When I ask people what they mean when talking about “work-life balance,” the answer I hear most often is something like this:
I want a better balance between the time (energy) I spend at work and the time I spend doing what I enjoy.
It is invariably presented as a desire for balance — like balancing a physical scale — between two different, separate, opposing things, “work” and “life.” The underlying premise is that a person can either dutifully fulfill professional obligations OR happily enjoy leisure time.
Typical go-to solutions, for the work-life balance seekers, are (equally invariably) tips for setting boundaries, improving time management, setting self-care routines, “honoring your energy,” and learning to say no.
The reason those solutions fail, when they fail? Maybe it’s because they’re built on a faulty supposition and poorly framed problem statement.
Is it really a better “balance” between time spent “at work” and time spent “at life” that’s at issue, or is it actually something else?
One way to reframe the problem statement is with a 5 Whys exercise. It might go like this:
Didn’t like that one?
OK; let’s try something else.
How about writing a few “IF” and “OR” statements, thinking specifically about that intersection between “work” and “life.” You can structure this activity like a MadLibs exercise, only you’re writing both the template and the answers.
Here are some examples:
IF I had a better balance between my work and my life, then I would have ____.
When I am faced with choosing between work OR life, I usually choose _____ because _____.
Tomorrow I can either do _____ OR _____, and I’m going to choose ____ because ____.
IF I had more control of my time, then I would choose to _______.
IF I could change one thing about my work to improve the way it supports my life, that one thing would be: _______.
Good enough for a little Sunday reflection? Great.
Come back tomorrow for a story about values, and why people > spreadsheet metrics.