Work/Life Balance seems to be an important concept that’s on the mind of many workers and employers these days — and rightfully so. But the discussion around Work/Life Balance seems to generally focus on one direction — namely, how to maintain a healthy Work/Life Balance when Work gets demanding. A huge fan of that topic, I want to use this article to provide some discord on the opposite direction of Work/Life Balance (two-way, by definition): maintaining Work/Life Balance when Life gets busy.
I have been quite busy in my personal life recently — I moved to a new city, among other things — and have discovered and practiced 3 principles that can help maintain a healthy Work/Life Balance when Life ups its demand. These principles are centered around one philosophy: Acknowledging and respecting priorities in both Work and Life — and not just either.
Principle #1: Committing to Work/Life boundary
Work and Life are out of Balance when one spills into the other. By defining and committing to a boundary, we can reduce the spillover in either direction.
A boundary can come in one of two forms:
- Time boundary: A commitment to box work/personal activities into a specific time range. This devotion of certain time to a certain activity can be powerful because it has a corollary: we are formally separating our Work mindset from our Life mindset, and allowing our brain to not be disturbed by Work priorities when focusing on Life, and vice versa.
- Location boundary: Separating the location where we work and where we do personal stuff. In a remote workplace, we are presumably working from our home most of the time, so this can be more challenging to implement than the time boundary. One workaround can be a designated workspace in the home, if space permits.
But it is also important to note that this Work/Life boundary is not something that can automatically happen just because we decide to give it a try. It is a low-entropy status that takes commitment and discipline to maintain. It may require us to proactively reserve time for Life while muting our work inbox during, or committing to make finishing a Work task a prerequisite for tackling a Life task. But once we train ourselves to master these boundaries, both Work and Life can benefit as neither will spill into and block the other.
Principle #2: Co-ordinate priorities for both Work and Life
A lot of us might already intuitively maintain 2 sets of priorities, one for Work and one for Life, and a big part of Work/Life Balance is the balance between these two sets of priorities.
However, when either Work or Life gets a bit more demanding, the corresponding set of priorities can swell up and annex some bandwidth we usually devote to the other set. When this happens, we may be tempted to sacrifice our Work/Life Balance and opt to only cater for either Work priorities or Life ones. I don’t believe it is a good idea: if we fail to attend to our personal priorities in Life, we might think we are protecting our Work priorities, but in the long run Work also gets hurt because of our overall effectiveness as a person is harmed. The same can be said about ignoring Work priorities as well.
To maintain true Work/Life Balance, it is important to treat these two sets of priorities separately, but not without coordinating them so they work together to contribute to our holistic effectiveness. The goal is to prioritize tasks in Work and Life with each other in mind, so that we set ourselves up for success in both of these in the long-term.
Given the scope of this article, I will use an example that focuses on the scenario where it is Life that gets a bit busy. Recently, when my personal projects (especially the move to a new city) started requiring a larger chunk of my attention, to a point where I was feeling tired by my personal life and became less happy with work, I decided to revisit my Life priorities and give priority to only the move. This means, outside of Work, this move will be my sole priority for a while. Effectively, I cut back on other aspects of my personal Life so I can: 1. Reserve bandwidth to ensure the most important project in my personal life gets done, and 2. My Work priorities are still well-maintained.
I was able to implement this plan because thankfully this move was not the most onerous one I’ve been through. If I had a more complicated moving scenario, I may have chosen to temporarily adjust my Work priorities and reduce the Work load I take on so that: 1. Core projects at Work are still being done and 2. I can temporarily allocate more bandwidth to ensure that my move goes smoothly, which means both Life and Work benefit in the long-term.
Principle #3: Let Work and Life know of each other
We may tend to strive to completely separate our Work and Life, but I believe letting them know of each other helps us get a greater degree of flexibility, which strengthens our ability to strike that balance, so this principle can really benefit both of them.
Putting this principle to practice is straightforward: when Life gets busy, let our manager and team know about our personal projects, challenges and struggles; when Work requires more bandwidth, let our family/friends know about them too.
However, simple does not always mean easy, and that is true here as well. The prerequisite of this simple and straightforward practice is the ability to be vulnerable (“vulner-ability“) in front of our colleagues/family/friends and admit that we are not superman/superwoman. This takes practice because: 1. We may not feel comfortable with it and 2. We may not have nurtured those relationship enough so that our stakeholders (colleagues/family/friends) will support us and accommodate the temporarily shifting priorities. Nevertheless, this is a great skill to invest into, and I truly believe that sharing challenges and even asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Once again using my own example. During my recent move, I constantly kept my team in the loop, so that they have clear expectation about the timeline of my move and the impact on my bandwidth, so I had a greater level of flexibility when planning for Work priorities. And ditto for keeping people in my personal life updated about my Work projects!