A different way of thinking about work-life balance.

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:

I want a better balance between the time I spend at work and the time I spend enjoying life.


Because I’m spending more time and energy working than enjoying life, and that imbalance is (stressful, unpleasant, soul-sucking…).


Because work is how I (support myself, support my family, pay the bills, fulfill my career ambitions, define myself…), and if I don’t keep up at work then I won’t be able to do that.


What do you mean “why”?


I don’t want to answer any more of these questions.


Because I might have to look inside myself for a solution …

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.


  1. Why not? I think the marketeer within you should come up with a better way of dividing the two. As I see it, Life is the over arching word with work and something else being below. It’s a little thing I know, but I deal in little things.

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