Recently I walked into a lift in a huge manufacturing facility belonging to someone I’d like to become a client. They need me. They really do.
There were two guys already in the lift. One says to his colleague, in a gorgeous Irish lilt “I haven’t quite got the work-life balance ting sorted you know.”
Now, work-life balance: that’s a funny one. Let’s try to unpick that as the academics say (which always gives me an image of them trying to unpick their noses).
First, there’s work. Then there’s life. So the implication is that the work isn’t part of the life. It’s something different. Maybe the work is Unlife. Unlife-life balance? That’ll never catch on. Like a joke where you need to explain the punchline.
I used to have a boss who didn’t have work and life. He had something that was both. Maybe wife, or lirk. No.
He did this…
He’d go on a week-long business trip not on a Monday. He’d go on the Friday night and play golf with his hosts all weekend before starting work on the Monday. When he was the host and the guests were visiting – same thing. A blend of work and life. His work and his life had merged into one…being. He enjoyed himself.
I suspect those who worry about work-life balance don’t like their work. It’s understandable. How do you “balance” the fact that you spend the best part of five out of every seven days doing something you really don’t like? “Please give me evenings and weekends” as long forgotten band Gang of Four sang, in my bedsit, many years ago.
This is what happens to some of us…
Go to work. Slight nagging feeling the weekend could have been better if you’d been more present and spent less time thinking about work. You’re busy, busy, busy. The distractions distract you. You spend a lot of time on stuff of such vanishingly small importance it really should make you weep. You might get some real work done, maybe for an hour or so. You go home feeling dissatisfied and tired. Is that what it’s about?
Saturday and Sunday!
You spend a lot of the weekend thinking about work and you feel guilty for not being present during the weekend.
Monday morning comes around. Repeat to fade. To fade.
It’s not work-life balance that’s the issue.
At work we are not focused on what matters. We try to do everything, usually in reverse order of importance in a vain attempt to clear some time for the important stuff, but that’s like counting the grains of sand on the beach before sun bathing.
And in life outside of work we often don’t know what we’re doing either. So we have aimless, drifting days…(which sounds quite attractive as I write it and it can be if that’s what you want, but if it isn’t what you want then it’s stressful.)
Now you may not want to play golf with your work chums. You may not want to have a work+life being, where everything is merged. That’s fine. That’s OK. But you need to avoid toxic contamination.
…where the frustrations and dissatisfactions of work spill over into life, stopping you being relaxed, present and having fun when you’re not working.
So, how to stop this toxic contamination?
The only way I know is…
…while working, to focus on doing what only you can do, and stop the office equivalent of counting the grains of sand on the beach. You know what I mean. Focus on high-payoff activities.
Remember, the GDP in the UK during the three day week fell not by 40% as it should have done, it fell by 7%. You can do your job in three days a week.
There is no balance to be had from work and life.
The dissatisfaction arises because the work part is off-the-scale frustrating which is usually caused by a lack of clarity on goals and high-payoff activities and an understandable yet corrosive desire to please others…
But, if you get the work bit sorted out, you will find that work-life balance as an issue evaporates.
Work-life balance is not about running away from the frustrations at 4pm. It’s about walking away when you choose, knowing that you’ve moved some important stuff forwards.