staying in control:

If you want to control everything, you are putting a lot of demands on yourself. Put differently: You can not delegate and/or trust the people around you to do the tasks. By wanting to control everything, you are also not allowing others to do one of the most human desires: Helping other humans. You are harming yourself and pushing others away.

Perfectionism:

Perfectionism is another attitude that increases demands and obligations beyond the necessary. Yes, it is essential to do good work. But do you need to do everything perfectly? When I’m tired and the kitchen isn’t perfectly cleaned, I leave it for tomorrow. It’s not like the dishes would complain. I’m secretly wishing that the fairies are coming during the night and doing the dishes for me.

On balancing demands

Similar to theories on burnout, work-life balance research focuses on demands and obligations. Each area of your life, family, friends, school, work, and health, demands your attention. You need to check emails (work), bring the kids to school (family), get a present for your friend (friend), order books (school), and go for a run (health). At the same time, you only have limited time: 24 hours per day. In some way, you need to organize these demands so that you fulfill all your obligations.

And this is the tricky bit. What obligation should you prioritize? Ideally, the ones that are aligned to your values. This means there is no one-size-fits-all-work-life balance recipe you can copy. For example, if you value flexibility, you will not plan out every element of your life. You will include unplanned time to have the chance to switch things up. As a consequence, your workstyle will not be 9-5 Monday to Friday. You will not work for a company where you have to clock in and out.

I feel like I’m beating around the bush. So here it is: As there is no one way to achieve a healthy work-life integration, you need to put in the work to achieve the work-life integration that works for you. I think that’s why there is so much information about work-life balance and avoiding burnout, but still, people wonder how to have a sustainable workstyle and lifestyle.

I’m not promising the solution, but three activities that can help you move the needle from burnout towards sustainable living.

What are your personal values? Being clear on what your values are should be your first step. Anne-Laure le Cunff writes about it in detail. In brief, look for people you (do not) admire and note down how they live and work. Or pick values from a list. For each value, figure out its source: Why do you find it essential. Once you are clear about them, see what actions align and do not align with your values.

Block time off in your calendar. Pick a time slot in your calendar and block it off for free-time. Do not plan any work activities during that time. This is a quick fix to see if more free time will make you feel less stressed.

List your demands. Make a list of everything that you have to do for work. Be as detailed as you want. Next to what you have to do, add how much mental energy this activity takes or gives you.

 

Tiny tips

1. Personal values

Being clear on what your values are should be your first step. 

2. Block time off

Pick a time slot in your calendar and block it off for free-time. Do not plan any work activities during that time. This is a quick fix to see if more free time will make you feel less stressed.

3. List your demands

Make a list of everything that you have to do for work. Be as detailed as you want. Next to what you have to do, add how much mental energy this activity takes or gives you.



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