People often tell me they admire my work-life balance. To be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing to warrant these kinds of compliments!
To me, I was simply doing my best to do the important stuff. Sometimes, the choice wasn’t even mine and was dictated by others (e.g., boss, significant other, parents, etc.).
It’s only years later (and after much reflection) did I realize that what I’ve really been doing is indirectly saying ‘no’ to a lot of things. Today, I’m of the firm belief there is no such thing as “work-life balance” — and that’s a good thing!
FALSE: No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance
It all clicked for me when I heard an interview where the guest said, “whenever I told someone that I was too busy for them, I was actually telling them they’re not important enough.”
That’s the moment I realized all my life, I was actually telling people ‘no’ and protecting what I deemed to be important.
“You have to rethink how to build your day to better protect yourself, and to be able to sustain the effectiveness you want.” — @DrewMcLellan
But why does it feel like a constant pushing away of things until our willpower succombs and we find ourselves chugging through emails nonstop?
“What’s changed is not our inability to manage our time or “balance our lives” between work and play. What’s changed is that we have more opportunities for work and play than ever before — more interests, more awareness of every potential experience we’re passing up. In short, we have more opportunity cost.” — @IAmMarkManson
For example, just think of all the great TV shows and movies available on-demand and at our fingertips. I bet it would take a month of non-stop watching to get through just my Netflix queue!
The key words here are ‘opportunity cost.’ It’s the knowledge that we are aware of all the things we aren’t doing that’s causing us to stress out.
The solution is to forgo any notion of a work-life balance and instead embrace a life where the important things should rise to the top, and the unimportant things (sorry Netflix!) will fall to the wayside.
Be Honest About Who’s Important to You (And Who Isn’t)
Your phone rings.
You feel that little pit in your stomach as you realize the caller is that ONE person you dread having to talk to.
An hour later, you finally find an excuse to hang up and realize you’ve lost all that time you could have used to get stuff done. Which means now there’s no time for a workout and you’re in a negative mental space.
Why do we allow this?
Let me explain why we should let these people go and how to do it.
Tim Ferriss, famous productivity guru and author of the The 4-Hour Workweek, does this yearly:
“For each week, jot down on the pad any people or activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Put them in their respective columns.”
The act of writing it down forces ourselves to translate our emotions into intentional thought. Then, by seeing it written down, we can more effectively take action.
To be crystal clear, I’m recommending that we purposefully cut people out of our lives.
But why? We should have a very clear reason why and do it for the right reasons. Otherwise, we may be acting selfishly, which is worse!
Here are my 3 criteria to warrant less or no contact:
- They are negative and selfish
- The relationship is one-sided, consistently over a long period of time
- They don’t challenge you to be a better person
Once you’ve identified a person like this in your life, here’s what I do:
- Slow ghosting — Over time, I would pick up the phone less, delay text responses, and keep it all short. This will strike a good balance with your continued investment, and allow for the person to “wake up” and realize the value of this relationship. If they don’t realize what’s up, then it further validates my decision.
- Grey stoning — This tactic calls for you to not, “show emotion, say anything interesting, or disclose any personal information. Nor do you ask questions or participate in conversations, except for brief factual replies.” The simple objective is to make someone lose interest in you. Just be careful, before they do lose interest, chances are they’ll “up the ante” and do/say something drastic to elicit a response. Don’t fall for it!
Furthermore, I’d venture to say the above techniques will also work for folks who you can’t completely remove from your life, such as family members or co-workers. Although the time drain may never get to zero, you’ll be able to minimize it.
Use the Right Excuse for the Occasion
To be absolutely clear, I am NOT advocating lying!
There’s a line from a sci-fi movie that I sometimes think about that pertains to this topic. It goes, ‘Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor safest form of communication with emotional beings.’
Long time ago I was in a meeting with several executives, way above my pay grade. When the meeting went over by an hour, I told them I had to leave for a carpool. The carpool was to the gym, but to me and at that moment, I chose to prioritize my fitness over my career.
Although there’s no such thing as a work-life balance, we need to do our utmost to protect our time for what’s important.
“No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”
Excuses, when used correctly and ethically, will help you reclaim your day. Below is my advice on when and how to stay flexible, in order to stick to your priorities.
- When less is more — When making an excuse to leave a situation (e.g. during a phone call, a meeting, etc.), don’t volunteer any more information than is needed. A simple, “I gotta go” is sufficient in most instances.
- When to text back immediately — When friends or family are trying to organize an event, text back immediately with your response. Doesn’t matter if your response is a “yes, I’ll attend” or a “No, can’t make it.” By replying promptly, it’ll signify that your reason is real and not some made up excuse. Bonus, it’s just the polite thing to do!
- When to take your time texting back — When dealing with someone’s drama, don’t feed into it. Take your time and reply right before you go off to do something. Bonus, you won’t see their response until you get done.
Bottomline, don’t feel bad when protecting your time for what’s important.
Do’s and Don’ts for a Work-Life Balance
Chatting with a friend the other day, he said he had finally reached zero inbox (i.e. zero unread emails in his inbox) but then after a 1 hour meeting, he came back to over 40+ emails!
I challenged him on why it was important to achieve zero inbox, which is a popular tip in the productivity community.
My belief is that if we’re spending our time based on what’s in our inbox, then our time is being prioritized by others, and not ourselves. Most likely there are more strategic and important things to do that aren’t in our inbox and depend on you to start, not respond to.
Below, I offer my shortlist of do’s and don’t for a more intentional life.
- Succumb to FOMO — Do you suffer from a fear of missing out? Dig deep and understand why you feel that way. It may be driven by insecurity or a need to chase shiny objects. Instead, remind yourself what’s important to you right now.
- Aim for a “zero” inbox — That’s right, I’m saying for most of us, don’t bother trying to get to zero unread emails in your inbox. Unless your job deals with customer service, just do your best to tackle the important strategic emails and leave the rest buried. If they’re important enough, trust me, they’ll find their way back to the top.
- Try to have it all — That might be hard to hear for those of us who’re trying to be superhuman and do everything on our infinite to-do list. Instead, get into the mental space of, “I’ll get the top 1–3 things done, and then everything else is gravy.”
- Keep a to do list… on the cloud — If you’re like me, ideas and “oh yeah, don’t forget to…” thoughts may occur anytime or anywhere. Capture them in your favorite app and store them in the cloud, for access later. This will help clear your mental space for other thoughts. My current favorite app is Evernote.
- Question the value of the task — My point here is that just because it’s on your to-do list or in your inbox, doesn’t mean it needs to get done. Ask yourself if this task contributes to your personal goals in life, and leave everything else on the cutting room floor.
- Invest in efficiency — As Scrooge McDuck would say, “work smarter, not harder!” I fall into the trap sometimes of “bulldozing” my way through a task. Instead, if I had taken the time to set up the task better (e.g. better workflow, automate parts of it, train others, etc.), I would’ve finished the task more quickly. For example, I rearranged all the apps on my iPhone and iPad to fit on one screen only. This forced me to have my most used apps readily accessible.
- While Working From Home, People With This Personality Trait Have Experienced The Greatest Increase In Work-Life Balance by Mark Murphy
- THE TRUTH ABOUT WORKING FROM HOME (IN 24 SHOCKING CHARTS) by Mark Murhpy
- How To Establish A Work-Life Balance When You’re Working Yourself To Death by Drew McLellan
- Finding Work-Life Balance In A Remote World by Tatiana Walk-Morris
- 5 Tips For Work Life Balance During A Global Pandemic by Julia Wuench
- How Successful People Strike A Work-Life Balance In Isolation by Tony Ewing
- NO, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL by Mark Manson
- Forget New Year’s Resolutions and Conduct a ‘Past Year Review’ Instead by Tim Ferriss
- The Price and Payoff of a Gray Rock Strategy by Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT
- No One Will Protect Your Time For You by Deb Knobelman, PhD
- Who Is Seneca? Inside The Mind of The World’s Most Interesting Stoic
- Why Don’t We Know How to Protect Our Time? by Ryan Holiday