The Myth of Work-Life Balance

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Tim is a full-time employ­ee at an ad-agency in Bal­ti­more. Every­day at 5:45am, he show­ers, shaves, and brush­es his teeth. He wears ironed clothes and a tie—then works for eight hours with a 45 minute lunch. At 4:50pm, he packs up and dri­ves home. He won’t think about or touch work until tomor­row. At least that’s what his wife wish­es. He brings work home all the time.

I bring my work home

My life isn’t exact­ly like Tim’s, but I do bring work home, and so does my wife. I some­times wish I could sep­a­rate work and home life, but since I have the abil­i­ty to work from any­where, I often work from my house. I believe it’s good to leave work at work, and home at home. But these days, it is hard­er than ever to real­ly do.

Not only does my imme­di­ate fam­i­ly use texts, email, and social media to com­mu­ni­cate, but my cowork­ers do, too. It’s hard to keep it all straight. I’m know I’m not the only one who occa­sion­al­ly gets a text from my spouse dur­ing work meet­ings, and emails from col­leagues dur­ing din­ner with my spouse. Why am I check­ing email dur­ing din­ner with my wife? Not sure—I’m work­ing on this!

I wish things were sim­pler, but they’re not. In our inter­con­nect­ed cul­ture, a speedy reply com­mu­ni­cates pro­fes­sion­al­ism and respect. When some­one is slow, it’s per­ceived as lazy, delayed, and unac­cept­able. (In my ide­al world, a slow response would be per­ceived as more pro­fes­sion­al, but that’s not the world we live in.)

Inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty is the new nor­mal, and we’re fig­ur­ing out how to make it all work. None of us have it com­plete­ly mas­tered, and when we final­ly do—or think we do—technology changes. A new app emerges, a new prod­uct wins the mar­ket, we start over.

[share­able cite=“Josh Mitchell”]None of us have inter­con­nec­tiv­i­ty com­plete­ly mas­tered. [/shareable]

What is the work-life balance myth?

The work-life bal­ance myth is believ­ing that work and life are two sep­a­rate things.

They’re not. Work will always be part of life. Peri­od.

Work and home can be two sep­a­rate things, but work and life is a false dichoto­my. But since it’s eas­i­er than ever to work from home, even work-home life bal­ance is hard to dis­tin­guish. Are you work­ing when you’re think­ing about an upcom­ing meet­ing in the show­er? Are you “home-ing” when you con­firm din­ner plans dur­ing the work­day?

I pro­pose that we use the term “work life—home life bal­ance” but it’s unlike­ly to catch on. Work life—home life bal­ance is a real thing on both sides of the spec­trum. We have to fig­ure out the best ways to han­dle home life infor­ma­tion dur­ing the work day, and work life infor­ma­tion when we arrive home.

[share­able cite=“”]We have to fig­ure out the best ways to han­dle home-life-infor­ma­tion dur­ing the work day, and work-life-infor­ma­tion when we arrive home.[/shareable]

My wife is a school teacher

My wife, Hope, teach­es preschool. We cur­rent­ly don’t have chil­dren. We’re new­ly mar­ried and find­ing what works for us at work and home.

She’s not “required” to read or respond to email after-hours, but it often makes her next day eas­i­er if she does. She can reply to par­ents’ ques­tions and stay cur­rent with her cowork­ers. It’s a nor­mal part of her job. If she didn’t reply to email and texts from home, she’d have a lot pile up quick­ly. Some teach­ers would say it’s impos­si­ble to do it all dur­ing the work day.

The oth­er evening, we were about to go to bed when she checked her email. (She uses Out­look for iPhone, which is a GREAT app, by the way.) She received an email say­ing some impor­tant doc­u­ments would be due soon­er than she expect­ed. While I wish the sender would have used Boomerang (an email sched­ul­ing app that allows you to sched­ule send times), it pinged her inbox around 10pm. It made get­ting to sleep a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.

Instead of wind­ing down, work life entered our home life. (I can only imag­ine how much MORE stress­ful this would be with chil­dren!) She told me why this was a sur­prise, what this would mean for her next few days, and that it stressed her out a lit­tle. And I was OK with this! (Still am.)

My wife’s work is a part of our life together!

Maybe I’m the excep­tion, but I love my spouse’s job. I enjoy hear­ing about her day and learn­ing what new things she’s up to. It allows her to process her day and plan for her week. It allows me to know what she’s deal­ing with and know why she’s feel­ing a cer­tain way. Her job is an impor­tant part of our mar­riage.

I rec­og­nize that not all mar­riages are like this. For instance, I can imag­ine some are frus­trat­ed with the demands and expec­ta­tions of their spouse’s job and wish their lives were dif­fer­ent. But in my case, Hope and I share a healthy under­stand­ing about each other’s work. We rec­og­nize that we were unique­ly made with tal­ents and abil­i­ties and that it’s a bless­ing to GET to do them every day—and be com­pen­sat­ed. We don’t have to go to work, we get to go to work.

No mat­ter what my wife choos­es to do, sup­port­ing her means lis­ten­ing, dis­cussing, and being tru­ly inter­est­ed in her stuff. Right now, that’s her job as a preschool teacher.

So… why doesn’t she just leave work at work? Well, for the most part she does! She’s not “always work­ing,” even though she occa­sion­al­ly has to pre­pare les­son plans and write detailed reports that cause our entire sofa and cof­fee table to be cov­ered in pur­ple fold­ers and papers. If she com­plete­ly sep­a­rat­ed her work from our rela­tion­ship, I’d feel left out, and I’d have less things to laugh and joke with her about. I don’t know absolute­ly every­thing about her job (nor do I don’t real­ly want to), but I know about the big stuff. It’s a part of our life togeth­er.

Why don’t you just not check email after work? Most of the time, after-hour emails only require quick respons­es, which can make the next day eas­i­er. I don’t con­demn her for check­ing her phone at home. Per­son­al­ly, I know I need to check email less, but I’m not going to impose my goal on oth­ers. Each work­place is dif­fer­ent and come with dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies. Each of our “tol­er­ance lev­els” are dif­fer­ent, too. Some peo­ple can han­dle 1,000 unread emails in their inbox, where oth­ers can bare­ly tol­er­ate 3 (???????? this is me. I prac­tice Inbox Zero).

Work is a GOOD word

We’ve made “work” into a neg­a­tive word in our cul­ture. This is prob­a­bly because some peo­ple can’t stop work­ing, and they pri­or­i­tize their job at the expense of fam­i­ly, per­son­al health, and rela­tion­ships. That’s prob­a­bly not a good idea. Try­ing to com­plete­ly rule out work from the home envi­ron­ment, prob­a­bly isn’t the best idea either. There’s no per­fect solu­tion for this. We must each fig­ure out where the bound­aries lie.

Home life affects work life and vice versa

When I meet with busi­ness exec­u­tives and lead­ers, I know notice that their home life has a direct impact on their atti­tude and per­spec­tive at work. On the oth­er hand, if work is unhealthy and neg­a­tive, it can have a harm­ful impact on life at home.

A few ideas

  1. Try a new per­spec­tive. If you dread your job (or some­one else’s job), grab a sheet of paper. Draw a line down the cen­ter. On the left side, write down all of the things that job allows you to do. On the right side, list all of the things you hate. Try to give thanks for the ben­e­fits (left side), and sim­ply rec­og­nize the draw­backs. When we write things down and iden­ti­fy them, it allows us to process life in a new way.
  2. Mod­i­fy your rep­u­ta­tion. If you have a rep­u­ta­tion for being super respon­sive, you may be mak­ing your life more stress­ful than it needs to be. If you don’t want to han­dle email after-hours, don’t. Let impor­tant peo­ple know your “office hours” and stick to them. Don’t apol­o­gize for delayed respons­es.

  3. Keep a non-reach­able prox­im­i­ty from your phone and tech gear. The far­ther away it is, the hard­er it is to reach, mean­ing your atten­tion will be what’s right in front of you, rather than a new noti­fi­ca­tion.

[reminder]How do you deal with the bal­ance between work and home life?[/reminder]

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