Work-Life Balance Is A Myth; Plan for Work-Life Harmony Instead

Leadership isn’t easy.  Being a great leader means you’re at your best when your team is around. It means you show up fully engaged and serve as a role model for how others work, how they communicate, how they solve problems and the kind of attitude they choose. If you are leading others, or really, showing up at your best in anything, you had better be prepared to bring it.  

Interestingly enough, many of us think we can simply “bring it” on demand. Often, we are able to for a short period of time.  We can usually muster the energy necessary to get through a day of being fully “on,” or a tough week of constant interaction.  However, must of us are lousy at sustaining that without suffering from burnout or disengagement over time.  Eventually, we find ourselves contemplating the ever-present question of how to achieve work-life balance.  We know we need to equal out the time and effort we spend on each part of our world; we’re just not sure how to do that.  

When I work with leaders I no longer focus on work-life balance.  The word “balance” implies both work and life are given equal weight and time.  However, most of us would weigh our outside-of- work life with more importance while admitting that our time is heavily weighted towards work.  We will likely never achieve balance between the two, and struggling to do so can be just as stressful as not having that equality to begin with. That is why, instead of balance, I discuss work-life harmony.  

Think about it this way; imagine you have adopted a new puppy.  You have an older dog that, much to your chagrin, hates the little intruder and attacks him at every opportunity.  What would you do?   If getting rid of one of the dogs isn’t an option, you would need to develop a plan to keep the puppy alive and allow the dogs to work towards living together.  You might put up gates or re-structure feeding times or schedule separate play and training time.  Whatever the plan, it’s centered on creating harmony between competing forces, when you still want or need both things in your world.  We can do the same thing with work and life but the key point is, we need a plan or we’re gonna lose a puppy.

Here are a few ways to improve our planning for work-life harmony.

Prioritize activities that help you recharge

Although it’s often not possible to create consistency in your weekly schedule, it is necessary to find a way to devote at least some time to the activity that helps you recharge most effectively. This may be working out, listening to music, meditation, spending time with the kids, or working on your golf game.  Whatever it is, identify it clearly and construct time in your schedule to do this activity, no matter what.  It may seem like an impossibility some weeks, but taking time to revitalize yourself will make you more productive in the long run.  Because of this, this is one area where you want to be inflexible; be consistent in your planning of these activities and be sure not to go through a week without them.  Make it as important as showering or brushing your teeth.

Don’t look for consistency, look for opportunity

It’s unlikely that every week, or any week, will be anywhere near balanced, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find opportunities to integrate work and life more harmoniously. Maybe the kids have a sleepover away from home that provides you with the opportunity to work on that big work project for a few hours.  Or, maybe you get back from a work trip at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. which provides you with the opportunity to take the kids or your significant other to a movie or enjoy a long workout.  Rather than struggling to find a consistent pattern of balance, look for opportunities that already exist to more effectively structure the harmony that you need.  Glance at your calendar for the next three weeks and find spots you can take advantage of to get more harmony.

Capitalize on the known rhythm of work and life

Both work and life have their ebbs and flows. If you’re in a sales leadership job, you’re likely to be busier at the end of the quarter. If you have kids in school, their summer schedules might look different than their schedules during the school year. Leverage these changes by looking for ways to exploit the natural rhythm of things and plan to do just that.  Without a plan in place, it’s easy to let every day fill up with work whether you need to devote your full attention to it or not.

If you are leading others, you become the catalyst for their growth, their development, and their achievements.  Doing this requires a great deal of energy, and without harmony in your life, you’ll lack the capacity to do this to the best of your ability for very long.  By building a plan to create work-life harmony, you can lead yourself well, and, as a result, have the capability to lead others toward more than they could accomplish without you.

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