What Happened Folks?
December is such a weird scene. Holiday lights twinkling in windows, kids wearing festive sweaters, animated reindeer waving in front lawns - and adults looking like they’re awaiting execution.
I gotta ask, what happened, folks?
A lot of us aren’t really dialing into the twinkling lights. We’re too dialed into our to-do list. Our grind. “Making things happen…” This is supposed to be fun. And I don’t just mean the holidays. I’m talking about life.
Look, I’m a business coach. I can be pretty intense about work. But I’ve learned that if I don’t strive for some work-life balance, everything goes offline. My health, joy, purpose…gone.
So I have to pay attention. And not just once. I have to check in with myself over and over.
See, work-life balance isn’t like figuring out your ideal BMI. The right mixture of “have to” and “want to” is actually a finicky, loose equation. A constantly moving target.
In this blog, we’re going to talk about that moving target. We’ll discuss what work-life balance is and the perils of ignoring it. Most of all I want to give you some good questions to ask yourself when you feel like your joy is slipping away.
What’s Work-Life Balance Anyway?
In the most obvious terms, work-life balance is finding that sweet spot between prioritizing work obligations and the personal values that restore you.
A good way to think about work-life balance is that it goes in cycles. It’s not a finish line. It’s not a quota of minutes spent on your personal life.
There’s gonna be times when you just have to disappear into work - white knuckle through it and get it done. And there are going to be times when you have to step back from the business to care for your personal life.
Work-life balance is fluid, but it’s real. You’ll need perspective and the habit of questioning both if you want to come out of that tunnel whole.
The Perils of Overworking
The stakes of ignoring work-life balance are high. The World Health Organization did a global study of nearly 200 countries. The results were…disturbing. Just the physical toll of ignoring work-life balance was potentially life-ending. And the mental and emotional fallout can be really painful.
No work-life balance can cause:
Deterioration of Relationships
So, yeah…the stakes couldn’t be higher.
You need a habit - an official “something” in place to override this. Just like you should revisit your goals every 3 months or so, you need to check in on your work-life balance too.
You need to interrogate your priorities regularly.
You need to ask yourself questions like:
What am I ignoring?
What story am I telling myself?
Do I really have to do it this way?
Am I honoring my true values?
What are my true values?
Create a routine around this interrogation. It could be every 3 months, every time you get your teeth cleaned, every time you have to get your oil changed. Whatever.
Just don’t set and forget it. Remember, it’s fluid. It’s a cycle.
First Question: What Am I Ignoring?
Humans are amaaaaaazing at normalizing negative emotions. And as ambitious, goal-setting folks we feel pressure to be positive, to stop whining and get to work.
But in this case, that’s not helping. In fact, studies strongly suggest that we can make things worse by stigmatizing the notion of feeling bad.
We actually feel bad…about feeling bad. Which makes us feel worse. Which makes us want to ignore it more. So incorporating negative emotions into “business as usual” is just going to inflate the problem.
You need to check in with what you’re habituating to. Take some time out and ask yourself, “What am I ignoring?”
Don’t try to solve it, not yet. Because that can really shut down the conversation. It’s more important just to acknowledge your work-life balance is out of whack somewhere.
What’s Story Am I Telling Myself and Others?
Right now you have a story in your mind. You can’t help it. We all do this, automatically. It’s a sort of identity management.
But if your work-life balance is out of whack you need to drill down into what that story is and interrogate the heck out of it.
Your story might be laced with a lot of scarcity images. Maybe there’s a sense of inadequacy. Your story could be about having no choice in your situation. It could be the story of how everyone’s relying on you. Or that you ARE your business.
Tell yourself the story about your work-life. Write it out. Or record it on your phone.
Say all the reasons you can’t work less. All the things you wish were different. How you feel inside. What’s missing? Just vomit it all out.
Then go back and - lovingly - push back against that story.
Try to look at it like it’s someone else’s story. And see where they’re making assumptions. When you use the phrases like “have to” - really lean on it.
Create alternate ideas, debate yourself. See if you can re-write your work-life balance story. You’ll think you can’t, but you probably can. We have a tendency to confuse “uncomfortable” with “impossible.”
You have more alternatives than you think.
What Are Your Values, Really?
You're an entrepreneur because you wanted something to happen. Yeah, sure, you wanted more money. But was that really the end of the rainbow?
Most of my business coaching clients have dreams about their family - being with them more, providing for them, creating experiences for them.
Some of my clients have a novel they want to write. Or they want to start a non-profit. Or they want to travel or live with more autonomy.
What do you tell yourself you care about? If your work-life balance is out of whack, you’ve likely stopped thinking actively about your values.
In the pursuit of making our businesses grow, it’s pretty common to lose track of what made it meaningful in the first place.
The result is our values starve to death.
“Every moment of every day, whether you realize it or not, you are making a decision of how to spend your time,” says author Mark Manson, “of what to pay attention to, of where to direct your energy…we all have a few things that we think and say we value, but we never back them up with our actions.”
A disconnect with your values is really at the heart of all work-life imbalance. If you’re not dialing into your big WHY - you can too easily confuse the work itself for your chief value.
So ask yourself about your values regularly. See if they’re making an appearance in your everyday life. If you’re waiting for some future date to honor your values, that’s the same as not having any.
Values are here and now, not just someday.
Spend time with your family. Write every day. Take a weekend trip now and then. Help out at a soup kitchen. And create some boundaries.
Values are not to be put off to some future date. They are to be connected to on a daily basis.
Draw a Line in the Sand
Create boundaries for yourself, so you can intentionally create a work-life balance. Don’t try to make boundaries on the fly. Because…you won’t.
So, create some rules to protect yourself when you’re tempted to go overboard with work.
No work on weekends.
A hard “clock out” time
Batching your meetings into specific time zones in your week
An email turnaround time that’s reasonable and stated in your signature.
Question your work processes. What can be delegated? What’s really needed?
Wait 2 hours before agreeing to an obligation
These can just get you started. You’ll probably think of better ones for you. The point is to make them, intentionally, in advance.
This is your life…right now. Not next Tuesday. Not when your ship comes in. Not when you hire more people. Today.
Work-life balance isn’t about working non-stop for 10 years and then getting 10 years off.
It’s about the give and take of two priorities - in the here and now. So that your life can really resemble the human living inside of you.
You are not a robot. And you didn’t start a business just to be in business. So take care of this, okay?
Don’t worry. You don’t have to get this “right.” You just have to consistently try. If you give your work-life balance the attention it deserves, you’ll be on the right track, which is all you need.
And then you can be part of the twinkling scene around you.
Have we connected on Facebook? No? OMG you should totally join us.
We have just the right combo of working and living.
Come by for a dose of both.
National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts: Laboratory, diary, and longitudinal evidence, Brett Q Ford, Phoebe Lam, Oliver P John, Iris B Mauss
Science Direct, Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury, FrankPega, Bálint Náfrádi, Natalie C.Momen, YukaUjita, Kai N.Streicher, Annette M.Prüss-Üstün, Technical Advisory Group, AlexisDescatha, Tim Driscoll, Frida M.Fischer, Lode Godderis, Hannah M.Kiiver, Jian Li, Linda L.Magnusson, Hanson, Reiner Rugulies, KathrineSørensen, Tracey J.Woodruff