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Work and Life – only 24 hours in a day!

In the past year, I’ve spoken to large audiences of men and women, senior leaders and those in the early years of their careers, Gen X and Millennials. The one question, I’m invariably asked is “How do I achieve work-life balance?”

Now, I’m sure each of them had their own definition of work-life balance, but what is of interest here, is that each of them felt they were not spending enough time on ‘life’ (I don’t think anyone ever says “I’m not spending enough time at work” or maybe those who do, just don’t attend these meetings!).

There are many opinions on the topic, some of which I do (somewhat) agree with:

  • “Work and life are the same – you cannot separate the two in a constantly connected knowledge economy”
  • “For a successful career, you must be prepared to work really hard. CEOs don’t work 40 hour weeks”
  • “Work is Life and Life is Work”
  • “You can’t have it all. Make up your mind as to what is important to you”

My take on this is that Work Life Balance is a problem of time management of a 24-hour day.

Let us do the arithmetic:

How many hours on an average do we sleep? – Say 7 hours

How many hours for personal care – eating, taking a shower, getting dressed, etc? – Say 2 hours

How many hours at work? – Say 9 hours

How many hours does your commute to work take? – Say 2 hours (any big city)

How many hours is that in total?7+2+9+2 = 20 hours

So, we have 4 hours in the day to spend on our families, housework, friends, social commitments and entertainment.

If we plan carefully and execute the plan, we may be able to fit in some elements of it. But, if the intent is to live the lifestyle of our generation – socialising with friends, learning new subjects, mall-walking to window shop and also the lifestyle of our parents or grandparents – participating in all family and community events, maintaining traditions that were meaningful even a generation ago – then 4 hours a day is just not enough. And work-life balance will suffer. We’ll be playing catch-up with not only the to-do list at work but also after work.

This is why I believe Work Life Balance is all about constant and dynamic re-prioritisation – something that we all do intuitively.

But, for some reason we seem to believe that all the things that we would like to do must magically fit themselves into the 24-hour day.

Not only that, while living this crammed to the gills 24-hour day, we must remain energised and enthusiastic at all times.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite like that.

Therefore, constant and dynamic re-prioritisation is the answer.

Look at the calendar for what is on your plate (and your family’s) in the coming month and week – what events/ commitments/ engagements do you have? Is there a wedding you can’t miss? Does your child have an assignment that she needs help with? Do you expect house-guests? Would you like to invite friends over for dinner?

Group them as “Must be Done”, “Ought to be Done” and “Would be Nice to Do”.

If an unavoidable task pops up, you’ll be able to skip one of the tasks in the last group.

Remember, you only have 24 hours in a day. Work or Life, it all has to fit in those 24 hours.

So build a plan, stick to it as far as possible and when you can’t, reprioritise!! 

This post was first published on LinkedIn

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