Work/Life Balance Is Dead
At least, in the traditional way we think of it.
What we think of as “work” has changed more in the last 50 years than ever before. Industry change, partnered with a shift in technology, has changed what we do and how we do it. As a result, our old models for work, relaxation, and stress management have become outdated. Work, from a life management perspective, has changed so much, so fast, no one really knows how to keep balance. So, we don’t. We just do whatever comes next.
In the past, there was a clear line drawn between work (where you punch in and out with a punch card) and home (where your friends, family, and rotary phone reside). Keeping the two separate was easy: you put work on one side of the scale and life on the other, and if one got out of balance, you changed when you are punching in and out.
In 2018, most of us can’t punch in and out; we are always punched in—kind of. A better term is “on call.” Partitioning work life and home life into two neat categories is impossible and trying to do so will leave you feeling more stressed and less in control.
Instead, there is one thing you can do to bring control back to your life: you can prioritize and then triage (more on triaging in the coming weeks).
This leaves you with three important questions:
- What are my values?
- What is the most important thing I can do now?
- How are my choices going to affect all those involved?
This may be harder than it sounds because every choice has consequences.
Let’s say you’re having a family-style dinner with close friends and family. It’s a weekday night, and spending time with the people you love is your top priority.
In your pocket, you feel an all too familiar hum.
You think: Could it be another one of those phantom phone vibrations you sometimes have when you move your leg and your phone slides around?
You feel it again, a little stronger this time.
Maybe it’s only a text message?
With the ringer on silent, it keeps pulsing.
You casually take out your phone and look at who’s calling.
It’s work. Something must have come up and they need your help. Why do they always call during dinner?
You are now faced with an important decision that needs to be made in the next three rings.
If you pick up, it could take 30 seconds—a quick yes/no approval…
Or, it could take five minutes—a short explanation of a process you know how to do…
Or, it could take the rest of the night—something happened, something BIG happened, and you need to fix it.
What do you do?
How do you make a decision?
Do you have a system in place to make these decisions?
Two more rings and it goes to voicemail.
When you make a priority, you also must be able to accept the consequences of ignoring something else. A choice to do one thing is also a choice to NOT DO another.
In your head, your thoughts are racing.
On one shoulder, an angel, or a demon—you can’t tell which—tells you that if you really made family gatherings a priority, you would have turned your phone off and put it in the other room. Then again, the angel or demon on the other side says, your current job lets you support the people you love so they can have clothes, food in the cupboards, and go to school. If you are really dedicated to your family, you inevitably must be dedicated to your job.
If you pick up your phone, your family and friends might think you don’t value your time with them. If you jump at every phone call, you will never be present with the people you love.
On the other hand.
If you don’t pick up your phone, your job might be in question. If it’s a crisis and work needs you, you owe it not only to your family (job security) but to all those at work who might be affected.
Your phone silently vibrates in the palm of your hand. You look up across the table and see someone laughing, a big belly rumble that makes everyone else smile. Your gaze moves to a child sitting next to them who flashes a messy grin at you through the dinner caked on their cheeks.
A text message pops up on the screen. It’s from your boss: “Call me when you get this.”
What’s the right answer?
Only you know that, and you owe it to the people you love to let them know. You also owe it to yourself, so you can make quick decisions you are confident about later, and to your work, who relies on you when there is an emergency.
Your future is in your hands. Do you take the call or push it to voicemail?
I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation of balance in the Age of Agility, as this is a topic I’ll be writing about in the coming months.
How do you find balance? Let me know your thoughts and strategies! Drop me a line here.
Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrewjwilt