Sustainable work-life balance is one of the greatest challenges of today’s leaders who want to have a meaningful career, to make time for the family and friends, travel, play, and develop interests outside of work. Often, as soon as you manage to create a pocket of time where there’s a fair balance between work and play, inevitably, something happens to throw you off balance again:
Your child comes down with a fever, and you have to take time away from your work, time that you feel you simply don’t have, since you’ve had everything figured out to the minute.
You client changes the specs of the project again, just as you thought that the project is nearly completed. You’re back to the drawing board, having to find 20 extra hours at the expense of something else.
Your star performer leaves the team, just when you found a comfortable routine for shared work.
There’s a massive layoff at your company, and suddenly, priorities shift.
You have a work-life balance rhythm all figured out, and then you find yourself in the middle of selling a house, buying a house, dealing with a health crisis, starting school, having your children start school, getting a promotion, integrating your partner’s job loss…
You are back to ground zero in terms creating a new work-life balance.
Why doesn’t work-life balance seem to be sustainable?
Why can’t you just figure it out once and for all, with a reliable, reusable formula?
You are in a war zone: it’s you vs. entropy.
Entropy refers to the idea that everything has a natural tendency to move from order to disorder. Resources such as energy, work, attention, and time need to be applied in order to prevent things from moving toward chaos.
For example, think about cleaning your house: if you never make an effort to put things away or clean, your home will turn into an unmanageable mess.
If you never comb through your email inbox, eventually, you won’t be able to find anything amidst spam and irrelevant messages.
How does the idea of entropy apply to your work-life balance? Think of your work-life balance as a sand castle on the beach.
If you leave your “work-life balance sand castle” alone, it will very quickly deteriorate due to the wind, the waves, and the passers-by. If you want your sand castle to stand over time, it seems normal and natural to constantly apply effort to sustain it, and protect it from the elements. Similarly, work-life balance requires consistent evaluation of your current priorities.
The weather changes all the time. Even if your “work-life balance sand castle” is perfect for now, you have no control over external conditions that will inevitably affect it. You can complain about the weather as much as you want, but the bottom line is that you know there will be windy days and rainy days; you know that he waves will come in. Adjust, and remember that you will have to keep adjusting your sand castle, no matter how perfect it seems to be.
You get to create the kind of work-life sand castle that fits You. It is meaningless to compare your sand castle to other people’s sand castles. One can’t have The Best work-life balance, much like one can’t have The Best sand castle. Some sand castles are taller, which doesn’t make them better; others are more intricate, which also doesn’t make them better as it may be more difficult to maintain; some castles will be closer to the water, while others – further. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the architect’s vision and needs. Your work-life balance has to look good to You.
There will be time when your work-life balance sand castle will get completely washed away, and you will need to start building it from scratch. There will be times when you’re too tired or sleepy to do rebuild; there will be times when you simply won’t care as much, and so, you will temporarily let go… Don’t expect your castle to stand there waiting for you in the exact conditions in which you left it when you stepped away. When you’re ready to come back to rebuilding your castle, you’ll possibly need to start from scratch, making adjustments for the current circumstances in your life.
Your internal criteria for the perfect work-life sand castle will keep changing. Every time you touch up the castle, it won’t be the same castle anymore. With every adjustment against entropy, you’re creating a new castle in the attempts to rebuild the old one. It’s normal and natural.
There’s no sand castle that you can build that will stand forever, or serve your purpose forever.
Similarly, there is no sustainable work-life balance formula that will work for you throughout your lifetime. It will always be a work in progress.
If you absolutely need a rule of thumb, try this: put your energy, time and attention on what matters most to you at the moment. This way, in each moment, you’ll feel that you’re doing what matters.
You will let go and start again, many times. Try to take each battle against entropy separately. You’ll win some, and you’ll lose some.
There is no end game. There is no “work vs. life”, there is just life.
We are all just playing in the sand.
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