The popularized modern incarnation of work-life balance, coined in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom, emerged from the original mid-1800s dichotomy of work-leisure balance. The goal was happiness and the path was a harmonious balance of work and play.
Most humans could agree that a happy life with a balanced work-leisure schedule is the goal. We know this, but we are not all happy and balanced. What makes it so hard to achieve this elusive and seemingly unattainable work-life balance?
The answer is difficult because the obstacles are different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all model of work-life balance and, even within the individual, balance will constantly change. Luckily, the solution to achieving this mysterious work-life balance does not have to be difficult or complex. There are simple things you can do today to help you along this path. Here are some of them.
1. Define your personal values and start prioritizing what is important to you by using “Personal Values Cards.”
One of my favorite tools from the world of Motivational Interviewing is the Personal Values Card Sort by Miller, Baca, Matthews, and Wilbourne. If you google “Personal Values Cards” these will pop up in PDF form for you to work with. Print and cut them out, and then start to make three piles: “Important to Me”, “Very Important to Me,” and “Not Important to Me.”
Try to go quickly and not pick socially accepted answers, rather what is actually very important to you. From your “Very Important to Me” pile, pick your top eight values and start to prioritize those in your life. For example, “loving” and “loved” are two of my top eight priorities. It took many years for “loved” to be on the list, but values can change so check-in with this deck every so often.
This will take time to integrate your personal values into what you prioritize, start with just one of the eight values to work on this month and then continue adding one a month for the next eight months and see how drastically your life will look.
2. Be honest with yourself to figure out what work-life balance looks like for you.
Get to know your strengths, weaknesses, role as friend, role in work, etc. Only by being radically honest with yourself will you be able to figure out what work-life balance will look like for you.
My favorite online personality test, a completely free take on the infamous Myers-Briggs personalities, is 16Personalities. The Enneagram Institute also is a great online resource to help you better understand your personality, as well as help you understand what work-life imbalance and balance might be like for you.
Once you better know your personality, you will be better able to see what gives you energy and strength. You might be more introverted than extroverted, and creating more time in your schedule to work from home might be how you can better achieve work-life balance.
3. Set your boundaries, learn to delegate tasks, and practice prioritizing what is important in your day.
Prioritizing does not always (but sometimes) mean delegating someone else to do low priority tasks, but rather better structuring how you spend your time each day so you can improve how your days are spent.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a great tool to help you structure what needs to be done versus trying to be a superhuman that does everything and then ends up with burnout. The graph is like this: the x-axis is “urgent” and the y-axis is “important.”
- If it is far to the right on the x-axis and high on the y-axis, the task is likely urgent, important, and needs to be done immediately.
- If it is on the far left of the x-axis and high on the y-axis, that means it is important but not urgent, and you should choose when to do it.
If you have time today, go for it, but if you are trying to leave work early to meet your family for dinner, save that task for tomorrow. This also helps you create boundaries with your time and energy. It’s easy to get sucked into work and then resent the work you spent so much time and energy on because it kept you away from the things you wanted to be doing.
Take time to set boundaries—the hardest part is sticking to them, but it gets easier with practice. Also let your friends and, if possible, co-workers know your work-life boundaries so they can support and help reinforce your wishes.
If you have ever tried to hold Vrksasana a.k.a. Tree pose for a minute (extra credit if you can close your eyes while doing this), you know that balance is hard and it takes subtle changes in your body to maintain that balance. Work-life balance is the same way.
The only constant in this world is change, so I am empowering you to take a moment to step back, get to know yourself and what works and what doesn’t—specifically for you—that is how you will find your most successful and healthy work-life balance. If you have any fun, simple, and helpful tips about how you have achieved work-life balance, please share in the comment section below. In love and light!
Image credit: Aneta Gab