If you're working and raising a family, chances are the conversation about work/life balance has come up once or twice or a thousand times. There is a lot of pressure to find the time and resources to have a happy and fulfilling life.
Is it possible to have it all and do it all? Can you achieve happiness in your life with all of the demands pulling at you in different directions leaving you feeling like you're not doing anything really well? In other words, can you really balance work, home, and social commitments without feeling like you have no time for yourself?
The answer may not be in juggling everything but rather in integrating.
Since there is no realistic way to give each area of your life 100%, start designating a level of importance for each area. Remember these levels of importance may change over time. Life can be messy and just when you think you've got it figured out, a change occurs that can disrupt our hard won battle for a more integrated life.
If you have young children or are caring for an aging parent and have a demanding job, your initial rankings may be:
This allocation of time means there is nothing left for you or for a social life. There is no balance and therefore it is probably not sustainable. Also, most likely you’re feeling the tension and stress of living a life where it’s only work and home. And, if you’re like most people, you are also trying to keep a wall between the two, which places even more stress on you.
If you’re at a place where your children are relatively independent and your parents are doing fine, the balance may be:
Social Commitments: 15%
This is a bit better, but you can see that you are still not spending a lot of time on meeting your own needs. So how do you really get to a place where there is a more even allotment of time to meet all of your needs?
Balance vs. Integration
The decades long debate over work/life balance continues to rage. A 2012 study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found that the amount of employees who consider work-life balance very important to their overall job satisfaction continues to increase. But, there was a lot of push back when Anne-Marie Slaughter, former staffer for Hillary Clinton, wrote in the The Atlantic that working mothers, the poster children for the idea of work-life balance, can’t have it all.
So let’s try to think about this challenge in a different way. Instead of balance let's consider integrating.
If you fit into Example No. 1 you work all day and come home and then get kids off to games, lessons, practice, etc. After that it's dinner and clean up and then homework and getting the kids ready for tomorrow. Then, by the time you sit down, you are too exhausted to think about anything more than maybe an hour of TV before you head off to bed only to get up and start the process all over. You're probably not spending much time talking to your spouse, significant other, kids, or friends and making personal time for yourself seems like a far off dream.
Integrating areas of your life may look like this.
- Instead of coming home from work and shutting down, talk to your spouse or partner or about your day. Give them a glimpse into what you're life looks like during the day; ask for input on a problem with a client, co-worker or project. They will feel more connected and involved and have a better appreciation of your obligations at work.
- Use your commute time as a way to think about what needs to get done tomorrow at the office or returning voicemails so that you're not doing it at home freeing up more time for you.
- If you have to go to your kids practice, can you invite a friend along that may enjoy watching soccer practice and give you time to catch up?
This is not easy and some may think just completely unrealistic. The goal may be for small steps and small wins not huge changes. The idea is to take a realistic look at what your life looks like now and write down your priorities so you can start rearranging and integrating different part of your life into a better whole.
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