Navigating a work-life balance is always difficult – especially now

Janice leads a team of 47 individuals and manages a large workload. She starts her day at 5AM with a workout and a quick breakfast while her husband helps get the kids up and ready for school. She prepares them for their Zoom classes or proceeds to make school drop offs. Shortly before 8AM, she logs online where she navigates participating in meetings, leading project teams, connecting with her supervisors and somewhere, trying to find five minutes for a quick lunch. There is rarely time during the day for completion of her work, so once the kids are finished with school, she attends a parent session and a quick basketball game for her daughter, proceeds to make dinner with her husband and get the kids to bed. Only then, does she find some quiet time to work on several assignments and tasks before heading to sleep and starting it all over the next day.

Sound familiar? Work-life balance has become an elusive construct that we are continually trying to understand, define and employ in our lives. Work from home has complicated matters and made an already difficult goal even more challenging.

Despite data that continues to demonstrate declines in productivity and health when we work long hours and stretch ourselves too thin, we continue to pile more onto our plate. As we strive for the perfect blend of rewarding work and personal time, most of us are still falling short of attaining our ultimate ideal of balance.

The lasting impacts of COVID-19 and remote work have complicated the issue, but here are a few tips that will help keep you focused and stable.

  1. Embrace that both work and your personal life are important to you.

Too often, we feel forced to choose one over the other. What we really need to admit is that both are important to us. I love being a mom, wife, daughter and friend. I also believe my purpose involves my role as entrepreneur, leader, consultant, author and coach. 

Societal influences often place judgement on where our priorities lie. This places an undue burden on our emotional needs to do what is best for ourselves. Regardless of who you are, there is always a sense that our choices are wrong when it comes to determining our work-life priorities. The more we can let go of this judgement, the more we can step into the present and follow our energy into whatever aspect of work or life we need to place attention on in the moment.

  1. Respect the seasons of balance.

We often view balance as something we need to chase every hour of every day. In reality, the seasons of our life often span much greater scopes of time. There may be months or years that we take to focus on our family obligations, like caring for children or an ill family member over work. Conversely, we might dedicate stretches of time to building our career and making work the priority over building a family or other priorities like traveling.

Research shows that discovering balance between professional and personal priorities requires an awareness that the process is cyclical. It will ebb and flow with our changing circumstances. There are cycles where we work many hours but find creative and motivating energy in doing so. Recognizing when this shifts is key. Pay attention to your changing emotions and notice your energy around a given priority when it starts to alter. That is the moment to reassess your priorities and find a new balance.

  1. Learn when to say no.

In an ideal world, we say yes to what fuels us and no to what drains us. Our values become our guiding light and we can follow our energy in a way that supports our ability to feel full, but not overflowing.

However, for most of us this blissful utopia is not the case. We say yes to a lot of things out of obligation, responsibility, or an eagerness to please. Whatever the reason, we have too many commitments and many of them are not getting enough attention to thrive.

As you consider the projects and priorities you are currently juggling, which can you cut and which do you need to nurture? Emotions play a critical role as we follow our energy. Notice when you are resentful of a person or task and when are you dreading a meeting or feeling angry at a commitment. These emotions can be informative as you determine how to manage various aspects of your professional and personal life.

  1. Leverage your time and energy.

Often, we spend a great deal of time and effort on an input which has little to no effect on the output. How often have you spent hours wordsmithing an email or adjusting the colors on your PowerPoint? While there might be times when that effort is appropriate, often the time and resources do not warrant the small improvements to the outcome.

Where do you have opportunities in your life where leverage can be applied? As an example, can you work from the community pool while the kids swim? Do you have a project that can serve two purposes? We can often take a single “effort” and apply it to multiple purposes saving time and energy, like walking meetings or using commute time for phone calls.

Considering places where you can leverage your time and effort will support your ability to do more with less.

  1. Develop a new pattern for juggling work and personal life.

Consider the metaphor of a juggler. In a literal sense, most of us can juggle two balls and many can manage three. Add two more balls to the mix and the same pattern is no longer effective. All the balls fall to the ground. When you are juggling and add additional balls, you must develop a new pattern.

Similarly, most of us have learned successful “patterns” for juggling our daily workload and tasks, both personal and professional. We create a family schedule that aligns with work and we blend the two relatively well. The problem surfaces when we add more tasks: work from home, new projects at work, sick kids, committee assignment, at home learning, etc.  

This is when we need to create a new pattern. This might mean saying no to certain asks, as we discussed above, or changing our schedule altogether. It may take some time, but we need to find a different cadence to support our balance. 

Finding a work-life balance is not about achieving equilibrium or a perfect balance. It’s about finding an internal compass that keeps you pointing to your true North, while always assessing and adjusting what you say yes and no to. The more we are conscious of this balancing act and accept it will never be perfect, the closer we are to feeling in control of our priorities.

About the Author:
As the President and CEO of Innovative Connections, Laurie Cure’s focus is consulting in strategic planning, organizational development, talent management and leadership including change management and culture evolution.
With more than 25 years of leadership experience, she has dedicated her career to delivering strategic visions, working with executives/senior leaders to drive organizational outcomes, and researching and publishing on important industry issues and topics.
In addition to her book, Leading without Fear, about overcoming fear in the workplace, she has published on the topic of leadership, coaching, team development and workplace culture.