Here’s the thing about life-work balance that I have found. You can have it, we all can have it, but we need to choose it.
It’s not a case of finding the elusive three-day-a-week job that pays six figures (although that would be nice), it’s a case of consistently choosing it from what we have and from where we are.
The reason many of us struggle so much with achieving our desired work-life balance is because we are unbelievably bad at saying no. No to others. No to ourselves. We choose what feels temporarily more comfortable in the moment – not ‘letting someone else down’ – than choosing what we want long term.
Balance is the key thing here. Imagine a donkey, like the ones you see in Peru with the side panniers on each side. To ensure the donkey is comfortable and can trek the distance, the stuff has to be packed evenly on the right side and left side of the donkey. I think we all intuitively get this – creating a delicate balancing act between home and work requires balancing stuff out.
Here’s the thing though. Sometimes you see someone’s donkey that is just struggling to get up the hill. He is evenly balanced but he just has too much stuff on his back. He is carrying too many things. It’s not actually a question of balance but of volume. There is simply too much stuff. The poor old donkey has too much of a burden to bear.
So I see this a lot. Sometimes we are that donkey. It’s not that we are actually struggling with life-work balance. What we are really struggling with is life-work volume. There is simply too much stuff going on. And too much stuff makes life feel frenzied and chaotic even when it is actually quite well balanced. So, the solution? Well for both us and the donkey it’s the same thing. Some of the less important, less essential stuff needs to go. It’s looking through the packs with discernment and jettisoning a few non-essentials, that we thought were essentials but on reflection we can actually do without.
The next time you feel that your life-work balance is out of whack, take a moment to evaluate if it really is out of balance, or if in fact the problem is actually life-work volume. Maybe you are just carrying too much, honey child? Evaluate what you can let go. Start saying no to yourself and others in an empowered way as you relieve the burden on the donkey that is you.
How to say no
Say no and mean it. You are allowed to say no, it is not a dirty word! ‘No’ is your best weapon in reducing life-work volume, and you can use it a lot more than you think you can!
Say no to others on things you don’t really want to do. Put down that weight of obligation. A no to someone else is a yes to your life-work volume.
Say no to yourself about doing everything perfectly. Say yes to allowing some things to be ‘good enough’ and take a little weight off the donkey.
Don’t make exhaustive explanations of why you are saying no. You can just say, “No, I’m sorry that’s not going to be possible this time” and leave it at that. When we create a long, convoluted explanation it makes us look weirdly guilty and our no becomes weak. It’s your time, you are allowed to say no and decide what you put in it.
Don’t backtrack. When you weaken on a no you have already given, it will make it much harder to stay firm on it next time.