In a post earlier this year, Penelope Trunk wrote about what life would look like if we didn’t have work-life balance. She also posted a picture of her five-year old son and admitted she has very few pictures of him at that age. Why? Because she never saw him – she was working “100% of the time”.
A lot of times, we hear senior leaders (both men and women) tell us that one of the best ways to achieve work-life balance is to look at it in the long run. Some of the advice I’ve gotten even says to look at it across the timeframe of a year. Well, I disagree. Actually, I vehemently disagree with that approach. Why? Because work life balance matters every day. It’s too easy to justify the day-to-day stress and sacrifice (and forget the trade offs you made) every day when you look back on a year.
Instead, do this:
- Make it a goal to balance every day. This probably won’t happen everyday. But try your best to make it happen. Stress accumulates daily, and not taking the time to find your relaxation outlets, time with your family, and personal time will destroy you. It’s too easy to disregard how you feel each day and your daily stress level if you push this goal to yearly.
- If you are going to think long run, use a week, not a year, as your metric. If you absolutely must, use three months. This could happen if you’re in roles, like an accountant in tax season, that have seasonality. But keep it seasonal! Your kids will be with you, at best, for 18 years before they leave the nest, and their small childhood years will be gone in a blink. At work, four quarters will fly by as you push yourself and it’s easy to forget what’s at home isn’t replaceable.
- Stop thinking that looking at things in the long run means that you’ll get everything you want. Sadly, you won’t. You’ll have to make choices – no matter what advice is out there to make you feel better (or worse) about them – you have to acknowledge that you will have to make choices (e.g. business trip vs. back to school night).
- Hold yourself accountable. How? It’s easier than you thought. Decide what you’re boundaries are (e.g. No work between 6pm and 9pm on week nights; or no more than 1 business trip a month) and record into your calendar (Outlook/ Google/ whatever) every time you break one of these. Miss an important life event or miss an important work opportunity? Put that in too – when it happens – so you don’t forget. Every three to six months, look back through your calendar. Doesnt’ feel that great, huh? Eventually it gets better, but it’s too easy to forget the number of times we broke our own boundaries when we wait a year to evaluate.
When does a year matter? A year is a good time to look back at general happiness or if major life changes are needed.
- Is your childcare, commute, home, or even job working out for you?
- Are you generally unhappy or unfulfilled?
- What’s changed in your life that warrants a big change (like selling your home or looking for a new job)?
- Have you reached personal goals that you set for yourself, outside of work and kids?
Your health and happiness can change dramatically if your “long run” balance is based on a year or more. Don’t do that to yourself. Find happiness everyday (however you can).