Everyone is looking for work-life balance, and almost everyone is writing about it. Lists on how to achieve it pop up in blogs like a metronome. The Washington Post wrote about the 25 jobs that offer the best work-life balance – which would have a lot of people in tech jobs and nobody in retail – while Forbes magazine has suggested that what we really need is work-life effectiveness or flow.
But what does work-life balance mean? It’s not simply the enforcement of the right to an eight hour day (8 hours work, 8 hours rest, 8 hours sleep) that was won in 1856 for workers in Australia. It’s more than a 50/50 split of time between working and not working.
Living at work
Work is not in fact separate to the rest of your life. Whether paid employment takes up a large or small portion of your time; whether it’s even paid or is volunteer work, or part of maintaining a home, it’s just one factor in a whole life. A work-life balance is all about prioritising work, family and other activities for maximum personal fulfilment and benefit. What constitutes ‘balance’ in those three areas will shift over the decades.
The ratio of time dedicated to each area is different at the start of your career than later on when you’re meeting the financial and emotional needs of a young family. Work-life balance is important even if you don’t have children.
Balance for you may include time to do art, or to surf, or to care for parents or a spouse, or to learn how to cook to MasterChef standards.
Since a balanced life can mean different things to different people at different stages, the key to a successful balancing act is in your ability to assess what’s going on in your life, and to know whether it’s delivering the material, emotional and intellectual fulfilment and satisfaction you want and need.
If it’s not, you need to reflect on the discrepancies and plan the changes that will take you closer to your ideal.
Finding the balance
As a starting point, you need to understand what you want from a job or career, and what you want from your life as a whole. You’ll need to balance practical needs with personal needs, responsibilities to others and those to yourself. It’s about finding what balance means to you.
You may not begin with a perfect allocation of time, income and fulfilment – but then you evaluate, re-evaluate, talk with the people in your life, consider your own needs, and incrementally work towards what you want.
Of course, there are plenty of articles, essays, studies and books offering advice and insights on understanding what a well-balanced life means to each person. Here’s a helpful list.
Books like Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez offer a methodology for evaluating your income needs against your values – their advice is to avoid working long hours to earn income that you will then need to spend to cheer yourself up because you dislike your job so much.
Read a few books and find the advice that best meets your needs.
When you have the time, of course.
Are you wondering how you can fit postgraduate study into your life and maintain your balance? Book a one-on-one consultation to discuss it.
Image: Tax by stevepb (CC 0.1.0)