Work-life balance is a concept that didn’t even exist when I was 23. That was my age when I started my first business.
By most standards, people view my life as successful. My first enterprise sold for a profit. In fact, it is still thriving under new ownership!
My current business is in a growth phase and has enjoyed significant revenue jumps over the past three years. I have three fantastic daughters and a lovely husband. And I have a core group of friends that can keep a secret and have great taste in wine.
Over the years, I have been asked again and again about “work-life balance” and how I have managed to achieve it. While it is a worthy topic, and I am happy to chat about it, as a female entrepreneur it does annoy me a bit. (My husband is almost NEVER asked how he manages to balance work and family).
Work-Life Balance is a Flawed Concept
One’s life goal should not be to have the singular act of earning a living “balanced” equally with all of relationships and activities that constitute one’s “life”.
The notion is ridiculous. In fact, if all the elements of my existence were measured in such a manner, I would hope that the results would be decidedly unbalanced. My goal would be to have “work” dangling on the high side of the teeter-totter and “life” planted firmly on the ground.
I honestly believe that prioritizing “life” is what has allowed me to achieve consistent career success. I love my work. And I think about projects and clients and new ideas all the time – because that is what most successful people do. But I do not work all the time. This is a critical distinction!
Constantly Working Is Counter-Productive
I understand how hard it can be to put work on the back burner, even for a few hours a day. But it is a skill worth learning. Because over-working is actually counter-productive.
Did you know that, after the 50 hour point, your productivity actually nose-dives?
A recent study by John Pencavel of Stanford University revealed that work-related output falls sharply after the 50-hour point. So sharply, that a person who works 70+ hrs/wk accomplishes virtually nothing more with all those extra hours.
Each life is unique. Your responsibilities and your challenges are yours alone, and what works for me may not work for you. That said, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that help me enjoy my life more fully.
Taking my personal happiness levels up (and my stress levels down) has ultimately been good for my health, my family, and my business.
And none of the things I do are really that hard. Trust me!
Keep a Notebook
I keep a notebook with me wherever I go. When I get a good idea, or remember something that I need to do the next time I am in my office, I write it down.
I also write down other things: interesting recipes, titles of recommended books to read, and reminders about upcoming sales on the Kate Spade website. I have a purse addiction. Don’t judge me. But I don’t stop whatever I am doing and suddenly race to my office, or the grocery store, or the book shop, or my laptop.
Moving a thought from inside my head to my notebook clears up mental space so I can stay focused on the moment – and deal with those other thoughts when the time is right.
Stop Trying to “Catch Up”
I do not go to my office at night or on weekends. I check my emails a few times and I might even reply to a message or two, if it is something urgent. But physically, I am at home.
The temptation to stay at work a few more hours, or to go back to work after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon can be strong. There is a twisted inner voice that tells you this will help you “catch up” or even “get ahead”. But that inner voice is lying to you.
Work-life balance is not achievable if you never stop thinking about work!
The best way to stay on top of things is to make sure you are clear-headed, well-rested, and full of energy. To do this, you need to stop working long enough to enjoy living.
I out-source household chores. I used to find being at home more stressful, and busier, than being at work. By the time I folded laundry and vacuumed the pet hair off my sofa, I would be too tired (and resentful) to enjoy the company of my spouse or my children.
Data tells us that working women and men are spending too much time on household activities.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is out-source some of these tasks. Unless you are one of those people who truly enjoys house work – in which case I encourage you to party on – and feel free to clean a friend’s house as well!
I pay a professional. She cleans my house faster than me. She does it better than me. And I relax with the knowledge that she will slay the dust-bunnies every Thursday.
Note: I also make teenagers do their own laundry. And I send hubby to the grocery store, even if this means that we have green bananas and too many hot sauces.
Make Time For Exercise
I exercise every day. Studies show that people who exercise have better mental fitness. At noon hour, instead of cramming a sandwich into my face while I keep whittling away at my keyboard, I go to a nearby pool and swim for 45 minutes. Alternatively, I take my dog to the park for a rigorous walk.
Either option does what it needs to do – shakes up my brain and my body – and lets me re-set. I come back to work more focused and productive. Often, I get the best ideas when I am paddling in the pool or huffing and puffing in the park!
Schedule Family Time
At my house, Sunday dinner is not negotiable. No matter how busy we all get, on Sunday evenings family and friends gather in the kitchen. (‘Cause who doesn’t love a kitchen party!)
I might create a gorgeous meal with pasta sauce that simmers on the stove all day, and homemade linguine. But if the week has been super busy, I might just grill whatever meat was on-sale at the grocery store and pair it with frozen french fries. Because it’s not really about the food…
Sunday dinner is about gathering together. It is about laughing, and sharing stories, and debating important issues – like global warming, and feminism, and the plotline of Game of Thrones.
Work-Life Balance: Conclusions
A 2019 study from LinkedIn learning ranked work-life/balance as the number 1 driver of stress at work (70%). So it’s clear that we all need to address this situation.
The specific things that bring me joy may not be as meaningful to you. But I stand behind the general principle.
Don’t waste time trying to “balance” your life. Instead, focus on making sure that every day has moments of joy and moments of stillness.
Some days are harder than others. The truth is that, no matter how hard you try, there will be times when exercise doesn’t happen and dinner comes in a pizza box. Don’t beat yourself up about it.