Monday, June 2, 2014

Let's Get Rid of Work/Life Balance

Have you ever tried to balance water in one hand and a fish in the other and make it work? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s the same craziness as saying we need work/life balance. One really can’t exist without the other and they are intimately connected. I’ve written about work/life balance before, but we need a different way to think about our lives; one that makes sense for an integrated life.

What’s wrong with the whole concept of work/life balance? It is an incorrect dichotomy. Work is an integral part of life and cannot be separated from it. Work, when seen as a vocation, gives purpose to life and provides meaning. We don’t get meaning from lounging in a beach chair sipping a margarita (as nice as that sounds). But we do get meaning from adding to the greater measure of humanity by providing service, information, art or material goods.   

At the same time we also need moments of pleasure, when we revel in the work we’ve done, meet friends, celebrate our accomplishments and free our mind of work. We take time to enjoy physical pursuits, outlets which allow us to stretch our limbs and allow the sweat to cleanse and renew us.

Yet both the work and the play have their limits. If we over indulge in either of them, we know it. If we continue over-indulging too long, we burnout or crash. This is why we need a new concept of balance to understand how we get the most out of life.

The ultimate balance is between intensity and rest. Whether pursuing work or play, we know that balancing the intensity of focused attention to a goal necessitates we provide ourselves with rest to continue later with the same intensity. This is the balance many of us lack.

Our lives are consumed by the siren song of technology that calls us to continuously check our messages long past the time when anyone should be reasonably sending us any. But we create our own vicious circle by replying and causing the other to continue the communication. There is no rest, there is no downtime.

Somehow believing we are getting away by pursuing pleasure or physical activity, we push ourselves at the gym, or meeting others without a moments rest and then we check back in whenever we can. What is wrong with us?

Balancing intensity with rest is of tantamount importance to great individuals from professional athletes to CEOs of major companies, but it also applies to all of us. How long can we pursue this intensity? Our abilities peak for about 90 minutes. Then we need to step away and give ourselves an opportunity to regroup.  Studies show that when individuals or companies create a “90 minute intensity – 10 minute resting activity” throughout a day productivity climbs and more is accomplished in less time. Try it. You will find yourself more productive.

Yet, even without using the 90/10 equation we need to think about our intensity vs rest ratio whether we are working or playing. We will find ourselves focused more when doing whatever task we choose and enjoying the rest more.
So, let’s get the concept of work/life balance out of our heads. That’s over-used, incorrect and even dangerous thinking. We need to balance intensity, whether it’s at work or at play, with time for rest. Disciplining ourselves to focus intently and then step away allows us to both recover and pursue our passions whatever they may be. So, how is your intensity/rest balance?