Work / Life Balance - and other Fallacies

There is much information available today on work / life balance.  I've tried for years to achieve it, and came to the conclusion that sitting in the middle of this continuum is a grand exercise in futility.

The problem for me is that there are so many more facets who I am and what I do than what I do at my work and what I do when I'm not at work.

So being the introvert who over-processes most every conundrum that comes my way, I've come up with a model for a balanced life that has worked for me for a number of years.

I got the idea from a fun, but very unreliable automobile.

Years ago, I acquired an Austin Mini (not the new sexy ones made by BMW, but the original Mr. Bean variety).  The car was affordable, but came with a particular temperament that required me to be under the hood (or bonnet) on a regular basis.

Not my Mini, but you get the idea...
It was a very simple car, and so my marginal mechanical skills were sufficient to keep it going. It was also the most poorly designed car from the point of view that the distributor (the part of the engine that decided which spark plug would fire when) worked best when dry and sheltered from the elements.  The engineers must not have been thinking well that day since this bit of the engine was positioned pointing out to the front, right where all the rain would come through the radiator grill.

It was a mystery to me why a car would be designed this way, especially when it came from a country where it rained more than it didn't.  This design of the engine ensured that when it was raining, the engine misfired terribly, and sometimes I would limp home running on two of the four cylinders.

When the distributor was dry and all the cylinders were firing, the little engine ran as smooth as silk. Which gets me to the point of this post.

Our life is not a work / not work continuum, but is made up of multiple parts - I count six.

So instead of a work/life balance, I approach it much like a six cylinder engine. And like the little engine in my little car, they all have to be firing in order for my life to be running smooth.

The six components of a balanced life are below.  The first three are all about you, your "self" and include:
  • Body - This is our physical body. The one we exercise (or at least tell your wife that all the stairs you do at work are the same as an intense gym workout). Taking care of our body does involve healthy eating, exercise, and getting the right amount of sleep (read my earlier post - It's 11 pm, Do you know where your power button is?)
  • Soul - This is your mental health. This involves your maintaining a positive attitude, feeding and nourishing your mental health, through learning, reflective times, reading, or other activities that build and refresh your mind.
  • Spirit - I believe we all have this area of our person that acknowledges that there is something, or Someone bigger than ourselves, something with eternal significance that influences and can potentially guide our life.  Some call it religion, some call it faith, some call it spirituality, some call it a relationship with God. While you may disagree with my expression of my faith, for me this is critical, and my faith provides me perspective and hope that comes from a source far greater than myself.  
The next three are external:
  • Work - This is your career, your job, how you earn a living. This one is easy for most people to categorize
  • Community - These are the people outside your immediate family who you interact with regularly. It may be your sports team, your community clubs, your volunteer activities, your gang of motorcycle buddies (OK maybe not).  
  • Family - These are the people closest to you. Your partner, your kids, your parents. This is the core group that you describe in your Twitter bio (Husband of one... father of two... etc. ) These are the people you drive countless hours during holidays to be near.
Those are my definitions, you may come up with your own descriptions.

The next step is to draw up a matrix of six boxes.  Label the boxes with the six categories (cylinders).

Next, sit down and set some tangible goals in each area.  These are tangible, achievable things you know you need to do.  For example, in the Body box, you may put in "go to gym more than once a month".  Under Family, you may put in "Hire a babysitter and have a date night at least monthly".

You get the point.  These aren't hard to come up with.

The key is to have approximately an equal number of goals in each box.  If there are too many in one area, your life is likely out of balance, and you lose the opportunity to have equilibrium.

Check off your goals as you achieve them.  When you strike one off the list, add another. When I have this simple tool in place... Surprise! My life seems to work much better. When I get out of balance, my life runs rough, just like that silly little car in the rain.

So quit beating yourself up because a work/life balance seems so difficult to achieve.

Perhaps this seems like the kind of banal idea only a person who would ever consider owning an Austin Mini might come up with.  If so, what do you do to maintain balance in your life?

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