Work-life balance is a hot topic in our overworked, overscheduled and overconnected culture. It’s not an easy topic to tackle, of course, because it’s not black and white. It’s incredibly subjective, and there’s not one right answer for everyone. It’s something each of us wants, but few of us achieve.
That’s because we’re confused about what it means.
I’ve often heard coaching clients and even my girlfriends repeat some variation of this idea: “Life balance means I’m supposed to spend 50% of my time at home and 50% of my time at work.”
Y’all, this is absolutely not realistic! And the two things I say to them are the same things I’ll tell you:
- Work-life balance isn’t about a 50/50 split. It’s about being 100% present.
- Life balance isn’t about doing everything for an equal amount of time. It’s about doing the right things at the right time.
The word balance makes us believe everything in our lives should be divided equally. It’s as if we should split our days into perfectly equal parts, with time dedicated to our spouse, children, exercise, faith, work, volunteering, hobbies and every other commitment in our lives. But this is not achievable.
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After years of speaking in front of thousands of people from all walks of life, I have seen firsthand how important this topic is to everyone. Whether you’re a woman or man, corporate professional or stay-at-home parent, barely getting by or at the top of your career, work-life balance is something you’re seeking out.
America’s Version of Work-Life Balance
The average American working a full-time job puts in 47 hours a week.(1) And actually, 40% of us are working more than 50 hours per week! This doesn’t even take into account the additional two-plus hours American women spend on housework every day.(2) (Like we needed the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to tell us that!)
Not surprisingly, stay-at-home parents ultimately have the longest work days. According to Salary.com, stay-at-home moms clock in at 97 hours a week!(3) There’s actually a Stay-At-Home-Mom Calculator so you can see how much you’re “worth” based on all the different hats you wear. But let’s be honest: You can’t put a number on the value moms provide.
With numbers like these, it’s no wonder we’re all craving work-life balance, right? Those stats make it seem likely that many of us feel no sense of balance at all. But before we dive into how you can fix it, first we need to know why your balance is out of whack.
Why Do We Work So Much?
There are a few reasons your work-life balance (or lack thereof) can leave you feeling out of control:
1. It could just be the season you’re in.
If you’re exhausted and burnt out—working long hours because your job demands it at certain times (e.g., an accountant who can’t take a vacation during March or a basketball coach who doesn’t get time off with their family over the holidays)—you do what you have to do to get through and survive the crazy season. But hopefully that crazy time is just that: a season.
The same applies if you’re just launching a new business or a new product for your business. My Business Boutique team and I just went through that this past spring with the launch of Business Idea Bootcamp. We were totally heads-down in research and brand messaging, working hard to get everything just right for you! But now that it’s launched, that work we did on the front end is allowing us to take our vacation time this summer.
If you need a little extra encouragement to get through the busy seasons (and don’t we all?), I recorded this quick video lesson on how to find joy as you get through the things you have to do but might not want to do:
2. You’re doing work that you love.
If you’re working after-hours when you could be doing anything at all, it likely shows that you love what you do. That’s why I work a lot! I actually have to make myself stop (more on this later) because I enjoy it so much. That may sound crazy to someone who has never had work they love.
If this is you, too, don’t let guilt overtake you. I was with my mom every morning at 2 a.m. when she’d start baking in her small cake shop. I watched her struggle. Many parents try to insulate their kids from any type of struggle, and if their kids happen to see it, they feel guilty.
But I can tell you from experience: It’s the struggle that made me. Watching her bust it, overcome, and shine in her work made me a woman who also perseveres with an absurd level of persistence.
You know your threshold better than anyone. At the end of the day, do you feel a sense of accomplishment or do you feel burnt out? I want you to avoid getting to the point of burnout—otherwise, eventually, you won’t be effective: You won’t be effective at work, in your business, or as a wife or a mom.
But if what you’re doing brings you joy, even if it’s work, then you are creating your own version of work-life balance. At the end of the day, that’s the only version of balance that matters anyway!
3. You’re doing all the things for all the wrong reasons.
One theory presented by the Harvard Business Review is this: “We log too many hours because of a mix of inner drivers, like ambition, machismo, greed, anxiety, guilt, enjoyment, pride, the pull of short-term rewards, a desire to prove we’re important, or an overdeveloped sense of duty.”
This reason is the opposite of doing a lot of extra work because you’re doing work that you love. This is running yourself ragged in busyness. It’s doing something for the credit and praise you’ll receive based on the expectations of others or because you have a hero complex. If those are your motivations, you probably feel the stress that comes from overcommitting to everyone and coming up empty.
Related: Why Are You Doing It?
But that’s not what life balance is.
Life balance is not cooking healthy, five-star meals and maintaining a perfectly tidy house while volunteering at the soup kitchen every day. It’s not making sure your child has memorized the book of John like the other kids in Sunday School while carting them to soccer practice before you hustle to yoga class. It’s not working late to get ahead and then barely staying awake during date night with your spouse.
And friend, if that’s how you’ve been operating, I want to make your life a whole lot easier.
Realistic Ways to Practice Work-Life Balance
Regardless of what stage of life you’re in, everyone struggles with balancing what we’ve got going on at any given time.
A few years ago, I learned a new way to practice work-life balance. My life was jam-packed on the road every single week, traveling from city to city speaking, coaching and doing media appearances. That was the reality of that season of my life. (And I loved it by the way!)
But in early 2015, I was intentional about changing my schedule. I wasn’t on the road and I wasn’t even online very much. You see, Matt and I had our first son, Carter, and for the first months of 2015, my focus was 100% on him.
Instead of writing, speaking and coaching, my days were filled with all of the joy and chaos, love and anxiety, wonder and exhaustion that comes with being a first-time mom. (And I loved that as well!)
I actually wrote several weeks’ worth of blogs and social media posts ahead of time that were scheduled to post while I was on maternity leave. That way, even while I was on my couch in yoga pants, surrounded by burp cloths with dark circles under my eyes, my readers could still come here to find the answers and encouragement they needed.
Working ahead to do more now so that you can do less then is one way to practice being present in the season that you’re in.
I did the same thing in 2016 with the birth of our second son, Conley. And these days, I’m not on the road and away from my family as many nights as I used to be, because that was the season I was in then. This is the season I’m in now.
Related: The Secret to Time Management
That’s just one way I can practice (and feel a sense of!) balance in my life.
Here are five ways you can achieve life balance, too:
- Do more now so you can do less then. Just like in my example above, this has to do with recognizing that the season you’re in now won’t be the season you’re in forever.
- Speak up. Be honest with your boss, your coworkers, spouse or extracurricular groups when you feel your plate is too full—and come with suggestions for practical alternatives. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for help, because I guarantee they’ve been there before, too. Plus, most people actually like to feel like they’re helping you.
- Everything in your life is not equal. You need to give people, events, and (don’t forget!) yourself importance by designating them your time. There’s no “right” order because your priorities are unique to you—but you should come up with a hierarchy. Having clear priorities will help reduce your stress AND it will make decision-making much easier when you’re pulled in multiple competing directions. And then you’ll be empowered to . . .
- Say “No.” I love this quote by Warren Buffet: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” The truth is that your time is finite, and, by the way—it’s yours. You don’t just have the right to say no, you have the responsibility to say no. If you don’t protect your time, no one else will.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” -Warren Buffet
- Be 100% present. When you’re at the softball game, be fully present for your kids—and don’t let your mind wander to the thousand other things you “should” be doing. When you’re at the office, be all-in for your coworkers. When you’re at the dinner table, dedicate your attention to your spouse. Treat your priorities like priorities, and everything else will fall into place.
Remember that life balance isn’t the idea that your life will ever be perfectly balanced out. Life balance is simply living from your values. And because everyone’s values and seasons of life are different, everyone’s version of life balance will be different. That’s pretty freeing, isn’t it?