The Work-Life Tug-of-War


“Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster” ~Tom Atlee

This is the world we live in.  Everything is happening very quickly, and the argument as to whether this is a good or bad thing will keep many occupied at coffee shops and photocopiers for a long time to come.  Like or lump it, we are living it.  We are surrounded by a world that wants innovation and efficiency, and that means we need to design, create, produce and evaluate every minute of our days….regardless of our calling.

The long-time common response when someone asks “how are things?” has been “good.”  I am starting to notice (with myself certainly and more often with others) that a more common response lately is “busy.”  Things are busy.  Things are happening faster and faster and there is more and more of it to do and to care about and to wonder and to try!

No matter what your career, family situation, volunteer experiences or daily “to-do’s, we’ve all found ourselves busy.  We have also all craved the precious and just out of reach “down-time.”  Also known as “me-time” and “out-of-office.”  In a world of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi ad video-conference though, I think the “out-of-office” is becoming less and less respected.

So, how can we possibly try to strike a work-life balance when we are required to keep up?  If one takes time for oneself are they sacrificing promotions? Recognition? Opportunity and possibility?  It might seem so, but if you don’t have a work-life balance (i.e. if work IS your life) you won’t last long.  First of all, you get sick.  Your body sends clear “I give” signals that look an awful lot like heart disease, high cholersterol, diabetes, headaches, ulcers, and on and on and on.  Too often, these signals are ignored or quieted with prescriptions, caffeine, alcohol, Ambien and protein smoothies, all of which have a time and place for a SHORT time and place, but not because you are working too hard…not good enough.  Once your body is done with you, your mind takes over the distress signals.  You have trouble concentrating.  Your creativity dwindles.  Your people skills decline.  You get cranky and unproductive.  You become miserable and lonely.  You become TOO invested (believe it) in your job and you lose perspective…not the things you listed on your resume.  Better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster.

Those highly invested in their careers are struggling to buy this….they will eventually, unfortunately.  Those recognizing these things for what they are, I have a few ideas for you on how to slow down and get a little leverage in the tug-of-war:

  1. Just because you have “free time”, does not mean that you are available. If someone asks if you are able to attend or organize or volunteer at an event, and you have the empty block of time, that does not mean you have to say yes.  A little empty time in your schedule is good for you for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is “balance.”  Secondly, it gives time for you to do something you WANT to do or ENJOY (What???) and finally, it gives “fudge” room in case life happens and you need time to address a crisis or problem that arises.  I often tell people it is great to be busy and going all the time as long as all is well…as soon as life happens, there isn’t enough time to be busy!  Another thought on “free time: if you get some “by accident” (someone cancels a meeting or is a no-show, etc)…leave it empty.  Don’t jump to fill it.  Enjoy it.
  2. Keep it Organized.  Make a list or use a calendar or have a day-timer.  There are any number of apps and software possibilities to find what will work for you.  Your mind is an expansive and awesome resource, but it is paying attention to a LOT of things you don’t even realize, and it decides FOR you what is important to remember and what can be remembered later….like at 3AM.  Just a note: your own subconscious desires, values and attitudes help it determine these priorities.  Get a calendar of some sort and use it.  I would even recommend colour coding it to get a good picture of your work-life balance! This is a bit of work on the front end learning how to use it and remembering to use it, but in the long run will be invaluable to you.  Secondly, the whole point is to get it OUT of your mind right?  Having a calendar and being organized not only externalizes all that data, but gives it a place outside of your head….this helps your mind to relax a wee bit, because it knows, it’s been written down and there is time scheduled to do that.  Just a note, if it’s not on the calendar, it probably won’t get done (this is especially true with things like a fitness routine, date night etc….you have to schedule them in if that’s the lifestyle you live!)
  3. Learn to say No.  There is not much more to say about that. It isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill.  You can do 100 things half-assed or you can do 5 things really well.  If it isn’t required of you or interesting to you or a value you hold dear….just say no.  On that note, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  There are some things you will want to do with 100% gusto and with spectacular amounts of work and investment so that they turn out second to none.  And then, there are some things that can be “good enough.”  Have a look at which is which for good sense of where your priorities lie.
  4. Sometimes, time is more valuable than money.  This may have 2 meanings for some: yes, first-off your children and spouse and friends would much rather spend time with you then have gifts or treats.  I’m talking more about the second meaning.  There might be some things that you can “hire out” to relieve your stress.  Most of us take a lot of “pride” in being a do-it-your-selfer.  But that’s about you and not the others in your life or your “other” self who wants some down-time.  Maybe, a housekeeper?  An accountant? A lawn company? Someone else to make the birthday cake or iron you clothes?  Just something to consider, as there is NO question that time is more valuable than money.  There is always more money to be had.  Time is something we are losing every day and there’s no changing that or getting more of it.  It is by far the most valuable thing we have…and our relationships and our health remind us of that often (hopefully sooner than later…)
  5. Put first things first.  Your brain is organized into priorities, and the first of these is survival.  This includes food, water, sleep, exercise, safety, and shelter.  Your mind needs this foundation in order to be productive.  Make sure you are eating and sleeping and exercising.  Your brain considers these a must.  Second, is belonging, emotion, relationships and love.  Without these things, your brain again begins to worry about survival and happiness (which are far more important to your brain than the bottom line).  If you are healthy and have your basic physical and safety needs met, and if you are in healthy and loving relationships and are HAPPY, then your mind opens up to creativity, logic, possibility, abstract thought, innovation and the understanding all of the mysteries of the universe…your job description fits in there somewhere!  But you have to have had enough sleep to access it. And, you will find more joy and reward in your work if you allow for it.

There are all sorts of other ideas that you know: prioritize, meditate, communicate with your friends and family, find a job you love, ask for help etc.  Most importantly, and sometimes the very hardest part, is to forgive yourself for needing and wanting down-time… will be ahead of the game in the long run if you can appreciate and understand that it’s okay to have “life” win every once in a while.




One comment on “The Work-Life Tug-of-War

  1. This are some great tips. I think it’s very important for everyone to just have time to yourselves. A time to think or not think. A time to just relax and enjoy live. If I get a few minutes to myself I like to just look up at the sky or at the trees and let my mind wander.

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