Four Keys to Balancing Work with Life’s Other Roles

The secret is more connections, not compartmentalization.

My first job out of college, work-life balance meant limiting work to its allotted forty hours each week. We took turns being on-call, and if you got paged at 2:00 am because the server crashed, you knew you’d be taking an equal amount of time off the next day because the company wouldn’t pay for overtime. This kept work in its little pigeon-hole.

The problem with that view is that it places work at odds with life. It makes your role as an Employee compete against every other role you have—Parent, Spouse, Amateur Racer, Follower of Christ, Library Volunteer, even just plain having fun. No wonder we drudge into the office, counting the hours until 5:00, and we can’t wait until Friday!

That isn’t work-life balance. That’s work-life détente.

Photo courtesy of © iStockPhoto/marekuliasz

Your roles in life extend from you like spokes on a wheel. You are at the center. Your roles extend from you, from who you are. They’re ways that you’ve chosen to express yourself and find meaning by acting on your values.

Balance is about harmony between your roles. There’s no tension between them. You’re not being torn from one area of responsibility to another. No stewardship is neglected because another one won’t let go of your attention. Rather, each stewardship is enhanced because each strengthens you as a steward. Areas of responsibility overlap and what benefits one benefits all.

Your roles are ways that you’ve chosen to express yourself and find meaning by acting on your values.
Your roles are ways that you’ve chosen to express yourself and find meaning by acting on your values.

Here are four keys to developing that harmony and balance:

  1. Put the big rocks in first. If you work regular and well-specified hours, work is an easy rock to schedule. The other roles get scheduled according to your values and what matters most to you.
  2. Have a clear mission statement. Having a mission statement helps you identify and understand your roles and how they help you put your values into action. The better this understanding, the easier it is for you to find (or make) harmony between your roles.
  3. Set well-defined boundaries. Emergencies happen. The pager goes off. Kids get sick and need to be picked up. When that happens, it’s your decision to respond. That’s normal and healthy. Don’t let roles creep out of their boundaries on their own by checking work email on vacation, planning your vacation when you should be working, etc. Be intentional with your attention.
  4. Find meaning in your work. Do work you love. Find ways for your roles to overlap, to wear two hats at once. When you love what you do (in any role), you naturally find ways for that role to extend to other areas of your life. It’s much more fun (and sustainable) than trying to pigeonhole and compartmentalize your life.

Roles are not permanent. They’ll come and go. You’ll take on new responsibilities, like a new job or becoming a parent. Some will come to an end as you refine who you are.

As you create balance in your life, you’ll be more relaxed. You’ll be excited to get to the office. You will feel peace when it’s time to wrap things up and call it a day. There may be more work to do, but there’s more to life than 9–5. So put on your Indiana Jones fedora, grab your bullwhip, and slip your pager into your shoulder bag. Adventure is waiting.

Question: What roles do you have in life? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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