Posts Tagged “Not Balance”

Escape the 10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance

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Like clockwork, in the last week of December, people start asking me, “My New Year’s Resolution is to find more balance.  What’s your top how-to tip?”  Every year, my answer is the same, “Stop looking for balance and start finding your unique work+life fit.”

But this year, my response is more emphatic.  You see, for ten years, I’ve patiently waited for everyone to realize that balance is an anachronism.  A holdover from an Industrial Age, with all of its boundaries and rules, that no longer exists.  But clearly the realization hasn’t sunk in given the number of Google Alerts for “work life balance” in my inbox over the past two weeks.

This outdated concept of “balance” is a major roadblock that stands between us and having true, meaningful flexibility in the way we manage our work, life and careers, because:

  1. Balance” is always discussed in the negative. “I don’t have balance.” “I am out of balance,” which…
  2. Keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution. You have the power to make countless adjustments (both large and small) in the way you work and manage your life (as long as you know how), but you’ll never see them because balance…
  3. Assumes we’re all the same. We’re not.  At any given time, we all have a completely unique set of work and personal circumstances which precludes a consistent solution.   For Kate, who’s on the steep learning curve of a new job and works long hours, getting to the gym and seeing her friends every couple of weeks is enough.  But for Mark, three days a week mentoring new sales people is perfect, because he can delay retirement for two years and see his grandchildren more.   Work+life fit is like snowflakes.  I’ve never heard the same fit twice, but balance
  4. Infers that there’s a “right” answer. There isn’t.  If the work+life fit reality for each of us is completely unique then there’s never going to be a “right” way.  I’ve met an investment manager who runs a tree farm on the side, an accountant who’s a mom and a competitive ballroom dancer, and an entrepreneur who gets home twice a week for dinner with his kids and tries to slip in time to surf during his 80-hour workweek.  They’ve all found a work+life fit that works for them in the context of their unique jobs and personal realities.  No one is right.  No one is wrong, yet balance…
  5. Leads us to judge others, often unfairly. Honestly, we need to give each other and ourselves a break.  We have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life or in their job, but we can learn strategies from each other.  “How does an entrepreneur get home for dinner and surf?”  “How do you manage investments and run a tree farm?”  “How does a mother work as an accountant and find time to be a ballroom dancer?”   Instead of judging, we can inspire, but balance too often…
  6. Results in unproductive guilt. If each of us has a unique work+life fit, then there should be no (or at least less) guilt.  If that fit works for your unique work and personal circumstances, rock on; however, the trick is to understand that not everyone can do what you’re doing. This is the missing piece.  How can create a culture that allows all of our unique work+life fit realities to coexist together?  Circumstances will change.  One day you’re able to work 80 hours a week, then because of unexpected eldercare responsibilities you can work no more than 20 hours, but balance…
  7. Suggests that the goal is a 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life. In today’s competitive, service-oriented, global economy there are very few jobs where a consistent amount of work will be done on particular days within certain hours all of the time.   Even 15 years ago, you could count on a pretty reliable schedule.  And you could walk out the door at the end of the day and not have to reconnect to work until you walked back in.  No longer.  To find a fit that works for you and your job, acknowledge this inherent work flow inconsistency and connectivity.  Plan as best you can to create boundaries around technology and to accommodate the inevitable work+life ebbs and flows.    But balance…
  8. Leaves no room for periods where there’s more work and less life, and vice versa. If you want flexibility in your workplace to succeed, then you need to be flexible with it.  In other words, if an unexpected project has to be completed and you’re supposed to leave at 4 p.m., occasionally step to the plate and stay without complaint.  The unanticipated will happen.  Conversely, maybe you’ll experience a chronic illness (like when I had Lyme two years ago).  Suddenly there’s a lot more life than work, but balance…
  9. Ignores the constantly changing reality of work and life. When your goal is “balance” any and all changes will throw you off.  My experience is that very few of us know how to think through, plan for and adjust our work+life fit in response to the personal and career transitions we know are happening, much less the events that happen unexpectedly.   And, we need to because balance…
  10. Will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders. As I’ve written before, when you say “balance,” all that corporate leaders hear is “work less” and the conversation goes nowhere.  The minute I started talking about the goal in terms of work+life “fit,” these same leaders began to engage.  They saw that they too have a work+life fit that matters to them, but also that there was a business benefit to giving everyone more flexibility to work smarter and better in today’s economy.

Escape the tyranny of balance in 2011.  Focus on how to optimize your work+life fit in 2011 and you’ll:

  • Talk about what you could have
  • See solutions
  • Know  we’re all different
  • Realize there’s no right answer
  • Stop judging yourself and others
  • Lose the guilt
  • Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life day-to-day and throughout your career, and
  • Increase the likelihood of that your boss will support greater flexibility in the where, when and/or how you work and, in turn, manage your life.

Tell me…How can escaping the tyranny of “balance” help you find your fit in 2011?  I really want to know!

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Three Reasons Why It’s Work+Life “Fit” (Not, Balance)

Posted by - . 4

(This is the first post I wrote for MomsRising’s Peaceful Revolution.  It appeared last week in The Huffington Post)

The economy continues to teeter between Recession and recovery, and we are being asked to do more with less both at work and in the rest of our lives.  As a result, the challenge of how to manage it all remains front and center for many, including mothers.

In our quest for big answers, sometimes we forget that simply reframing how we think about, talk about, and approach an issue can make a big difference.  Try this…instead of enduring the ongoing daily frustration of never achieving “work/life balance,” focus on optimizing your unique “work+life fit.” Here are three reasons why the shift from “balance” to “fit” makes a difference in your well-being:

Reason #1:   There’s no “right” answer, only what works for you and your unique work and personal realities at any given day or period of your life.  No one is right, therefore, no one is wrong.  By removing the judgment from ourselves and on others, we automatically relieve at least some of the guilt that can paralyze us from taking action.

So next time you arrive home with a pizza for dinner after staying late for the third night in a row finishing a project and see your neighbor cooking through kitchen window, what are you going to think?  “Next week when the project is finished I’ll make a point of having a home cooked meal.”  It’s not, “I must be a terrible mother.” That’s your work+life fit.

Reason #2:  It’s an action verb; not a destination noun. If you focus on a predetermined outcome or “balance” to gauge success, you will often be disappointed because many of the factors that influence whether you reach that goal are out of your control.  But if you consciously optimize the way those same circumstances “fit” together on and off the job, then your focus turns to how you feel about the process regardless of the outcome.  You can control the action (see #3).

For example, you’re disappointed that you had to ask your sister to take your mother to her chemotherapy appointment because you had to work, but you’ve arranged to help her grocery shop and pay bills on your day off.  If your predetermined “balance,” was to take your mother to chemotherapy, then you will feel frustrated.  But, instead, you adapted and found a way to be supportive given the current circumstances.  You took action you could feel good about.

Reason #3: It’s strategic, not reactive. As the previous example shows, many of the factors that determine “balance” are out of your control; therefore, it’s easy to become reactive, constantly responding (perhaps not very effectively) to what’s coming at you.  But if you expect that optimizing your work+life “fit” is an ongoing, ever-changing process, then you will be more strategic and nimble in your response.  You will plan accordingly.

For example, when you realized in advance that your work schedule conflicted with your mother’s chemotherapy, you devised an alternative solution.

If you look at the definition of “strategic” in the dictionary, you find, “(related to) a careful plan or method; the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal.”  Your goal is to influence, account for, and anticipate how to best “fit” work and the rest of your life together at any point in time.  Sounds logical, right?  Guess what, we don’t do it.  Here’s my proof…

For years, people would swear, “But, Cali, I do manage everything, and I’m still overwhelmed.”  So I began giving a little quiz before each of my speeches.  Here are the typical results from group of employees at a Fortune 500 consumer products company:

78% said that they “Actively manage my work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.”

43% said that they “Always keep a calendar with all of my personal and work responsibilities and goals in one place.”

32% said that they “Set aside time daily or weekly to check in with myself and answer the question, “What do I want?”

Strategic work+life fit means keeping all of your work and personal “to dos” in one central location so you have a complete picture of what is happening in all areas of your life (why it’s work “+” life).  You need to set time aside at least weekly to check in with yourself to make sure you are where you want to be with your “fit” given your most current set of circumstances.  And then change as many realities as you can to close any gap between what you want and where you are, knowing there is no right answer.  Only what works for you.

Your unique work+life “fit.”  No right answer, only strategic, judgment-free action.