Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why I don't believe in work-life balance

I remember sitting opposite my boss in a little coffee shop having my quarterly appraisal review and we got to the final KPI (Key Performance Indicator), the same KPI that I had had on my appraisal for a couple of years. I remember the conversation starting, as it always did, "So, how are you getting on with your work-life balance?" It was almost a script that we ran at the end of each appraisal meeting where I'd sigh, my shoulders would slump and guiltily I'd respond with "not quite there yet" and then a conversation would be had around my inadequacy in this area. This particular day however, for some reason, I changed the script. Instead of sighing I looked at my boss and said "I'd like to remove that KPI from my appraisal" and when asked why I responded that I was sick of feeling bad for working the way I did which was passionate and outside of the hours others worked, but it gave me joy to do a good job, it fitted with my optimal thinking times and worked around my family needs. After a brief conversation it was removed. 

Please don't get me wrong. I am not advocating workaholism and I am not even suggesting that people need to work more. In fact I would suggest that many of us need to perhaps work less and take more time to smell the roses. What I am suggesting, however, is that perhaps we are creating more stress in our lives by striving for this balance. 

Imagine this: we work eight hours in a day and, because we know it is good for us, we sleep for eight hours, that leaves eight more hours in the day for us to; eat well, spend time with our family, connect with our friends, exercise, take care of our hygiene, treat ourselves, spend time learning, engage in a hobby, tidy our homes... you get the picture. We are so often told about the things we should do and if we try to do them in equal measure we fail every time. That feels pretty darned stressful. 

I propose we shift our perspective. What if we saw work as another part of our life rather than something that interferes with our life? 

When I shifted my perspective I found I didn't resent my work when I had a late meeting or an early start, I felt more in control of managing my time, I enjoyed my work more and, most importantly, the guilt was greatly reduced. It also meant that I was kinder to myself with other things too. I was no longer judging myself against the ideal work-life balance I had thought I should be achieving. I accepted that some days the balance is more heavily weighted towards my work and other days my family, some days I would walk the dog for an hour and play at the park and other days it would be a fifteen minute dash, some days would be all about my friends and other days I might be lucky if I messaged one of my mates on Facebook. And it's OK. Balance in my life (work inclusive) is a marathon, not a sprint. 

The big thing this change in focus has given me is permission to not have everything 'right' all the time. I have days where it is full on, I have times where I feel overwhelmed and lack energy for my work, I have times where I'd really like to take a day off and just sleep, or read, or read and sleep. And on those days I dig deep and turn up knowing there are swings and round-a-bouts and it's OK to have an off day. 

What if you hate your job? I know that this is a reality for some people and appreciate that sometimes choices are limited. Even in that situation though, I suggest that work is still part of your life, maybe it is a less pleasant part but it is not an add on or an interference. Acknowledging this can help create a different perspective.  So instead of focusing on the interference this horrible job is having on your life and adding to your angst and resentment, perhaps you can acknowledge that the job is horrible then give more focus and energy to the parts of your life that bring you joy. Again shift the balance. 

So what I am proposing is that we move towards a sense of balance in our lives with kindness and acceptance that what this looks like will differ from person to person and day to day. 

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