Making Work-Life Balance Manageable

In March 2013, Erin Callan, the former CFO of Lehman Brothers, wrote an article for the New York Times entitled, “Is There Life After Work?” She describes how her work became her life over time; she writes, “Each year that went by, slight modifications became the new normal. First I spent a half-hour on Sunday organizing my e-mail, to-do list and calendar to make Monday morning easier. Then I was working a few hours on Sunday, then all day. My boundaries slipped away until work was all that was left.” When Lehman Brothers collapsed, Callan was faced with a problem; she writes, “I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did. What I did was who I was.”

Callan is not alone in her problem; work-life balance is a problem that weighs heavy on many individuals’ minds. There are three steps that can help turn work-life balance from a difficult and seemingly unconquerable problem to a manageable issue that can be addressed.

First, look realistically at where your time goes. There are one-hundred and sixty-eight hours in the week. If you work forty hours a week and sleep eight hours a night, you have seventy-two hours remaining for other priorities. Few of us can account for all of those seventy-two hours. Track your time for a week in a journal and then evaluate your level of comfort with how you are allotting your time. If you find that you are spending time on things that you do not truly care about, work to construct your schedule for the next week with tweaks in mind.

Second, be intentional about creating and maintaining balance in your life. In her TED Talk “How to gain control of your free time,” Laura Vanderkam describes her recent time diary project where extremely busy women kept track of where their time went during a week. One participant’s experience stood out; the participant had gone out for an event on Wednesday night and returned home to find that her water heater had broken, leaving her basement covered in water. It took seven hours for her to get the damage repaired. Vanderkam notes that, had the participant been asked to find seven hours in her week to train for a triathlon or to mentor seven worthy youths, the participant would have likely said that she was too busy. Vanderkam says we need to treat our priorities like the broken water heater; if we treat our priorities with the same sense of urgency as a broken water heater, we will find the time in our weeks. She recommends sitting down on Friday afternoon to write a three category list: career, relationships, and self. She suggests planning for two to three items in each category and scheduling them into your week. Taking the initiative to design your life in this way may be difficult, but it is necessary. Nigel Marsh articulates this point poignantly in his Ted Talk, “How to make work life balance work,” saying, “If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”

Third, choose a reasonable time frame to evaluate your level of work-life balance. As Nigel Marsh observes, “You can’t do it all in one day.” He suggests elongating “the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life,” but not “falling into the trap of the ‘I’ll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I’ve got no mates or interests left.’” Laura Vanderkam recommends using a year as a measure and suggests writing two things: your performance review for next year and your holiday letter.

While writing your performance review, identify three to five items that would make it an amazing year for you professionally; while writing your holiday letter, describe three to five items that would make it a wonderful year for you personally. At the end of the year, you can reflect on those goals and your year to identify what is working for you in terms of work-life balance and what can be tweaked.

Finding balance requires becoming cognizant of where our time goes, being intentional about reallocating time as necessary, and mindfully reflecting on our level of balance. However, striking that sweet spot of balance can help us to live more meaningful lives. And that’s worth the effort.

*This blog was written by Lauren Onestak and published by Virginia Commercial Finance.