Stop Chasing Work-Life Balance and Ask These Two Questions Instead

Everyone wants work-life balance, but many of us don’t know how to define it for ourselves.

It makes sense, in theory, to spend exactly eight hours on both our work and our personal lives and still have eight hours to sleep. The reality, though, is that life is not perfectly balanced. Very few of us spend exactly forty hours a week at work. Most of us operate with some combination of high-intensity client or customer demands, illnesses, chaotic family schedules, or other challenges that cause us to skew our time more towards work or personal life on a regular basis. Research from Gallup also indicates that millennials, in particular, blur the lines of career and personal life. (If your work adds meaning and purpose to your life, there is less motivation to compartmentalize.) Still, work-life balance is a major topic of conversation and one that, more often than not, focuses on the wrong goals.

The root motivation for work-life balance is the desire to be fulfilled both at work and at home. While it’s important to devote ample attention to both of those spheres, trying to balance the literal number of hours spent on each is unrealistic and neglects the importance of setting priorities. In other words, in order to prioritize properly, some tasks have to take precedence over, and maybe even negate, others. This logic applies to careers and personal lives, and the key to success in both is understanding how to counterbalance between the two and within each.

Two Different Paths to Success

In order to be successful at work, sustained focus on the highest-impact task is key. Even if tasks like weekly reporting or inventory tracking are time-sensitive, they wouldn’t be more important than a crisis with a client or the launch of a new sector of the business. In The ONE Thing, dedicating as much time as is needed to your most important tasks is referred to as “going long” for your career. Pursuit of these high-level goals will require that you sacrifice somewhere else, maybe tabling a project indefinitely or having a coworker support you by taking on some of your lower-impact tasks for a time. But that’s okay. The beauty of going long is that, often, the one thing you’re prioritizing over everything else will be the thing that makes everything else easier or more impactful.

Success in your personal life requires the opposite approach. Here, you’ll need to use the “going short” method. While people at work can support us spending hours, days, even months focusing on one project, our personal relationships and mental and physical health will suffer if we neglect them for long periods of time. The consistency of the time you spend with people has more impact than the sheer amount of time you spend together, especially if the time you’re spending is high quality. A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies showed that consistent positive interactions between parents and children had positive mental and physical effects, particularly on older children. This means that regular, expected time with those you care about is paramount. Even if the time you spend with those closest to you has limits, kids (and people in general) don’t tend to mind as long as they know when they can expect to see you and that, when you’re with them, you’re not distracted by work or other parts of life.

In order to be successful, it’s important to set the right goals. Instead of seeking the silver bullet to balance the time you spend on your career and your personal life, ask yourself these two vital questions every day.

1. What is The Highest Impact Task for My Career?

The first step you should take every morning at work is to figure out the one thing you can do that will make all of your other tasks easier, or negate them completely. Trade a traditional to-do list for a success list that is inherently short and focused on impact of your work rather than the immediate gratification of crossing off a task.

Once you decide on the highest-impact task, figure out what needs to be set aside in order for you to focus on it. Identify the projects that can be scrapped or stalled in favor of the highest priority, and determine the tasks that should be delegated to another team member while you keep your focus on the main goal. The goal of counterbalancing is to make sure that you don’t stray so far from a task that you can’t return to it. Including your team in preparations for your sustained period of focus on one project will allow you to counterbalance infrequently and still keep operations moving.

2. How Can I Show Up for My Friends, My Family, and Myself Today?

One of the keys to consistency in your personal life is awareness. Sometimes the people in our lives could use a quick text from us once or twice a week, just to check in. Others will want more quality time depending on what’s going on in their lives. It’s important to establish open lines of communication with friends and family in order to know what they need and focus on them in real time. It’s equally important to tend to your own mental and physical well-being on a regular basis. That might look like ongoing appointments with yourself at the gym or setting aside time for a hobby that centers you when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

While your work can sustain long periods of imbalance as you focus on your highest priority, it’s unhealthy to neglect the people in your personal life, or yourself, for a long time. No matter what you’re focused on at work, make sure that all of the areas of your personal life receive attention in equal measure.

Setting priorities for work and maintaining awareness in our personal lives may seem simple on paper, but like anything worthwhile, these priorities can be daunting goals. If you want support as you learn to counterbalance, become a part of The ONE Thing community. You can also enlist the help of your spouse or those closest to you through the Goal Setting Master Course.

 

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