With all the discussion about how to achieve work-life balance, we have overlooked a big problem with this idea: our lives are not supposed to be balanced with equal time for everything.
Can you be the executive who thrives at business, the mother who volunteers at her child’s school, the friend who maintains an active social life, and yet still remain sexy, fit, and fun? Maybe for a short time, but it certainly isn’t sustainable.
You might be great at doing each of these things on different days, and you may even have some days where you manage to do it all. But no one can consistently balance everything flawlessly.
As the mother (and once single mother) of a special needs child, a business owner, friend, daughter, volunteer, etc., I believe there is really no such thing as work-life balance. It’s a mirage, and we are making ourselves crazy trying to find it amidst the overload of information that characterizes life today.
On an average day, we are bombarded with thousands of images and hundreds of thousands of pieces of new information. We hold all of this information in our subconscious. In reality, our short-term memory can only store two to four items at once. When we are feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it’s not necessarily because we have so much to do; it’s trying to remember it all and keep it at the forefront of our minds.
Likewise, this never-ending deluge of information and our constant need to stay connected is rendering us less social, preventing us from staying focused on any one thing for any length of time. That ends up making us less productive. How can we begin to focus on the conversation or task at hand with all that pinging, beeping, and buzzing distracting us?
In the midst of all this, we’re somehow supposed to balance our lives. What does that even look like? Work on one side and Zen-like relaxation on the other?
The truth is some things should take precedence over others. These are our priorities, and we can only focus on one priority at a time. Instead of stressing yourself out trying to achieve the elusive idea of balance, try this instead:
- Identify Your Priorities Look at the areas of your life that matter to you (possible areas include career, finance, family, health, relationships, social life, attitude and personal growth). Realize that some areas should take priority over others. Focus on one priority at a time.
- Assess Your Priorities Rank how you feel you are doing in each area that’s important to you, from 1 to 10 (poor to perfect). Look at where you can make slight changes. Your goal isn’t necessarily going from a 2 to 10. The goal is making Slight Edge changes, like going from a 2 to a 4.
- Devote Yourself to What Matters: Identify your top three to five priorities and spend 80 percent of your time on them without apologizing for it. Schedule time for your priorities. If necessary, save money for them. Make sure you have emotional and physical energy for them.
Throughout this process you must be honest with yourself. Most of us would like to think we value relationships more than money, and family more than work. But do we really? When push comes to shove, do your actions support your real priorities? In other words, do your actions match your intentions?
Most of us have gotten pretty adept at prioritizing our schedule. Scheduling our priorities should be our real goal.
For more on how to focus on your real priorities check out my new book “52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work: Transforming your life one week at a time”.