“Work-life” balance is a common topic of discussion in business circles. When we lack that balance and tip into workaholic tendencies, it leads to burnout and brain fog. However, the way that we’ve come to talk about “work-life” balance may need fine-tuning.
In our work-driven society today, we struggle to take vacations, leave work on the weekends, or take needed mental breaks.
So much of the rhetoric around health in the workplace is centered around preventing what we’ve come to see as inevitable: being burnt out, run-down, and unable to operate at our full potential. We think we’re doing a good job when we have the self-control not to check work emails after hours.
While these boundaries are beneficial (and I’ve recommended them myself), are they really an image of true balance in the workplace? Or are we just desperately trying to save ourselves from burnout?
Here’s my radical thought: what if you could do your job and thrive at the same time?
2 Ways to Expand the Definition of Work-Life Balance
1) Blend the balance.
When we consider work-life balance, it is usually presented as carving up large chunks of time for the pursuit of specific areas of life. This is work, or things in our personal lives—family and relationships, hobbies, self-care, and time for fun and entertainment. When we lack this balance, we inevitably suffer from stress and burnout.
I think part of our problem is in the way we define balance. We think it is drawing a line in the sand and saying “this time is for work” and “this time is for me.” However, blending the two—making daily decisions that prioritize your health, and, ultimately, your job performance, is key.
This means that, rather than compartmentalizing our time in the two binaries of “work” and “life,” we instead allow them to blend.
Sounds like the opposite of what we want, doesn’t it?
What I’m talking about is a willingness to break the binaries when it serves your mental and emotional health. Studies show that taking regular breaks throughout your workday has massive benefits for our productivity. According to The New York Times, our bodies move from a state of alertness to a state of fatigue in 90-minute cycles.
Instead of taking our bodies’ cues to take a break from work, we tend to push through with the aid of trip to the coffee maker.
Real balance comes in a willingness to take breaks at work. Most of us are unwilling to, believing that we will be perceived as lazy or that it will hurt our professional careers. However, studies show that taking regular breaks in the office—not too many or too long, but regularly—helps reduce decision fatigue, eye damage, and a lack of focus.
With this in mind, we have a better work-life strategy when we allow ourselves to have a life at work. Working in 90-minute intervals followed by a short break is proven to increase productivity.
The trick is to maximize your performance in the long-term rather than pushing towards short-term goals.
This, ultimately, is where balance lies: not in an act of self-preservation to prevent burnout, but by managing our health in the long-term. This will produce fruits not only in the office but in our personal lives. Have the flexibility to blend work and life when it benefits you in the long-term. That may look like taking regular breaks at work, or it might mean answering a work email after-hours that will keep you awake with stress otherwise.
2) Adjust your mindset.
Work-life balance is often a matter of mindset. Not only do we have to move away from the idea of the work-life binaries, but we have to consider how our unique personalities, age, and circumstances will affect what that balance looks like.
In most cases, we speak about the balance in very narrow terms. You must do this, not do this, in order to achieve balance. But for many of us, the definition of balance—and the things we want to do—are very different.
So start by adjusting your mindset rather than your schedule. What do you really want to prioritize in your life? Ask yourself what your non-negotiables are. Realize that you can’t have or do everything and that you must pick-and-choose.
This is where to start: with a clear vision of your goals. Any decisions about work-life balance should be made in service to those goals with the future—not just the now—in mind.
What’s your idea of perfect work-life balance? Share in the comments.