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December 5, 2014

Have you Found the Right Balance?

Caroline Smith

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©©GettyImages/Ryan McVay

What does work-life balance mean to you? I always find the phrase slightly odd, because it suggests that you have “work” on one side of the scales, your “life” on the other, and that the two are completely separate.

But surely they don’t have to be mutually exclusive? What is it they say: that we spend a third of our lives at work? Might as well enjoy it while we’re here, I say; as much as we can, anyway!

Work-life balance for me is about enjoying my job and having enough time to do the things I want to do in my life. One of the best things about Mind Tools is that I get to work from home several times a week, which means I don’t have the dreaded commute every day! And, when in the office, there’s no presenteeism or pressure to work long hours, so I have my week evenings and weekends to pursue my hobbies, spend time with loved ones, and relax.

But my idea of work-life balance might be very different to yours. For instance, I know people who own their own businesses, and their work is their lives. They eat, sleep and breathe their work because it’s what they love, and they are energized by it. (Although, having said that, I have also seen people who work constantly, counting the hours down by day and dreaming of spreadsheets at night, and they're miserable – so it works both ways.)

The idea of people wanting to find a balance in their home and work lives can be traced to the late 18th century, when both the U.S. and U.K. brought laws in to reduce the number of hours that people could work each week. Both countries passed more laws in the 19th century to further limit working hours and enforce mandatory leave for certain events, such as childbirth, and for illness.

The momentum picked up again in the 1970s, as occupational therapists started to write about the need to separate work and play. The term “work-life balance” became increasingly popular in the 1980s as more women began to enter the workforce. Now, the concept is considered an important thing to get right for both men and women.

Today, work-life balance is an evolving concept but, put simply, it’s about achieving the mix of business and pleasure that’s right for you. We’re all unique, and the term “personal life” means something different to everyone: it can include spending time with your friends and family; resting; participating in hobbies; engaging in personal, spiritual, or educational development; exercising; or care giving. Even work!

Problems can happen when you feel as if one side of your life is commanding too much of your energy. This can make you stressed, your productivity at work can fall, and your personal relationships can become strained. So how can you avoid this?

Today’s article on Finding the Right Work-Life Balance looks at what happens when we don’t find that happy medium, and includes five practical strategies that you can use to redress the balance. These are: conducting an audit, adding flexibility, improving efficiency at work, feeling more rewarded, and finding time for yourself.

Tips include applying the Action Priority Matrix to both your personal and work lives to take stock of what’s important to you, and identifying gaps between key tasks and those that you can potentially delegate, outsource or stop doing. We also point to our articles on Avoiding Burnout for advice on how you can keep to a healthy work schedule, and Working with Purpose to help you find meaning in your current role.

Question: How do you keep your work-life balance in check? Please use the space below to share your comments!


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4 comments on “Have you Found the Right Balance?”

  1. My view is finding work life balance is actually harder than keeping it, as in the journey to find it we change and so do our needs and circumstances. I do try not to work all the time and even if I do work at home I try and make it more work I want to do than have to do.

  2. Interesting point Michael that it may be harder to find than to keep. To me, part of finding will probably be to set boundaries.

    1. Hi Mika,
      I agree that having clear boundaries as to when you are available to work and when you are not is important. When the lines get blurred, the balance becomes unbalanced!

  3. I've just been reading an interesting book called Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative by Scott Elbin. He talks about find a 'rhythm' rather than a balance.

    He highlights the fact that there may be times when it is difficult to have that balance due to such things as big project deadlines, more family responsibilities, etc. So, he suggests going for a healthier 'rhythm' so after you have a high work/stress period, you take some downtime to recover and recoup your energy.

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