Type the words ‘work-life balance’ on Google and you will find thousands of articles and blogs telling you how exactly you can achieve it. But most of us are left scratching our heads, for it’s often hard to keep work and life separate and balanced at the same time. And no matter how meticulously we plan our daily lives, we are unable to keep this balance from tipping over every once in a while.
Work forms the nucleus of our lives. We spend a huge chunk of our days at the office, making presentations, closing deals and meeting deadlines. We overdose on coffee and peer into the computer screen for hours together. And even after office hours, our phones continue to buzz with notifications about pending tasks, follow-ups and updates. Long story short, we are burdened with professional tasks and responsibilities throughout the day. For some of us, this continues into weekends and holidays as well, leaving us with no time for ourselves.
Often, this delicate balance can tip over the other way as well. After all, professional responsibilities aren’t all we have in life. What about the responsibility of taking care of ourselves and our loved ones? The responsibility of developing ourselves creatively and spiritually? The responsibility of living our lives to the fullest?
Haven’t we all, at one point or another, found it hard to concentrate on the tasks at work because we’re busy thinking about a personal crisis? Work suffers as we make long phone calls and stare blankly at the excel sheet in front of us, lost in thought. Gopiram Balakumar, a London-based banker, has experienced this many a time. “I have missed my turn to speak at important meetings because I was too distracted by relationship or family problems. I have found spending eight hours at work tedious while my mind was elsewhere. Luckily, I haven’t run into serious consequences for such distractions thus far,” he says.
We cannot be at a family getaway and answer work calls the whole time. Nor can we complete a presentation successfully if we’re obsessing over affairs at home.
Even for those of us with relatively problem-free personal lives, long working hours may mean less leisure. And we all know what all-work-and-no-play can do to us. Ask Anita Shyam, a US-based engineer, who feels quite strongly about how much of her time is taken up by her professional tasks. “If you’re working 60 hours a week, there is no question of a work-life balance. There is very little time left for anything besides, maybe, a relaxed meal or a good night’s sleep. Where is the time to do things for fun?” she asks. It is a valid question.
Whichever way the balance tips, it affects our state of mind. For some of us, this imbalance may present itself as a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with life. For others, it may take the form of a full-blown crisis–it might concern our health, relationships or other aspects. When this happens, most of us begin looking for the ever-elusive balance between our professional and personal lives. In this article, Soulveda discusses realistic ways in which we can keep this balance from tipping over too much on one side.
Embrace the imbalance
American author and performer Dan Thurmon, in his Ted Talk Off Balance On Purpose, says work-life balance is not real. Dividing life into five aspects–work, relationships, health, spirituality and interests–he says being in complete control of every sphere of our life at all times is not possible. Thurmon’s advice is to embrace the uncertainty instead of worrying about the balance.
We cannot manage multiple spheres of our lives at once. We cannot be at a family getaway and answer work calls the whole time. Nor can we complete a presentation successfully if we’re obsessing over affairs at home. When we attempt such things, we end up being too distracted to do either properly.
Take the case of juggling artistes. No matter how many balls they’re juggling, at any given moment, they’re only holding two balls in their hands while the rest are in the air.
Prioritise, set boundaries
Prioritising is the answer, says corporate trainer Swasthika Ramamurthy. “Multi-tasking is a myth,” she says. “Attempting to do five things at once will only split your attention in too many directions to achieve very little. What we need to do instead is prioritise our goals and then set boundaries.”
Establishing boundaries is simple: we work while we work and play while we play. When at work, we need to focus on tasks at hand and keep all else at bay. There’s time to mull over other issues later. And once outside the office, we need to put our devices away and live a life. With practice, we can make this a habit.
Integrate two spheres
Take the case of juggling artistes. No matter how many balls they’re juggling, at any given moment, they’re only holding two balls in their hands while the rest are in the air. Juggling the five spheres of our lives is just like that, Thurmon says in his Ted Talk. At the most, we can focus on two of them at once. With this metaphor in mind, we can integrate two spheres of our lives at a time, he says. For instance, Thurmon himself takes his family with him when he goes on work trips. That way, he spends time with his family while also making a living.
Not all of us are motivational speakers for a living, so we may not be able to do what Thurmon does. But we sure can emulate his idea. We could find a job that involves our interests, so we earn while we do what we love. We could even integrate work with health by finding a job that involves physical activity. Some of us might even be lucky enough to find like-minded colleagues at the workplace. Nurturing a friendship with such people can add warmth, laughter and bonding to the time we spend at the office.
We might never be able to achieve the perfect work-life balance. Maybe such a thing is not even possible. But we sure can learn to prioritise, protect our time and use our creativity to integrate two spheres of our lives at once. That way, we are as in control of the balls we juggle as we can be. Perhaps, that in itself is something to aspire for.