work life balance

The Dilemma Of Balance

In the survey I conducted last year, I asked you to share your biggest struggle with family life at the time. Overwhelmingly the most common response was around the dilemma of balance. Here is just a selection of the responses:

  • Balance – juggling work, family and home duties.
  • Balance and being a better mum
  • Balance and having ‘me’ time
  • Balance between work and home
  • Balance of work & family time
  • Balancing demands of breastfeeding with keeping an active toddler engaged and happy.
  • Balancing different needs of each child – naps, school pick ups, homework, sport, meals, housework
  • Balancing everyone’s needs
  • Balancing having a life and having an organised house.
  • Balancing everything and feeling like I’m on top of it all!
  • Balancing kid & parent needs
  • Balancing the different needs of two children
  • Balancing the needs of all family members, including extended family
  • Balancing things to be fair to all parties & dealing with anxiety issues for one child / sensory issues for another

For some of these balance issues I have strategies that I use to make it easier, like:

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do have a question:

Is Work / Life / Family / Balance something we should set as a goal?

Personally I spent a lot of last year thinking, fretting and aiming for balance. Being a planner I liked to think I could divide my time evenly amongst the things that were important to me:

  • My kids
  • My partner
  • My family
  • My friends
  • My work
  • Me

Life doesn’t serve out demands evenly, so there were and are still times when all these areas need my attention, yet I simply couldn’t split it that many ways. Often I would feel like I was failing and very disheartened with “my time management” or “my decision making” skills.

Then in October I read this article by Sarah Wilson, I find what happy women get right and what I read let me breathe a massive sigh of relief:

It’s estimated 1.3 million people have been involved in studies across the first world that confirm the same grim fact: as women’s life circumstances have improved, their happiness has plummeted. The studies conclude the reason for the paradox is not just that “having it all” – career, kids, access to the rowing machine at the gym – has meant “doing it all”. The more important factor is that women have got it into their heads they should be able to do it all. And in perfect balance (I speculate men are, increasingly, feeling the same; it’s just not reflected in the studies yet).

Somewhat in response, UK pop-trend researcher Marcus Buckingham took a different tact and investigated, inversely, what the happier women were doing differently. And his conclusion was this: they strove for imbalance. Messy, all-over-the-shop imbalance.

These happy women, he said, realised that balance was impossible (and therefore stressful) to achieve, but also rather boring. Instead, they “tilted” towards activities and commitments they liked and found meaningful. Scanning the “sad female lawyer” study I found the happier blokes did the same. They were more likely to take breaks at work for personal activities, which I took to mean play golf and eat lunch away from the office, and for simply relaxing. Which I read to mean, not for balancing out an excel sheet of life order.

I didn’t read into to this article that it meant I could just do as I please and put all the things I like to do first and not worry about everything else. It made me think about what was I really trying to achieve with balance. Was I aiming for:

  • balance across a day?
  • balance across a week?
  • balance across a month?

In the end I really just wanted for my family to be happy and satisfied and that I was also happy and satisfied too. I realised that this may sometimes means I leave my family for a week to attend a blogging conference on the other side of the world and other times that I will go offline for weeks at a time to have my family as the sole focus.

For the last couple of months of 2011, I tilted towards key activities at different points in time. And by not hooking myself into the goal of balance, I could do it without the over thinking and the fretting. It wasn’t neat, tidy and even but we were all happy and were able to achieve individual and family goals in this time.

There is much I can do to plan and utilise my time better, so when titled, the other areas of my life are not deprived of my attention. Over the next few months I will be sharing strategies for this.

But for now on the dilemma of balance, I would recommend considering if this is something that you want to set yourself as a goal?

Over to you – I would love to hear what you think!