Work-Life Balance: Mythical Concept or Just Misunderstood?

career happiness work life balance Sep 05, 2023
Husky dog with a unicorn pajama on representing work life balance as a mythical or misunderstood concept.

Ah work-life balance. The mythical unicorn that just couldn’t be possible, especially when working to advance your career, right?

Well, there’s some good news and some bad news.

The good news is it is absolutely possible to leave work at work and achieve a healthy professional and personal balance. The bad news is that most professionals really suck at it.

There’s a common misconception that it’s impossible to find a healthy balance, particularly in high-need industries like tech, healthcare, and education. But I promise that there is a way you can find a work-life balance that works for you in any industry. And it’s up to you to find it.

In this post, I’m taking a deep dive into exactly what work-life balance is, what it looks like across industries, and where we go wrong when trying to achieve it.

I’ve also included five concrete steps that you can take to achieve better work-life balance and overall satisfaction in your career.

What is work-life balance, anyway?

My definition of work-life balance is pretty simple. I define work-life balance by looking at how well your career and life work together.

A good work-life balance means you can feel successful in your professional life while still having time for the stuff you find most important.

There is no magic ratio of work to play. This concept is not about time constraints or fitting a mold. Instead, it’s about work-life integration and how well your career fits into the overall life you want to live.

Where do we go wrong?

In my experience, problems with work-life balance usually boil down to one thing – boundaries. There’s a myth that a company or wider industry is fully responsible for your work-life balance. A lack of boundaries is commonly blamed on poor company culture or overall work environment.

But in fact, setting boundaries at work is incredibly individualized, and it’s really the employee’s responsibility to set and maintain them - NOT the boss’s.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t exceptions. For example, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers including teachers, healthcare workers, and grocery store clerks were working insane hours with little control over their work-life balance.

In normal circumstances, however, there are professionals who are finding a positive balance through strong boundaries in all industries.

5 Steps to Creating a Better Work-Life Balance

If you’re struggling to find a work-life balance that fits your lifestyle or the one that you want to live, I have five, intuitive concepts for you to consider.

1. Interrogate your current work-life relationship

The first step to making a change is to visualize the big picture. Think about your current work-life relationship and ask yourself a few guiding questions:

  • How much time do I spend on this job?

  • How much time do I want to spend on this job?

  • How often am I going into the office?

  • Is this adding long commute hours?

  • How often am I traveling for this job, and for how long?

  • How much time am I spending worrying about work when I’m not working?

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll gain a better understanding of how much time you’re currently spending on your career alone.

2. Define your ideal work-life balance

The next step is to find what works for you. A positive work-life balance will look different for everyone.

Use the guiding questions in our first step to help you form this ideal. Also consider:

  • Are you currently spending too much time on your career? Or not enough?

  • Do you want to cut back on your work time, and are you able to without affecting your performance?

3. Optimize for your priorities

Once you’ve defined your ideal work-life balance, it’s time to optimize for your top priorities.

Consider this idea: you can have anything you want, but you cannot have everything you want at the same time. This concept applies to many things, but it’s especially true when interrogating work-life balance.

Consider your top priorities as well as areas where you’re willing to be flexible.

You may prioritize having flexibility throughout the work or workday, with available flex hours and work-from-home days.

Others may prioritize longer vacation time, with unlimited PTO and the ability to pick up and travel for 3 weeks.

Find areas where you’re willing to give a little in order to gain the extra time where you most want it.

Recognizing these priorities will help you schedule your work calendar, both short-term and long-term. This clear path will ultimately lead to increased balance.

4. Examine your boundaries

In my opinion, the biggest culprit of a poor work-life balance is not setting strict boundaries. If we don’t state and practice our personal boundaries, how can our colleagues and leaders possibly know them, let alone respect them?

Establishing these boundaries requires clear communication with your company and team about your needs. Talk openly about your ideal work-life balance and set boundaries into place that make them a reality.

Simple examples can include:

  • Turning off notifications at the end of the workday.

  • Deleting Slack from your personal phone.

  • Only answering emails during business hours.

  • Respecting your own time and encouraging others to respect your time.

  • Taking sick days when you’re unwell.

  • Recognizing when you need rest and can’t take on any extra workload.

Back when I still worked a corporate job, some vacation days were sacred, while I didn’t mind taking an important call or two, if necessary, on others. When I didn’t want to be bothered, I simply made sure my team and boss knew “Diana is CLOSED!”

5. Recognize (and correct) bad habits

Finally, try to recognize and correct bad habits that contribute to a poor work-life balance.

You may need to explore remote work tips, trying to avoid being constantly available to your team or employer.

Other bad habits include working through meals or weekends, ruminating on work, work-phone obsession, and abandonment of self-care and the hobbies we love.

Anyone who is struggling with work-life balance will tell you that these examples are not exaggerations. And while they may not seem so bad individually, when combined or practiced over a long period of time, they wreak havoc on the quality of life.

Simple practices like limiting screen time and practicing mindfulness can help target and correct these nasty habits.

Final thoughts about work-life balance from the No BS Career Coach

Work-life balance is more than just a mythical concept. It is achievable in any profession through regular introspection, strong boundaries, and working through your priorities.

And importantly, it’s achievable without sacrificing your career plans.

As you go forth to investigate your work-life balance, remember this – your life, as well as your priorities, are constantly shifting based on circumstance, career movement, and more. Check-in with yourself regularly to maintain balance, as well as long-term fulfillment.

If you need help figuring out a plan to set and keep better boundaries and optimize your work-life balance, a single strategy coaching call could be a big win for you. 

Book a coaching session today.