3 Questions To Ask When Your Work-Life Balance Starts To Slip
Sometimes you find yourself overwhelmed or stressed because you’re making big changes in your business or you’re simply in a busy season where you have more work to do. But often a sense of being out of balance is because your habits and your preferences have come into conflict without you even realizing it.
If work-life balance does exist, perhaps its most consistent quality is its impermanence. Our lives and our work are constantly changing and so it’s only natural that a sense of balance would be in flux as well. Yet for too many of us, whether we own our own business or work in an organization, avoiding work-related overwhelm and even burnout takes some combination of smart choices, constant attention, and what may at times feel like sheer luck of the draw. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Prefer to watch? In this week’s video I’ll share the most critical question to consider if you feel your own balance has slipped:
One of the reasons work-life balance may feel so elusive–and seems so easily lost the moment a new project or opportunity lands at your feet, or when your personal life takes an unexpected turn–is because certain of our preferences, habits and even our beliefs inevitably shift. This often happens without us consciously realizing it. And so although it is completely natural as we go through life, it creates internal conflict.
I worked with a leader many years ago for whom this had happened in a big way. After 13 years, she’d achieved a big professional goal of being a CIO for a respected university. She was knowledgeable, well-respected by her peers, making more money than ever and yet she found herself increasingly less happy with the role – and with her life.
Initially, she asked for my help in organizing her days, in overhauling the “desk” of her mind and getting clearer on priorities so that she could delegate better and manage her time more effectively. Yet as we worked together, she realized that her preferences and priorities had shifted over the years and the role she was in along with the way she was working no longer aligned with her beliefs and preferences. So we shifted our focus to resolving this internal conflict – which ultimately meant a change of location and leaving the role in order to work fewer hours, live in a city that felt more aligned with her current priorities and have time to pursue some other passions on the side.
So the key to finding more balance isn’t necessarily to overhaul how you manage your time nor to automate and delegate everything you can (though sometimes that can help).
Instead, you may need to resolve some underlying, hidden conflicts so that your actions are more aligned with what’s most important to you today. You can start by asking yourself these three questions:
1. Is My Workday (Still) Fulfilling Enough?
If you’re constantly worried about spending too many hours on your business or in the office, it may not just be because you suddenly have much more work to do. Indeed, many clients feel confused about why they feel so overworked when not much has drastically changed in their business or workday.
Rather, you might feel like you’re working too hard because your business or your job isn’t sufficiently fulfilling or rewarding to you – monetarily or otherwise. Perhaps it was more fulfilling a few years ago but you no longer look forward to your days or weeks the way you used to. Perhaps it was never that meaningful to you and has become even less so over time. Either way, this results in your day-to-day experience being more emotionally and physically draining than it used to be.
Or alternatively, you might actually be spending more hours at the office than you need to for much the same reason: because your lack of fulfillment and passion is resulting in you being much less productive.
Many people – from entrepreneurs to executives to artists and entertainers – spend long hours working without feeling that work-life balance is an issue. And while we could dismiss these examples as workaholics or people with unhealthy obsessions, this doesn’t change the reality that working longer hours fulfills and even energizes them
So rather than immediately looking for things you can cut out of your work life, try asking yourself a bigger question: “Does my business or the work I am doing truly hold meaning for me?” Maybe it used to, but your interests have changed. Or perhaps the work you’re doing has changed in a way that no longer aligns with your priorities or your own sense of purpose. Whatever the reason, be honest with yourself, and consider whether it’s time to make adjustments or even consider a different path altogether.
2. Am I Taking the Breaks I Need?
A second common reason I see is that people are not taking – or stopped taking — the rest or downtime that they truly need. This can be from staying too connecting outside of work which often translates into not truly taking time off at night or on weekends, from going through a busy time at work for too long without a break, from being long overdue for a true vacation.
And although individual needs vary from person to person, most of us are at our best after 7-9 hours of sleep, if we take small breaks throughout the day and if we have ways to regularly disconnect from our work, even work that is fulfilling and that we truly love.
We live in an uber-connected world: this makes it easy to check in on social media, our smartphones and even work emails a lot more than we probably need to–and not just while actually working. It’s so easy now to respond to our colleagues or clients’ messages from your smartphone even after you’ve all left work for the day.
The quality of your time with family and friends is going to suffer if you keep checking your phone every few minutes during dinner, while watching a movie, or during your kid’s basketball game or violin recital. Not only does this impact those you care about most… but these distracting habits take you away from being fully present and enjoying the moment. Over time, they will throw off your own sense of balance.
Much of the time, our work messages don’t require an immediate response – after hours or even in the middle of the workday. You may believe that the reason you feel so compelled to reply is out of convenience or habit. But chances are that an unexamined anxiety or fear is beneath it: many of us fear missing out on information or not appearing sufficiently committed to our business or jobs. You might not be conscious of these underlying fears–you just stay connected to your work because, well, that’s just what you do.
If this sounds familiar, ask yourself, “Why am I so connected to my work conversations after hours?” or “Why am I in the pattern of overthinking about work during my family time?” Consider the reasons and motivations that cause you to shoot off a text or email reply as you’re crawling into bed.
Your mind and your body need a chance to relax and rejuvenate outside of work and your loved ones want and deserve your full presence, too. For many of us, we need to shift old beliefs or fear of what happens if we do not stay in the loop all the time. And while disabling notifications from your phone can help, for a more lasting shift, take the time to acknowledge any inner anxiety or fear in order to reduce it or let it go completely.
3. Are My Expectations Too High Across All Areas?
We want to believe that we can spend just the right amount of time on our business or at work, with our families and friends and find alone time or “me-time” so that we’re happy, fulfilled and successful in all areas. And while that is possible over the course of our lifetimes, it isn’t necessarily the case in a given day or moment.
To get traction in certain areas, you need to commit to certain goals and priorities. This may mean temporarily sacrificing attention or time spent in other areas to achieve those priorities. If we try to make everything a priority at once, that generally translates into nothing truly being a priority.
In other words, if you have big business goals or career ambitions, you may need to cut back on your social life. If you want to spend more quality time with your partner and children, chances are you’ll want to adjust the amount of energy you’ve been pouring into another area, perhaps personal hobbies or professional growth, until now.
Sometimes a client will come to me wanting the equivalent of “everything now.” Yet we all go through different stages in our lives, and this includes our businesses or careers. The one constant we can count on is change. You can grow and succeed in one area – such as launching a new service in your business or spending more time with your children before they go off to college – and then shift to do the same in another later on… but it’s challenging and can often stretch us too thin to try to do this in all areas at once. Balance is as much about that “when” and the “why” as it is the “what.”
So if your work-life balance feels strained or has slipped away entirely, commit to making a change today. You can start by pausing to ask yourself these questions. Consider whether your expectations need to shift in one area in order to focus on another priority area right now. And remember, it’s always up to you when to adjust again–and how.
If you’re a business owner or leader wishing to share strategies with your team, consider these tips on helping your team achieve more work-life balance even if you’re struggling.
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