Many people, including me, have been searching for the “perfect” work-life balance. Just as often, I am also trying to influence my significant other to “fix” his work – life balance so we can invest more time together as a family. I’ve come to realize that for me, the solution lies in harmony rather than balance or blending work with home life. In our work with family businesses owners, the quest for the perfect work life balance is often at the crux of many of the challenges faced by couples. I’m curious about what works (or doesn’t work) for you.
The Balancing Act
The word, balance, implies that the solution lies in spending equal amount of time with “work” and “life” in order to get balance. It also assumes that balance is ideal – all areas need equal time. What images come to mind? I think about measuring/ weight scales that need to balance or a tightrope walker distributing weight equally to balance on the high wire. You’re either “in” or “out” of balance.
This strategy was my “go to” when our family was young (4 children in 5 1/2 years), we were succeeding my in-laws in the family business (farming from a distance), I was working as a college instructor trying to fit preparation and marking time into my evenings and I volunteered in my community on a local board (as Treasurer). This is multi-tasking at its best – hiding the inefficiencies in an attempt to do it all and in hindsight, not giving any of the areas the focus they deserved.
A key to finding harmony is to focus on what is truly important and highest priority right now. What is the highest and best use of my time today? I schedule everything that is routine and important to me – work and family related. Recognizing that my “to do” list will never be completed, a lot of “little things” and noise no longer get my attention. Harmony recognizes that there are times when an area of your life will pull you in one direction – that may happen when you are in a significant change such as starting a family, starting a business, implementing a large strategic priority, planning a wedding, final exam time, etc. There will be times when the ebb and flow is towards “work” and other times that it is towards “life”.
“It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.” — Henri Poincare
I’ve learned a few lessons on my quest for satisfaction with work and life:
Your personal needs can be met with friends and other family members – enjoy taking a trip or taking in a movie with a friend or other family member if your significant other isn’t available. If you have children, enjoy spending time with them and helping them develop into fabulous adults with varied interests. Let it go. It isn’t helpful to hold a grudge or resent going with someone else.
A few years ago, we had planned a trip to Europe to attend the wedding of a good friend. When the trip was planned, the timing was “pretty good” for a farmer to be able to attend and be away from the farm. But, as Mother Nature sometimes does, the weather and the development of the crop was at a state that a few weeks prior to the trip, my husband broke the news to me that “it was not looking good that he would be able to come with me.” As I still wanted to go on the trip, the notice he gave me allowed me to recruit another travelling companion: our 24 year old daughter. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, getting angry at my husband and resenting the business, I choose to enjoy an unplanned opportunity to spend time with our daughter. Yes, I was disappointed that he wasn’t able to come but also appreciated the economic impact it would have on the business if he kept his plans with me. I enjoyed the trip and getting to spend some one-on-one time with our daughter.
Plan – make a date and schedule the family time that is important and a priority for you. Disappointment awaits if you attempt to force “family time” when you know the seasonal demands at work are challenging. Plan the “essential” family time on an annual or quarterly basis and block time in your calendars.
Negotiate if you need to address work/school/business/volunteer communication while you are “on family time”. It works for us to spend 30 minutes or so at the beginning and end of the day, even on vacation, to address any pressing communication from work / business. This allows us to enjoy the rest of the day or evening knowing that we have scheduled “check-in” time with other commitments.
Outline expectations where some boundaries are laid out such as no calls during family dinner, commitments to attend specific family related events such as school concerts, plays, sports tournaments, X number of family vacation days committed to & planned, etc.
Don’t assume your partner has the same way to act on what may be identical priorities. Have fun brainstorming ways to say / show that “you matter” to me. Compare your lists and learn more about each other. Celebrate and appreciate your differences. Leave judgment at the door.