An April 2019 study published by LinkedIn found that nearly half of those surveyed (49%) state they are stressed about their work. Of those that reported this stress, 70% stated the biggest cause of stress was “work-life balance/workload.” This aligns with a 2015 study by the American Sociological Review that shows the same percentage of people struggling to attain work-life balance.
Despite the great attention many have given to achieving this balance and the number of professionals who claim work-life balance supersedes pay when looking for a job, it is clear that it is a small minority who have found it.
Maybe that is because we need to do away with work-life balance altogether.
To achieve continual balance, in any regard, is no easy task. In order to accomplish balance, everything has to be in sync and aligned perfectly. The mental picture I am drawn to is my daughter, who for a decade was a gymnast. She spent countless hours in the gym practicing and working through her routines, yet the occasional misstep still threw her balance off, resulting in a points deduction during her meets.
This is not so different than the majority of working professionals who, despite their best attempts, still struggle to find their footing on that perfect balance between work and personal commitments where it does not take much to throw them off course.
There was a time in my career where I was so off-balance that I paraded it like a badge of honor, even writing a LinkedIn post about how I was ok with being “completely off balance and I was ok with this.” While there were those who gave me the thumbs up to indicate their endorsement of this warped thinking, it is something I look back on now and shake my head. Rather than correct course by trying to find that elusive balance again, I have forsaken that approach and rather subscribe to the idea of work-life boundaries.
When I think of a boundary, I think of something that is more permanent, a line of demarcation that takes effort to move. Boundaries are more secure and lasting. I think of a boundary as something that truly separates one thing from another, in this casework and life.
I have spent the last two-plus years implementing this boundary-led approach and have found it to be incredibly beneficial both professionally and personally. When I am working, I am working. This is my boundary. I am not giving myself to multiple things, I am focused, mindful and deliberate about the work I am doing during the time I am living within my work boundary.
At the same time, when I am focused on my relationships, my hobbies and the things outside of work that brings me joy, I am wholly and completely vested without any work distractions.
Living this way has enabled me to be more purposeful in all aspects of life and has improved both my work product and my personal relationships.
So how does one go about setting these boundaries and living within them on a day-to-day basis? Here are a few things to consider:
Define What You Value Most
What are the things in both your personal and professional life that you value the most? Write them down. For me on the personal side, it is time with my wife and kids and tending to my personal health. In business, I have defined tasks that deliver the best results for my clients and for long-term sustainability.
Now that these have been established, I have been able to create boundaries around them to protect the time I spend with my family. For instance, there are specific times I will not work, such as nights and weekends. Additionally, in order to deliver what is best for my clients, I structure my weeks to have a specific time to work on deliverables, research, etc.
With these boundaries established I am able to then look at anything that can potentially interfere and determine, if in that specific case, I can or should move that boundary. More often than not, the answer is no.
Create Your Boundaries in Community
Establishing your boundaries is a team sport. Rarely is it just one person that is impacted by a life lived off-balance. Asking for help from a few trusted confidantes ensures an outside perspective and a level of accountability to stay within the guardrails you’ve set.
I created boundaries with the help of my wife and a few close friends. We discuss them regularly as it is too easy to veer off course and make exceptions if done in isolation.
Set The Right Expectation
Whether you work for yourself or a company, it will be key to set the right expectations with clients, partners, your manager, and co-workers. Be clear on when you will be available and connected. This may seem daunting, but I have seen it done, have done it myself and each time it has been well received and respected.
With so many struggling to achieve balance, it is time we think of a more permanent approach. One that safeguards what we value and puts us in the best frame of mind in our personal and professional lives and therefore reduces our stress.