10 Pillars for Optimal Work-Life Balance
In this article we explore what work-life balance means for you and how you can create more time for what you most want to do.
If you’ve landed here, it’s probably because you don’t feel you’ve created a sense of balance between your day job and the other parts of your life. Our 10 Pillars are designed to generate that balance and make a more fulfilled ‘you’.
- Your Story
Let’s begin with the idea that the words you use about work-life balance, whether in your head or what you say out loud, create your current work-life balance reality.
If you’re saying, ‘hardly anyone can do this’, ‘I’ve tried a hundred times and failed’, or ‘it’s no use, so I’ll stick to what I know’, this limits your capacity to bring about the balance you desire. In all likelihood, you’ll be reluctant to try, more likely to identify obstacles, less likely to make bold decisions that advance your agenda and less likely to make powerful requests to make your vision real.
Let’s assume a more positive conversation or story. It sounds like ‘I’m going to do this’, or ‘there’s sure to be a way’ or ‘I’ll break this into small steps and do it’, then you’re likely to achieve a more positive outcome.
The quality of this narrative (also referred to as story) about work-life balance, in many ways, offers an insight to the broader narrative you have about yourself and your capacity to make change. The story of who you think you are, ‘plays out’ in the way you design (and have lived) your life. If you are going to pursue a new version of ‘balance’, the capacity to shift from an old, less constructive narrative to a more powerful one is crucial.
This opens a pathway for you to begin to generate the life you really want. What is the narrative that serves you in creating work life balance? Why not take some time to write your new story? Write a page or so about you in 12 months’ time having achieved work-life balance. Bring that vision to life in language and notice the moods and emotions this produces when you embody this possibility.
Moods are the predispositions for action you recurrently find yourself in. The quality of your story (grounded in your unique experience of life), inevitably produces moods. You always act from some mood state. Some moods open you or incline you towards certain actions and others have the opposite effect.
Consider that ‘I am going to achieve work-life balance’, said with enthusiasm, is likely to produce a mood of ambition. Conversely, consider this: ‘I tried it before, it didn’t work then, it won’t work now’. Perhaps you recognise the moods of hopelessness and resignation?
Playing out an unhelpful storyline like ‘I can’t change it’, or ‘I’ll never achieve it’, or ‘I should have done it by now’ can produce recurring emotional responses which can become moods in time, and due to their frequency, these can become ‘invisible’. You might have been living with these and perhaps that’s the reason you’re reading this article?
In order to become a generator of your own work-life balance, it will help if you can see the link between your narrative and the mood it produces and above all learn how to shift your mood.
To shift your mood, you will need to revisit your narrative since the story you’re ‘telling yourself’ is at the heart of your mood. There are layers to this, and it takes time, but consider starting by reflecting on the moods you find yourself in most often in regard to work-life balance. Are they constructive, such as acceptance, ambition, curiosity and wonder (great moods for creating work-life balance) or are they heavier moods like resentment, frustration, resignation, fear and anxiety? And what is the quality of your story that sits behind how you feel?
To begin exploring your mood-scape, consider these questions:
- What story do you find that you are recurrently telling yourself about your work-life balance and what concerns can you identify in relation to this narrative?
- Do you find yourself more resisting, opposing or fighting against what’s happening, or do you tend to welcome what’s happening as a way to learn and find opportunity?
- How would it be for you if you stopped opposing or fighting against what was happening ‘around you’ and found ways to devise a new approach?
- What options would become available to you if you were able to welcome change, new ideas and new ways with a sense of curiosity and ease?
While it can be easy to get focused on ‘what’s missing’ and ‘what’s not happening’ it’s going to help if instead, you get clear on what you TRULY want.
Try to visualise what great work-life balance looks like for you and what it would be like day to day and week to week to be living that. Would it involve working a job 4 days each week instead of 5? Would it involve spending more time at home with your family, more time with friends, or more time pursuing leisure or hobbies? Might it include exercise a few times per week?
When you’re creating a sense of your vision, notice if some barriers automatically arise. You’ll need to push those barriers aside and keep focused on what you want, not what’s in the way. One way to do this is to make your vision tangible. Write down what a balanced life looks like for you, or better still, make a Vision Board.
A Vision Board is the physical manifestation of your vision. Grab some of your favourite magazines and find some images online that inspire you. Use images that show the version of yourself you’re aiming for and the aspects of your life you want to focus on in the year ahead! Make a collage of how these all fit together in a way that feels uplifting and inspiring. Then place it somewhere you see it every day! Maybe in your bedroom or living area, so when you walk past, you’re reminded to keep working towards your optimal work-life balance.
- Barrier Identification
A vision alone is not enough. To begin bringing this to life, it will be important to identify the barriers that stand between you and this vision. Write all of your barriers down as a list and study your list.
- What barriers are you creating on this list?
- What barriers are others creating on this list?
- What barriers can be overcome from this list?
As you’re looking at your list, decide which items are factual and which barriers are a story, judgement, interpretation or conclusion you’ve made about what is and what it not possible.
At this point, you might notice that some of the things stopping you are not really a fact, but an interpretation about the situation you’re in and if that’s the case, this is a good thing. It gives you a chance to question the quality of your interpretation. Are your interpretations up for re-interpretation?
From your list, what can you identify as factual barriers? An example might be that you have a 2-hour commute to work each day. You can continue to use this as a barrier, or you could explore options about how to overcome your barrier.
Planning to overcome your barriers may reveal an unhelpful mindset you have in relation to work-life balance. It will take deliberate focus (and maybe some good friends with differing opinions) to truly challenge the assumptions you make about what is and is not changeable.
Using the example above, it’s easy to assume that the 2-hour commute is a fixed barrier. However, if you’re willing to explore options around each barrier, even this can be overcome. Could you identify a new job closer to home, a new place of residence closer to work or request a flexible working arrangement 1 or 2 days per week? That would give you back 4-8 hours per week to re-invest in something else.
For your top 3 barriers, consider inviting a couple of friends into a conversation to help you identify ways to shift or overcome each barrier. Begin by sharing each barrier and invite different perspectives on tactics you can explore to satisfy your desired sense of balance. For each barrier, consider these questions:
- What makes this a barrier?
- Is there any aspect of this that can change?
- What else could change that makes this less of a barrier?
- What would change if this were no longer a barrier?
- Commitments and Declarations
Now that you’ve identified the barriers that stand between you and ideal and have explored some options to minimise these over times, you’ll need to bring your plan to life.
To begin, you could make a declaration about how you want your future to be. A declaration is a statement you can make that shapes your future, so long as you have the authority and capacity to bring that new future to life.
You can make declarations about your own future, emerging or changing circumstances to produce your “new reality” and by working to bring this about, bring about your vision.
Every person has the authority to make statements about how they want their life to be – occupation, relationships, future events, and work-life balance aspirations. Examples include:
- “I’m going to apply for the new role!”
- “I’m going to make a request for Flexible working 1-day per week.”
- “I am going to do 5 hours exercise each week for the coming 3 months.”
- “I am going to work 4 days per week and achieve a salary equivalent to 5 days.”
These are all declarations that you can make and in making them you immediately impact how you see and act in your future. You can shape and design important parts of your life through declarations, especially when you ensure you have a support system in place to assist you to bring the statement to fruition.
What declarations come to mind for you, in the future you want to create? What constructive story will enable that? What actions will be required to make this happen? What conversations will help bring this to life.
- Routines and Behaviours
Work-life balance requires discipline. It will help if you identify the key behaviours that support you achieving balance and that you’re rigorous in enacting these. Equally, there are key moments of influence when the behaviours need to be enacted in order to support your sense of balance.
Setting your patterns first thing each morning can be highly effective. Choosing to move, meditate and create a clearing for each day supports a positive mindset, having invested in yourself first and foremost. They key moment of influence is when your alarm goes off. The routine is to choose your routine of movement and meditation.
Not all behaviours are so obvious, however. You might be blind to some of the behaviours that undermine your sense of work-life balance. For example, you might find your work-life balance is eroded by you saying ‘yes’ to requests when you really should say ‘no’. The key moment of influence is when someone makes a request. The key behaviour is to pause and reflect on your capacity to commit to the request before you answer.
Another key behaviour may be leaving work at 5pm to make sure you invest in other domains of life. Although it can be VERY tempting to stay the extra hour to get things done, the discipline of not allowing this to become a habit (and workplace expectation) may drive better focus and higher productivity during the day to ensure your work is complete ahead of departure.
Regardless of the behaviour, make sure you identify the behaviours most likely to drive positive work-life balance outcomes for you. Then identify the key moments where enacting these behaviours matters the most. Start enacting these behaviours and cultivate routines that support and serve your vision.
- Social Support
Achieving work-life balance is not a solo act. It will require you to engage and enrol those around you to build a network of support for your vision. It may also require you to have some transformational conversations with those people who impact or disrupt the pursuit of your vision.
Building social support for your vision of work-life balance can involve formal and informal connections. Formal support can come in the form of a Coach, a Personal Trainer, a Yoga Teacher or some other person you engage to keep you accountable to your ‘extra-curricula’ activities. Informal support can be both at work and beyond. Imagine having a conversation with your boss or team about what you’re trying to achieve and asking for their support at times you’re prone to break your own commitments.
Equally important is the support you enlist in your personal life. Family, friends and those you choose to spend time with in pursuit of your non-work activities can be great enablers and encouragers of the ‘right behaviours’. It will be important to identify the people who encourage the behaviours you want to live and create opportunities to have them support you and your vision.
Do not under-estimate the power of social influence in derailing your efforts. Whilst you’re bringing your vision to life, you may need to distance yourself from the nay-sayers and allow certain social acquaintances, who tend to undermine your focus, to drift away, instead surrounding yourself with those with a positive and constructive influence.
Self-care lies at the heart of you achieving work-life balance. Recognising that you want more balance is a recognition of care itself. Self-care is attending to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs that support your expression as a human being.
Physically, there are pillars you must have in place. Sleeping and prioritising sleep to get what you need every night. A good rule of thumb is 7-8 hours per night. Nutrition and eating healthy, fresh produce to support quality thinking, moving and emotional balance. You might choose to invest in organic food and shift towards more plant-based foods in your diet to accelerate your nutrition and performance.
Your emotional state (moods and emotions) have a strong relationship with the quality of your thinking (story). Generally, if you can focus on making space for mindfulness, beginning and ending days with gratitude practice and being able to make positive interpretations of events in your life, your emotional state will be far more constructive.
Finally, tending to you higher needs – whether described by the word spiritual or not – is about creating space to care for your relationship with the mystery of life, the fact of life, living and death and cultivating meaning for yourself. It may mean pursuing religion or spiritual practice, exploring philosophical questions with self and others or cultivating the mood of wonder and curiosity about life’s twists and turns.
Regular reflective practice will help to continually align your vision and course-correct when required. If you’re trying out new behaviours and commitments as you bring your vision to life, then there will be ongoing feedback to reflect on – things that worked and things that didn’t.
Reflection involves taking time to return to your experiences, re-evaluating them and generating new perspectives that serve the future vision you’re wanting to create. This can support a change in your behaviour, a readiness for bringing a new practice to life and a commitment (or re-commitment) to action.
Through the process of reflection, circumstances and narratives you have lived in (in many cases for many years) can become subject to ‘fresh’ perspectives. These fresh perspectives can offer renewed energy towards the work-life vision you hold.