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What is Work Life Balance?

When you research work life balance, you’ll find that there are somewhere between three and six dimensions of human wellness. These dimensions include your social, spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional needs. The idea is, to achieve a health and happiness, you need to regularly feed each of these aspects of yourself.

The term work life balance came into prominence in the 1980’s. The phrase stuck, and it's now a buzzword that's the subject of thousands of books and magazine articles ever since. Not coincidentally, the 1980’s was also a time when many women entered the professional working ranks. For those jobs, work schedules are less defined by the clock and more by when you fulfill your core responsibilities. This work schedule naturally leads to ever-expanding work days, in the name of “getting everything done” or “getting ahead”.

The difficulty of maintaining balance between professional and family responsibilities is what drove the phrase into our collectiveness consciousness. This was especially true with the family paradigm of mother-as-domestic-caretaker that existed prior to the 1980’s. That paradigm has changed significantly since the 1980’s. But our increasingly-connected and instant-gratification world makes it almost impossible to truly get away from work. It's even hard on weekends and vacation, keeping the topic of work life balance at the forefront.

The Problem With Work Life Balance

When you work long hours every day, it often means you're neglecting your physical, social, spiritual or emotional needs. Everyone gets the same 168 hours every week. So, when you spend 70 or 80 of them working, there are by definition less hours left for other things.

I need to make an important distinction here regarding work life balance. The information you find in books usually stress its importance so you don’t neglect your relationships or your health. They largely ignore it as a strategy to help you be more motivated and effective in everything you do. And while prioritizing those things are important, such advice is a broad-brush approach. It doesn’t take into account your personality, your individual needs or your specific situation.

For example, you might be an introvert who really enjoys your work. So, your definition of work life balance would be dramatically different than someone who has a wide social network and who thrives on spending time with friends and volunteering in the community away from work.

Why You Should Unbalance Your Life

The point is, there’s a common misconception that you need balance between your work life and your personal life. When used in that context, it implies you should spend equal amounts of time and energy in those areas. The logic is that you need balance to meet you personal obligations, and to maintain your body and your relationships. But a more effective approach is to identify the things and the people who energize you, share your values and support your goals, and then purposely unbalance your life to spend disproportionately

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