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The Myth of Work-Life Balance

This year, will you take more time off from work than you did last year to spend more time with loved ones and do more of what brings you joy? Or will you, like many of us, try and fail to do it all?

Work-life balance is a sham, an ideal that is nearly impossible to achieve."

The dictionary’s definition of balance is “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” But your priorities are never in equal proportions, nor should they be! Sometimes work takes precedence, or family does. A more realistic way of thinking about our lives is that we can set our own priorities and be flexible about what’s important when.

The overflowing barrel

Think of two big barrels sitting side-by-side. Imagine each of them filled with water. One barrel is your life and one is your work. Now imagine that in one barrel, the water level rises and rises, and starts to overflow. You know that feeling, when life or work demands become overwhelming—especially now, at the busiest time of the year. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with work, step back and visualize that barrel overflowing, and think about what constraints, or boundaries, you need to set for yourself.

As we ask our coaching clients to ask themselves, “If I take on this new project, which project should I put lower on my priority list?” Find a thoughtful, honest way to share your boundaries with bosses, clients and others.

Read more: 5 Ways to Survive a Micomanaging Boss

What are your priorities?

Here are a couple of our own examples of constraints that we have set to focus on what’s important to us: Senia takes Thursday afternoons off to be with her children. That’s a good day of the week in terms of their extracurricular activities, and Senia gets more in-depth time with her kids in the middle of the week. Now that Margaret’s children are grown, her husband often travels with her on business and they tack on days at the end of the trip to explore the new city or country.

Michelle Phan, the YouTube star who has launched a makeup subscription service, describes starting the day with a fully charged laptop and phone. When the batteries die, she stops working for the day. She figures that if they need to recharge, she does, too.

Pay attention to when your barrel overflows or your batteries fade. Knowing that you can be flexible and set your priorities accordingly.

Read more: 6 Steps to Transitioning at Work

Setting priorities

Make lists of do’s and don’ts to keep you on the right track.

DO plan how you’ll exercise when you’re on a business trip.
DON’T check email at your child’s holiday performance.
DO create an out-of-office message to let people know when you’ll be back.
DON’T let work worries spoil your Christmas or Hanukkah.
Ask yourself: Twenty years from now, what do I want to remember about today?

Margaret H. Greenberg and Senia Maymin,Ph.D., are highly sought after organizational consultants and executive coaches, and authors of Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. For more information about Senia and Margaret, go to ProfitFromThePositive.com or to their Facebook page.

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