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From “Work to Life balance is the key to happiness” to “Work to Life balance is a myth”, there is a lot of talk out there about what Work to Life balance is and what to do about it.
Work to Life Balance is useful in showing you how you are spending your time in very broad strokes and where you should make adjustments. But it doesn’t tell you anything about if the time you are spending at “Work” or “Life” is actually meaningful to you. Time spent at work isn’t inherently “bad” and time spent not at work is not necessarily “good”. Because of this, I recommend replacing the Work to Life balance discussion with a Core Values balance discussion.
To show the difference, I’m going to share an exercise using the Work to Life balance paradigm and then use the same exercise to explain the Core Values balance paradigm. Both can be useful, but for most people, the Core Values balance exercise will provide more actionable and personalized feedback.
The Work to Life Balance Paradigm:
Work and Life are two big buckets of experiences we have on a daily basis. When thinking about them, you can fairly easily divide all of your experiences between “Work” and “everything else”. These two buckets are most useful to think about if the “Work” bucket is taking up a disproportionate amount of your time, energy, and mental attention.
Finding your Work to Life Buckets:
For most people, this is simply going to be time spent working and time spent on everything else. To get more specific, you can take some time to write down what you consider to be “work” activities and what you consider to be “life” activities.
Balancing your Work to Life Buckets:
Look back on a two-week period and do a rough calculation of how much time you spent on “Work” activities and how much time you spent on “Life” activities. Does the time spent in each of these categories match up with what you expected? Are you spending a disproportionate amount of your waking time on work? If so, can you identify pockets of time spent on work that are not really necessary? Maybe you need to stay late one day a week, but the next day you have some free time in the afternoon. If so, could you find a midday exercise class that you could go to during a break in your workday?
The Work to Life balance paradigm is really about balancing time spent in these two areas. Everyone will have a different standard of what is normal to spend in each area, but for the most part, this exercise will be about finding ways to reduce the amount of time you are spending on work to free your time up for other meaningful activities. This is good to check on from time to time, especially when you have entered a new phase of life, such as a new job or had a major life change.
However, this analysis is really very limited. By grouping everything into either “Work” or “Life”, you are missing out on understanding what is important to you and making sure you are spending time on those things. This is where the Core Values balance comes into play.
The Core Values Balance Paradigm:
In this paradigm, we’re looking at different buckets. Instead of the two buckets of “Work” and “Life”, we’re going to look at the buckets that represent your Core Values. This will be different for every person and can shift over time.
Finding your Core Values Buckets:
Core values can sound a bit heavy and theoretical. But in reality, you are probably already operating off a set of Core Values, even if you haven’t consciously identified them. These are the key values that drive you and that time and time again you find yourself prioritizing. Here are a couple of prompts to help you identify your Core Values:
- Think about the last time you had to make a big decision (where to move, taking a new job, etc.). If you made a list of pros and cons, what were the items that most influenced your decision? For example, if you decided to move, was it a sense of adventure that prompted you? Or perhaps the safety and security that the move would provide?
- Think about your ideal day. If you could do anything, what would you spend your time doing?
- When you go to the library or online forums, what subjects do you naturally gravitate towards? What do you find yourself coming back to time and time again?
- Look back on your budget for the past month. What were some of the areas you spent the most money on? Was it eating out with friends? Travel? Look for some overall trends to see what you prioritize financially.
Each of these prompts should help you identify some themes that rise to the top. One note, you may have a mismatch of values in your life as it currently stands. So when looking at what you are doing, if something looks like a value, but does not deeply resonate with you, that might just be something that needs to be adjusted in the future.
For more inspiration, here is a list of Core Values form Brene Brown’s book “Dare to Lead”.
From these exercises and this list, pick three to five Core Values that stand out to you. These are your new buckets!
Write down some activities that fit within each bucket. For example, one of my Core Values is “Learning” so I would write down reading, self-reflection, and learning new skills as activities that support that bucket. Or for a value of “Security”, activities might include time spent at your job or networking to ensure your job security.
Balancing your Core Values Buckets:
Similar to the Work to Life balance exercise, look back on the last two weeks. Identify each time you engaged in activities that supported your Core Values. Calculate the total amount of time spent on each value. You’ll also likely have a whole lot of time going into “Other” which are normal day-to-day tasks that don’t specifically support your Core Values.
Once you have your totals, spend some time reviewing them. Is there something that you have listed as a value that you have not spent any time on in the last two weeks? Is the majority of your time all going to support one value? If so, you probably will feel out of balance.
By analyzing your time through this lens, you can start to actually make meaningful changes. Instead of just balancing time between “Work” and “Life” you are balancing time between your personal Core Values. I like this approach because it is much more customized and individualized.
Your work might actually be fulfilling a lot of your Core Values. So instead of just saying you need to work less, you can see what values your work is not filling and make sure that you prioritize them in your non-working time. Sometimes we naturally gravitate to one or two of our Core Values and we need a gentle reminder to remember the others as well. This approach will help you to identify when that’s happening and give you a path to balance on your terms. I like to use a checklist when planning my weekends, to make sure I am prioritizing time for each of my key activities that support my Core Values.
The idea of Work to Life balance is absolutely important. Spending too much time at work is almost always a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. But using the more nuanced approach of Core Values balance will help you to make changes to your life that actually matter to you. This stops you from being solely reactive and helps you to be intentional and thoughtful about building a life that supports your Core Values.